How my relationship with my period has changed with the years


How my relationship with my period has changed with the years

It’s a relief, it’s a pain, it’s freedom, it’s a trap

By Deepti Kapoor  December 21st, 2015

I must have been 12 when my period first arrived. Twelve or 13, I can’t be sure. The moment itself has vanished in the fog of memory, so many periods blurring into one another, regular as irregular clockwork. What I do remember is that I’d given all my sanitary pads to a friend, one who’d been in genuine, desperate need, but who was also very good at persuading people to part with things they valued. I remember this particularly, because the pads were special — from Bahrain, an American brand, sent to me by my mother. We had moved over there for my father’s work; when the Gulf War broke out they thought it wasn’t safe for me any more, and I was sent back home to India, to boarding school in Dehradun. 

The move had filled me with an excitement that was trepidatious. I’d read Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series and imagined it would be full of such things, such adventures and hijinks. After all, these were the days of immortality, when a week felt like a year, an hour a whole month, when everything was significant. It started off well: I flew on the plane alone and the stewardesses filled my little bag with cans of real Coca-Cola, a rare commodity in India in the early ’90s. But when I got there, it was mostly loneliness and discipline, long, dank corridors, rope beds, a Victorian echo of punishment and shame. The food was awful. As was the anonymity.

I don’t remember it, but I can suppose it happened this way: A strange, icky feeling grew down below, bloating beforehand, a mysterious cloud that filled the head with emotion and irrationality. I guess I went to the bathroom and checked my panties and saw spots of blood. In lieu of my pads, I must have gone and ordered the local, coarser ones from the house matron (a beastly woman), full of regret at my selfless donation to my so-called friend. 

There must have been an inner world there, full of terror and joy at the changes that were taking place. I was becoming a woman, finally joining the club, finally privy to all those things I’d read and heard about. Whispered conversations, small intrigues, and power plays centred around boys and breasts and girls kissing girls to experiment with all those feelings that seem to rise with the coming of the blood.  I’d like to think the alchemy of blood dazzled and quickened me, as I felt myself passing over the margins of youth, expanding into a more serious and powerful world, a world which I was capable of changing, affecting. I like to think this. But I don’t know. 

I try and remember instances of my period across the years and that doesn’t come to me, either. There are no funny-awkward stories about the time I bled during a puja, nothing like this. I guess, for me, it’s not the thing itself that matters. It’s the world around the blood, the world caused by the blood.

The most powerful thing, in my memory and my entire being, is the cloud of PMS. This, I know intimately. A few days before I’m due, it’s as if I’m drugged and floating, and my emotions are stretched and heightened, everything is more intense, flavours, smells, feelings. I feel so heavy, so full of life and death and rage. I’m quick to anger, I become unreasonable, I provoke fights and I don’t want to make things better. It’s as if this surfeit of blood is controlling me.

As I got older I indulged in it, as if I was harnessing a superpower. I could not get away with it in school, but later, forming relationships with men, being around one or two close friends, also being back near my mother, I could allow the cloud to swallow me completely. I’d submit to it, embrace the chaos. It really was a force, and even though I knew beforehand that it was no good, when it came I forgot all my previous promises to behave. For the few days it was at its most relentless, I’d revel in my period, and then, when the blood was released from me, I’d come back to earth and wonder what the hell had gotten into me.

I revelled in my period for another reason in my twenties, an important, practical one: it meant I wasn’t pregnant. That’s what it all came down to in those years. I was having a lot of sex. And a lot of it was unprotected. I look back at the recklessness of this and I’m appalled and disbelieving. I don’t know how I got away with it. My boyfriend at that time thought he had it all planned out. He calculated lunar cycles, menstruation days, he had me sold. And I was a willing participant. I didn’t want to use condoms at all. So we gambled, played Russian roulette with my body and won.

I’d always end up sitting with my family at home, thinking about the secret world I had constructed so haphazardly outside. I’d go back to my room, to my bathroom, and check and the blood would be there, and, for those moments, all the guilt and shame and fear and all the care would evaporate. Such relief. I’m not pregnant, I’m not in trouble, I can keep going my own way. 

All that changed when I fell in love and got married and became somewhat respectable, as my twenties drew to a close. Suddenly the period, the workings of the body, came out into the open, and by extension, became banal. No longer were there the mysteries of blood that echoed around my childhood brain, no longer the secrets and lies of my twenties that fuelled my fire. My mother would accompany me to the gynaecologist’s office, and gently chide me for not being pregnant, laughing, almost as if embarrassed, as if to say, “What can I do? I try.” The gynaecologist was on the same page. More than once I was told, “You’re married, you’re in your thirties, you’re healthy. You should be pregnant now. It’s time, beta.” How funny that something formerly so dangerous and illicit should become so routine. 

Another three years passed, one period blurring into the rest, and continuing visits to the gynaecologist. Then there was something else on their scans: cysts in my uterus. This discovery made it an imperative — have children, your periods are reducing, your fertility is dropping, you’re getting old. 

There are so many ways not to be a woman: You’re not a woman until you have your first period, you’re not a woman until you’ve had sex, you’re not a woman until you’re married, and then you’re not a woman until you’ve had a child. I think about this a lot, as friends and relatives have children around me, as dinner-table conversations change, as WhatsApp groups get flooded with baby pictures. I don’t want babies, I keep saying “not yet” to stave off uncomfortable questions or hesitant pauses, but the truth is I don’t know if I’ll ever want them. 

This is how I feel about my period now. I keep thinking that as long as it arrives, there’s still the possibility I can have a child. I can get away with it. But the point here remains, as I’m told more and more these days, that my time is running out. And when the blood runs dry, what will the woman be?  

