labor nurse has been reborn and shares her experiences as a new nurse-midwife, woman, and blogger

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Book with a Four Letter Word

So I've been reading this book called Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio. First off, don't read it on public transportation if there are stuffy suburban mother's with their kids near by. They don't like that, presumably because they think you might whip out porn or something.

I find the book amusing. I haven't read the entire thing yet, and perhaps I shouldn't make a full statement on what I think yet, but it is interesting to read her take on things. I think the book is meant to be a power-enhancing liberation for women. There are some things I totally agree with, and others I wonder where she was getting her info. Like emergency contraception causes abortion.

There was one point she makes early in the book, though, that I thought was right on. She talks about the cultural belief in this country (as well as many others) that women are unclean during their periods. The mere fact that we use something called "feminine hygiene" to contain our "dirty blood" speaks volumes to how we view such a normal physiological function. We need to change our thinking about this, she says, and I agree.

Take for instance, how we deal with menarche- a girl's first period. It's a secret event, one that is, for most, treated like something that must not be overly discussed and right from the beginning girls are taught how to be discreet about such event. For anyone who has read The Red Tent, you know how differently such an event is treated. And the author talks about some woman right here in America that celebrated her daughter's menarche with a party. Soon, other mothers in the neighborhood were doing the same. What a fabulous idea. I'd imagine this is much different than what most of us have experienced.

Take my first period, for instance. It was a horrifying experience at the time, but I can laugh at it now. I knew that I would be getting my period at some point; I'd had the requisite school nurse presentation on the topic and had read several books from my mother. I was actually highly anticipating the event, only because I thought there would be some magical happenings would be sprinkled upon me and I'd suddenly be blessed with some secretive knowledge only women knew. But in reality, I just found myself staring with fear at my underwear in a school bathroom stall. And then promptly tried to ignore what I saw, and said nothing the rest of the day. At the end of the day I ran off the school bus to my house, my brother trailing behind me. My mother knew something was up, and she asked what my problem was.

"I got my period!" I exclaimed, and fell into a pile of tears. If I remember correctly, my mother tried not to crack a smile. She said something to me about the practicalities of it, how I would just simply use a pad in my underwear. Note much else was said.

My brother, having come into the house in the middle of this, listened with interest. And then, when he felt he understood what the big deal was, he yelled out with glee, "[Labor Nurse] shit her pants!"

It was awful, but I write this while laughing.

But I wonder how different this experience, as well as most of yours, would have been if we didn't view this thing as unclean.


Molly said...

I liked reading this post a lot; thanks for writing it. I teach college and am always amazed at how many of my students are unable to mention menstrual blood and the associated "hygiene" products without giggling like idiots. And television commercials tell us that we need tampons in packages so tiny they can be mistaken for candy, pads scented to cover our nasty lady-odors, etc.

After I gave birth last year and started using cloth diapers for my son, I also switched to cloth menstrual pads for myself (I use and love Lunapads, just fyi). I'm ashamed to admit that I don't mention how wonderful they are to as many of my friends and relations as I'd like, because I dread the "eww!" reaction (apparently it's fine to put poo in my washing machine, but menstrual blood is crossing the line ...).

When my students assert that we no longer need feminism because sexism was defeated long ago, I think, oh, yeah? Then why are you ashamed of your reproductive organs?

Anonymous said...

I'm strongly pro-life, but have heard differing things on this, so am sincerely asking (*not* going to get into an argument, even if you're strongly pro-choice) -- about "emergency contraception" -- isn't it possible or perhaps even probably that it keeps a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine lining?

From what I understand of birth control pills (this is on all the BCPs' websites, plus I used to be a pharmacy tech, and I read a Continuing Education article about it), they work in 3 ways -- prevent ovulation, thicken the cervical mucus so sperm can't get through, and make the lining of the uterus inhospitable to a fertilized egg. If a woman is raped right after she ovulates and gets emergency contraception (which is essentially 2 BCPs), I don't see any way for #1 or #2 to take place, so the only way to prevent pregnancy is to prevent implantation. If life begins at conception (which most pro-life people assert), then emergency contraception causes abortion... or at least *can* cause abortion, in the strictest (or is it the loosest?) sense of the word.

