I’m The One Who Bled But Does Not Bleed Anymore
By Alison Meehan
Shared experiences. Collectively understood events. Certain things happen that we — as humans — can bond over, because by and large they happen to all of us. Things we keep coming back to. Little — and big — things that make us all human.
But with cis women I find that often means relating to each other (and bonding over) periods. It’s something that almost anyone assigned female at birth can understand and talk about (and which trans and non-binary folks are talking about too). But in the last few years, I have found myself outside of these bonding moments. I relate in the past tense because I no longer get my period.
I’m in my early thirties and have no medical issues, but I haven’t had my period for almost two years because of the form of birth control I use. But I have no complaints or regrets about this. I don’t expect my period to ever return because I’m not going off birth control; I don’t want children. Ever. This combination of desire and hormones means that I’ve likely experienced my last period. I am a woman in some of my most fertile years who has, through the means of modern medicine, rendered myself infertile. And not just infertile, but ceased to have any outward signs that even correspond with fertility. I no longer menstruate, and that makes me different, particularly in these moments of bonding.
Cramps, cravings, skipped cycles due to stress, sickness, and science fiction are all up for discussion as I sit back and listen. I’m never excluded, but everyone knows that none of this affects me. I am female bodied. I am cisgendered. I am nonmenstruating. As such I inhabit a space reserved for the barren, for the postmenopausal, for those without a uterus; I’ve had the experience of menstruation, but it’s increasingly tangential to those who still do.
I don’t know what it is about getting a group of women who are comfortable around each other together, but I find one will inevitably bring up their sore breasts or their breakouts, and that gets the ball rolling. I know what each of my friend’s preferred form of period protection is, how long their cycles are, and what PMS symptoms they experience. They, in good humor, listen to my few comments with interest, and they never make me feel othered, but I offer less and less with each conversation because I am aware that I do not relate to these exchanges anymore.
I am not one of them. I no longer inhabit this realm. I both belong and don’t and that is an uncomfortable space to be in. I know how to act and respond and I see what they are talking about, but from memory, not from an active state of being. It is a version of myself that no longer exists, the one who bled but does not bleed anymore. The one who has made herself other.
In truth, even the experiences I did have with my period are rapidly becoming less relevant to these dialogues on menstruation. I never used a cup or a sponge. I was on the birth control pill for 15 years prior to my current birth control. The pill regulated my cycle and saved me from the worst of hormone fluctuations. I had three years of my life where my period existed without medical intervention, and they happened before I was 15. Part of me believes the tampons of my youth could very well go the same way of sanitary belts, soon to be obsolete in favor of newer technology.
In many ways I do feel my socio-cultural “womanhood” has become null and void. Growing up and getting your first period is often referred to as “becoming a woman.” Our ability to menstruate and procreate has been bound up tightly with our gender and gender identity. For women like myself who have opted out of the biological process, who see themselves as women, but not mothers, or for women not assigned female at birth, this can be alienating.
If we define womanhood and “achieving” womanhood by menstruation, what happens when that stops, or if it never happens? Does that make me or anyone else less of a woman? The answer, of course, is no. Being a woman has nothing to do with menstruating.
However, I can’t discount this bonding that occurs among people who menstruate. This shared experience. From the moment when strangers in a public restroom fleetingly come together to lend a pad or tampon, there inevitably comes the drawn-out horror stories of bleeding through clothing. There is a shame that so many with periods share. I realize it’s not really about menstruating, but about the vulnerability and openness that occurs. The fact that everyone knows that everyone else has shared a similar moment. There is comfort in knowing they know that wet, leaking, panicked feeling — they understand what it means on a visceral level.
And I am always welcome, because I have had the experiences, but I relate less and less. And I will continue to relate less and less. And as the conversation moves toward trying to get pregnant and then to having children, I will have nothing to add. Each hormonal mile marker will pass me by. I will listen, I will be sympathetic, but I will not understand. My status as other will grow.
Now, in these moments of bonding, I count myself lucky. I am lucky that the women around me want me there, that they feel that comfortable with me. They may never feel my otherness, but to me it is palpable. I am hyper aware of the fact that I have given up this symbol of adult womanhood. I am happy to have done so, but there are moments where it makes it harder for me to connect or contribute. In those moments, I take a breath and remind myself that my womanhood (and anyone else’s) has nothing to do with what’s in between my, or our, legs.