Period: Yes, that one.

Today, we have a guest post form our coordinator Katherine. Many thank to her, as always, for her brilliant writing!

I’m talking about menstruation, the expulsion of the uterus lining through the vagina to signify a new cycle. Count this as day one.

I’ll back-pedal a bit before I get to the point, I love a story.

I remember being told that the arrival of my period would signify my transition into womanhood. No one was really sure when it would happen, but I needed to keep a lookout for it, this little bit of blood.

It wasn’t little, and thankfully I had another two years of period-free childhood to enjoy before this business of transitioning from a girl to a woman started. But once it arrived, I didn’t really know that much about it. I felt a bit proud, but also a bit horrified that I could lose that much blood and no one was panicking. It became normal. As I got older things, started to change and I was surprised; when I was 20, my periods were only 3 or 4 days long, compared to when I was 13 where I was bleeding for up to a week. I remember googling it and finding out that this is apparently normal. They’re shorter when you’re in your most fertile years. I don’t remember that in Sex Ed.

When I wanted to have a baby, I became a bit obsessed with them. I bought apps to track them to help select my most fertile days and plan holidays. When I got pregnant, I was overjoyed at the lack of them. It meant I was growing someone.

I was somewhat unprepared for lochia. I brought all the gear for the post-birth clear-up, but I was still stunned that no one had really explained what was going to happen and how I was supposed to manage this and care for a newborn. So I’m going to have an open wound inside my body, stitches on the outside, a lot of blood and other “stuff” coming out of me, and this might last for 6 weeks. I might also need to inspect this “stuff,” as big lumps might indicate retained placenta and if I don’t act, I might die. A lot of people wanted to look at the giant maternity pads I had in hospital. A midwife would come into the room, rip back the sheets, and have a look. “Just checking,” they always said, and then congratulated me on them, which I was amused about. Apparently, everything was going well.

I genuinely didn’t know that breastfeeding stopped your periods. I don’t know what happened or what conversations I’d missed, but I’d never heard anyone say anything to anyone about this benefit. I feel slightly embarrassed to admit that 6 months after having my son (he fed mostly all day and night), I actually called the health visitor to say my period hadn’t returned and should I be concerned that I’d gone through the menopause? She gently told me that this was normal during breastfeeding and that my period would not return until I’d weaned him overnight. I chose to feed him once a night until he was a year to delay the return, and it was the first time for a long time that I was period-free when I wasn’t pregnant.

Periods after having children changed as well. They are MUCH less painful. Sometimes no pain at all, which is amazing. They are still relatively light (normally). The thing I find strange is that no one talks about this.

I didn’t realise they could change depending on how old you are, or how fertile you are. Maybe I’m just an idiot? Maybe the health education at my school was terrible? But no one mentioned to me what I think are probably quite important details, such as that I can expect periods to get less painful once I’ve had children (I’ve confirmed with friends and they all agree); that they get shorter, they get closer together the older you get, you might not get one if you’re breastfeeding, stress can change the pattern, body weight can change the pattern, shock can change the pattern! Nobody told me that they’re a good indicator of your overall health, and no doctor has asked me about them during routine exams.

The strangest change has to be the lack of privacy around my period now I’ve had children, as obviously I must be observed at all times. Maybe I’ve got to that age when I no longer fall, but I’ve “had a fall”? But their presence in the bathroom brings new challenges, or rather questions. Some of my favourites:

“Why do you put candles up your bum, mummy?”

“Did you cut your willie off, is this what’s happening?”

“I told my teacher that you wear nappies at night.”

I try to be honest and open about bodies, but being open about my own is difficult. Questions lead to questions, and I’m never sure how honest to be!
I normally answer with “Mummy is fine, let’s go and find a chocolate biscuit.”

So, to my story!

I have levelled up on my period experiences: stress. Things have been manic on top of lockdown, which has completely screwed with my hormones, and I was pleasantly surprised one morning after 5 weeks of waiting to get my period. If only I knew. I had to google what happened to me, but I wasn’t expecting to bleed through a tampon, a pad, and jeans. I was also in public. Thankfully, I was with a friend, but I was horribly embarrassed.

I thought I had my shit together, as a working mother of two, but Mother Nature showed me I needed to slow the fuck down. Things were too much. But I’ve listened. I hope to never repeat the “flooding” experience again.

It’s very easy to forget to look after yourself when the pressure ramps up, especially in motherhood. The media we consume as new parents is often very focused on mothers giving everything to their child, “the Martyr Mother,” but it’s not sustainable. We are human above everything else: watching out for the signs of stress is tough, and sometimes it’s with hindsight we see how clear they were.

Although the Motherkind Café cannot meet physically at the moment, we have a virtual space just for mums. No one will be told they need to be a martyr, but rather that looking after yourself is essential to looking after your little ones. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

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