Am I mixed up? or is this just a difference in the definition of terms? -- that "abortion" can only happen if there is a definite established pregnancy?


Amy said...

My mom sent me flowers and took me out for dinner when I got my first period (I was born in 1976).

I don't think that having my entrance into womanhood (gah, I can't type that without rolling my eyes) celebrated has had much of an effect on me one way or the other. It's a nice memory, but I still get PMS and cramps like crazy.

Amy @

Iris said...

I have heard of The Red Tent. Might be something I want to read one day (when I am out of school, perhaps).

I was sad when I got my period. I didn't want to "grow up and be a woman."

How true...that many woman think menstruation makes us unclean. I think the idea of having menarche parties is pretty neat, although I think there is a possibility of some girls being embarrassed about it, esp. at that age.

Labor Nurse said...

Kathy, OCPs (birth control pills) work by preventing ovulation. They also increase cervical mucous as you mention, and because of the steady state of hormones (as opposed to the waxing and waning of a "normal" cycle) it does cause a thinner endometrium. However, the thinning of the endometrium is not considered a mechanism of action but rather a side effect. Even with the thinner endometrium, a fertilized egg can implant if a woman ovulates for whatever reason (skips pills, takes them at extremely different times each day, or the rare woman that it just doesn't work!) on OCPs. With emergency contraception, it works by preventing or delaying ovulation. The high dose of progesterone does this. Because EC is given in one dose or 2 doses over a course of a day, it does not thin out the endometrium to the point of making it impossible to implant an egg; there just isn't enough time to establish this. I don't have access to my textbooks at the moment, but an excellent source on contraception (all kinds) and tons of other topics on sexual issues, etc, is Hatcher's Contraceptive Technology. It is very easy to read, even for people not in the women health fields.

Real said...

On an episode of the Cosby show, Rudy gets her period and Claire takes her out for a girl's day. They go out to lunch and go shopping and get their nails done, etc... She also uses it as an opportunity to talk about what's happening and asnwer questions and dispel myths.

I loved it and decided long ago that's what I'd do with my girls. I kind of even hope it happens at school so I can come pick her up and wisk her off for the day.

Anonymous said...

Had my first period, and first pelvic, at age 6.
Was told I was going to have a culture. All I knew were throat culture.
"Hold still or this will hurt even more," nurse told me.
She never introduced herself. She never said anything else.
Doctor never said anything.

Ethel said...

Read the "Red Tent" twice now. It was more then about menarche I think, although that was a memorable portion, but so was the sons having their turn with sheep. I suggest "the Goddess and the Alphabet" as an add on to the book as I think the "Red Tent" was more a historical fiction about the dawning of the patriarchal age and the end of the matrilineal age.

For myself I got my period on the morning of my 13th birthday, that makes 23 years of menstruating now, which is weird since I am pretty sure I'm only 16.... My friend had spent the night and we were having waffles for breakfast, and mom spilled the beans "Ethel got her period this morning!" Of course, my mother, friend, younger sister, and father were there. I was embarrassed only because I felt that was a womanly thing and not really something that needed to be shared with my dad directly.

Other then a slight embarrassment I think my mom used me as a conduit of pride for my sister and my friend, as their turn was coming sooner then later.

Labor Nurse said...

Anon, that must have been a horrifying experience. I'm sorry that that happened to you.

Ethel, I had a friend who had a similar experience- her mother just told everyone!

Real, funny...I watched the Cosby show as a kid but don't remember that episode at all. I must be getting old!

Liz said...

It's funny you mention this now. I was just home for a visit, and knew I would either be announcing my pregnancy or having my period. It was my period, which was disappointing on it's own, but I was having bad, bad PMS made worse by poor sleep away from home.

I have never thought of myself as ashamed of my period, but I was relieved to switch to sea sponges so that I never had to carry the little discreet bag of tampons and pads to the bathroom again. I didn't want to tell my mother I was having my period, I was embarrassed about it.

Eventually, when I got overly angry about some sauce that wasn't delivered with our take out, I had to finally spill the beans and admit I was having my period and I was uncontrollably emotional, and I felt it like a personal failing. Fortunately, my mother understood, having been there. There should be no shame attached to it, but there was for me.