Becoming a mother changes everything. Priorities in work/life balance shift. Marriage enters a new bittersweet phase of deepened connection and common purpose simultaneous with lack of time and energy devoted to just each other. Sex continues to evolve as our bodies change in sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes beautiful and often hilarious ways. We know love in a whole new way.
One dramatic change for me, as I became a mother, was my relationship with my period.
My moon cycle had never been constant like earth’s moon cycle. Before pregnancy, it was erratic and irregular. Sometimes I would bleed once a month, give or take, but sometimes it would take many months to muster up my menses.
My relationship with my period was a bit like a relationship with an intimate friend that I could never really count on – perhaps a friend who had a mental illness or a serious drug addiction. Just when I thought we might be in a groove, she changed it up, throwing me off balance. As soon as I thought she was gone forever, she was back with a vengeance. I could never anticipate her moods – light or heavy? I never knew how long she would stick around or whether she’d be bringing some other unsavory friends – pimples, cramps or emotional volatility – with her.
One of the many great things about being pregnant, I admit, was the absence of my period. For nine glorious months I didn’t think twice about this capricious friend, as I knew she wouldn’t be coming ‘round. I could count on her returning one day, of course, but that was a distant reunion without the tension of immediacy. There was no need to brace myself for her knock at my door.
After I gave birth, it took a really long time for my period to come back. So long, in fact, that I even began to watch hopefully for her return, much to my chagrin.
Since beginning my menstrual cycle at the age of 14, my longest stretch without a period had taken place in my mid-twenties when I moved to Japan and then traveled around Southeast Asia. During that time, I had gone off the pill (the one and only thing that had ever kept me regular), and my period didn’t return on her own terms for about 15 months. I began to wonder whether I should seek out medical treatment or hormone therapy of some kind. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the right place and my body was in temporary lock-down until I found a more hospitable environment.
After giving birth, my period remained on sabbatical for well over two years. I was breastfeeding my baby quite a lot, and I think my body wisely knew I needed time to devote all my energy to nursing. I quickly dropped pregnancy weight and kept right on shrinking as my baby plumped up in proportion to my slimming down. There just didn’t seem to be enough juice left over for menstruation.
The return of my period would signal a biological readiness for another baby, which was simply not in the stars.
My period finally came back when I stopped nursing our baby at night. Happy co-sleepers, we were still cuddling up in semi-sleep for multiple nursing sessions throughout the night. She would probably still be attached to me by force of suction as I write if I hadn’t finally put an end to it, such was her love for the elixir of life. Mommy Milk – it doesn’t get any better than this!
Not merely coincidentally, the return of decent rest at night restored my body enough to herald the return of menstruation. Now, I have a whole new relationship with my period. Here are three ways that pregnancy and childbirth changed things for us:
1. She’s reliable.
Not just more regular than before, but utterly you-can-set-your-clock-by-it regular. Once upon a time, I never knew whether to pack feminine hygiene products or not. I never knew whether my irritability, skin blemishes or unpredictable fatigue were attributable to the red dragon or merely my body being uncooperative at random.
Now I know when those ticklish and slightly achy sensations set into my abdomen that I’m ovulating. I know on that day of grumpiness without a cause –when everything that had seemed lovely about life the day before suddenly pisses me off—that the hormonal cocktail is brewing again. Everything will seem lovely again tomorrow. Just take everything I say or do that day with a grain of salt and a generous sense of humor, please. I know when I see a little show that the big feature presentation will begin in about 36-48 hours. The first full-on day is accompanied by the sensation of a clenched bowling ball resting between my hips. It starts a bit high, then gradually moves down lower. The whole process will fade away after about five days.
2. We’re coping better with the mess.
My Diva Cup and I have become friends, too. A girlfriend gave me a Diva Cup as a gift many years ago, and I had never quite managed to make friends with the cup. It didn’t want to go in right, though I patiently poked and prodded. There was always discomfort indicating that we just weren’t a good fit. So I would put it away for a few weeks or months and try again later.I wanted this solution to work because it’s so eco-friendly. With a menstrual cup, I don’t have to keep buying box after box of tampons and then wondering how best to dispose of them after use. Let’s not even consider pads, which have never seemed to me like much of a solution for anything, even on that first day at age 14.
There are a variety of menstrual cups on the market these days, and I imagine I might like any of them better than pads or tampons, now that Diva Cup and I have finally forged a good relationship. Wearing a cup is so much more comfortable than tampons, which always felt like they were sucking the life out of me through my vagina on light days and slipping around with their own rebellious agenda on heavy ones. The best use I’ve ever found for tampons was the day my O.b.s came in perfectly handy as earplugs at a loud rock concert. The only time I have had a use for pads was in the bloody aftermath of giving birth –an uncomfortable necessity.
3. I feel acceptance, and even celebration, of my body’s power and wisdom, even when it is out of my control.
This is the best part of all. As my pregnancy progressed, I marveled at the magical capacity of my own body to create another human body – to nurture and feed while building the earthly form of a whole new person who would be able to someday nurture and feed herself – out of seemingly almost nothing. It truly is a miracle.
Giving birth offered another chance to marvel at Mother Nature’s miracles. I could see and feel and hear myself participating in them in, even as I surrendered conscious control. Who knew that my body knew how to do this?! Amazing!
Receiving the sensations of labor and birth as my healthy body was doing what it was designed to do made it infinitely easier to endure the discomforts and demands of giving birth. I wouldn’t even describe it as painful. ‘Powerful’ seems a more apt description.
When the monthly reminders of this miraculous capacity to channel life into human form hit, I find it easier now to greet them like an old friend, or even like family. We wouldn’t be who we are without them. And I wouldn’t be me, I suppose, without these magic powers.
About Melinda Chickering
Living in Indonesia since 2008 has afforded Melinda myriad opportunities to explore her favorite topics in writing, including the nexus of culture, nature and economics as well as that of the head, the heart and the flesh. You can order Melinda’s book Becoming Home: A Memoir of Birth in Bali at the CreateSpace store or on Amazon. You can also check it out on Facebook.