Deepti Kapoor is the author of A Bad Character (Penguin Random House)  

I must have been 12 when my period first arrived. Twelve or 13, I can’t be sure. The moment itself has vanished in the fog of memory, so many periods blurring into one another, regular as irregular clockwork. What I do remember is that I’d given all my sanitary pads to a friend, one who’d been in genuine, desperate need, but who was also very good at persuading people to part with things they valued. I remember this particularly, because the pads were special — from Bahrain, an American brand, sent to me by my mother. We had moved over there for my father’s work; when the Gulf War broke out they thought it wasn’t safe for me any more, and I was sent back home to India, to boarding school in Dehradun. 

The move had filled me with an excitement that was trepidatious. I’d read Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series and imagined it would be full of such things, such adventures and hijinks. After all, these were the days of immortality, when a week felt like a year, an hour a whole month, when everything was significant. It started off well: I flew on the plane alone and the stewardesses filled my little bag with cans of real Coca-Cola, a rare commodity in India in the early ’90s. But when I got there, it was mostly loneliness and discipline, long, dank corridors, rope beds, a Victorian echo of punishment and shame. The food was awful. As was the anonymity.

I don’t remember it, but I can suppose it happened this way: A strange, icky feeling grew down below, bloating beforehand, a mysterious cloud that filled the head with emotion and irrationality. I guess I went to the bathroom and checked my panties and saw spots of blood. In lieu of my pads, I must have gone and ordered the local, coarser ones from the house matron (a beastly woman), full of regret at my selfless donation to my so-called friend. 

There must have been an inner world there, full of terror and joy at the changes that were taking place. I was becoming a woman, finally joining the club, finally privy to all those things I’d read and heard about. Whispered conversations, small intrigues, and power plays centred around boys and breasts and girls kissing girls to experiment with all those feelings that seem to rise with the coming of the blood.  I’d like to think the alchemy of blood dazzled and quickened me, as I felt myself passing over the margins of youth, expanding into a more serious and powerful world, a world which I was capable of changing, affecting. I like to think this. But I don’t know. 

I try and remember instances of my period across the years and that doesn’t come to me, either. There are no funny-awkward stories about the time I bled during a puja, nothing like this. I guess, for me, it’s not the thing itself that matters. It’s the world around the blood, the world caused by the blood.

The most powerful thing, in my memory and my entire being, is the cloud of PMS. This, I know intimately. A few days before I’m due, it’s as if I’m drugged and floating, and my emotions are stretched and heightened, everything is more intense, flavours, smells, feelings. I feel so heavy, so full of life and death and rage. I’m quick to anger, I become unreasonable, I provoke fights and I don’t want to make things better. It’s as if this surfeit of blood is controlling me.

As I got older I indulged in it, as if I was harnessing a superpower. I could not get away with it in school, but later, forming relationships with men, being around one or two close friends, also being back near my mother, I could allow the cloud to swallow me completely. I’d submit to it, embrace the chaos. It really was a force, and even though I knew beforehand that it was no good, when it came I forgot all my previous promises to behave. For the few days it was at its most relentless, I’d revel in my period, and then, when the blood was released from me, I’d come back to earth and wonder what the hell had gotten into me.

I revelled in my period for another reason in my twenties, an important, practical one: it meant I wasn’t pregnant. That’s what it all came down to in those years. I was having a lot of sex. And a lot of it was unprotected. I look back at the recklessness of this and I’m appalled and disbelieving. I don’t know how I got away with it. My boyfriend at that time thought he had it all planned out. He calculated lunar cycles, menstruation days, he had me sold. And I was a willing participant. I didn’t want to use condoms at all. So we gambled, played Russian roulette with my body and won.

I’d always end up sitting with my family at home, thinking about the secret world I had constructed so haphazardly outside. I’d go back to my room, to my bathroom, and check and the blood would be there, and, for those moments, all the guilt and shame and fear and all the care would evaporate. Such relief. I’m not pregnant, I’m not in trouble, I can keep going my own way. 

All that changed when I fell in love and got married and became somewhat respectable, as my twenties drew to a close. Suddenly the period, the workings of the body, came out into the open, and by extension, became banal. No longer were there the mysteries of blood that echoed around my childhood brain, no longer the secrets and lies of my twenties that fuelled my fire. My mother would accompany me to the gynaecologist’s office, and gently chide me for not being pregnant, laughing, almost as if embarrassed, as if to say, “What can I do? I try.” The gynaecologist was on the same page. More than once I was told, “You’re married, you’re in your thirties, you’re healthy. You should be pregnant now. It’s time, beta.” How funny that something formerly so dangerous and illicit should become so routine. 

Another three years passed, one period blurring into the rest, and continuing visits to the gynaecologist. Then there was something else on their scans: cysts in my uterus. This discovery made it an imperative — have children, your periods are reducing, your fertility is dropping, you’re getting old. 

There are so many ways not to be a woman: You’re not a woman until you have your first period, you’re not a woman until you’ve had sex, you’re not a woman until you’re married, and then you’re not a woman until you’ve had a child. I think about this a lot, as friends and relatives have children around me, as dinner-table conversations change, as WhatsApp groups get flooded with baby pictures. I don’t want babies, I keep saying “not yet” to stave off uncomfortable questions or hesitant pauses, but the truth is I don’t know if I’ll ever want them. 

This is how I feel about my period now. I keep thinking that as long as it arrives, there’s still the possibility I can have a child. I can get away with it. But the point here remains, as I’m told more and more these days, that my time is running out. And when the blood runs dry, what will the woman be?  

Deepti Kapoor is the author of A Bad Character (Penguin Random House)