Men don’t know what it’s like to bleed but not be wounded– at least, not every time. They don’t know what it’s like to analyze the color of their blood for meaning. And blood does not mark the seasons of a man’s life, like it does a woman’s.
When I was fourteen-years-old, I went on a class camping trip. Five of us were bundled into one tent, which seemed too small to contain us: budding, precocious and braver in the dark. There was a great interest in who had accomplished what on the gnarled, rope ladder into womanhood: Who had been kissed? Who had been kissed–with tongue? Who had touched it? Who had done it all ? No one had, at least, no one in our tent. Who had the biggest boobs, the most pubic hair? And, who’s gotten their period, everyone, right? Jenny A. rapid fired the questions at us, having taken on the roll of the interviewer/inquisitor, like some sort of bossy and perverted Barbara Walters. Everyone nodded, except me. I was cross-examined and in the end, only mildly believed. I had passed so many milestones early– boobs (for the record, I did have the biggest in the tent,) boyfriends, and in just a few hours, while playing truth-or-dare I would make out with a girl for the first time–with tongue. But, there I was, still on the other side of the threshold–the last of my friends to get my period. And while I wasn’t exactly a Judy Blume character, yearning for it, I was certainly ready.
When I did finally get it, a few months later, I experienced an unexpected sadness. It felt like an ending, as if a childhood expulsion letter had arrived from Neverland, signed by my first crush, Peter Pan–the ambassador of youth. And with a few drops of blood I was ejected from the kingdom of childhood.
At sixteen, I was tangled in love. We folded into each other with the force of an imploding planet. I wanted to unzip his long golden body like a garment bag, and slip inside. The closest I could get to that, was him, inside me. Afterwards, when I saw the deep streaks of blood on the sheets, I flamed into embarrassment. Half-dressed, I tried to strip the sheets off the bed as I profusely offered to wash them. It was the only part of the night that had embarrassed me. I had felt prepared for everything, I mean, as prepared as a sixteen-year-old virgin could be. But I hadn’t expected the tender intimacy of the plum colored stains on the white sheets.
At Twenty-eight, I was trying to get pregnant. I have always had erratic periods, coming and going without the certainty of tides, following some unruly and maverick moon. This has always been a source of stress; it’s nice to have a monthly confirmation that I’m not pregnant, until, of course, I actually want to be. Then this irregularity became even more frustrating. The first time my period was late while I was trying to conceive I put on a Leonard Cohen record and I lit a candle before I took the pregnancy test. I was setting the scene for my joy, for this remarkable moment. But the moment was unremarkable, as so many more would be. And my period, whenever it would deign to come, became a cruel reminder that a new life was not starting that month.
At thirty, I was pregnant for the first time, and at eleven weeks I discovered a minuscule amount of blood on my underwear. I made a strange and strangled noise that drew my husband into the bathroom.
“It’s only a drop, I said,” as his eyes filled with panic. I would keep repeating that while we drove to the doctor, and while I lay on the table as they readied the ultrasound machine.
“What color was it?” the doctor asked, “pink, brown, red?”
“ Brown,” I said, “not red–not bright red.”
“That’s good.” The doctor said.
And then, we heard the sound of the small heartbeat and we all breathed again.
Six weeks later, at seventeen-weeks pregnant, I was back on the table for a routine check up. Except, it wasn’t routine, this time there was no heartbeat. The Doppler pressed and prodded but revealed only silence.
“It was only a drop, there has been no other bleeding, it wasn’t even red,” I kept saying.
“Sometimes there are no signs,” the doctor said, “sometimes there is no blood.”
I had a friend tell me she was pregnant four days before she took a test or missed her period. She had spotted, and assumed that it was implantation bleeding. She was validated a few days later with a positive pregnancy test. To me, a few spots of rust colored blood indicate death, but to my friend it indicated life.
At thirty-four, in the hospital delivering my second son, and there was a moment while I was pushing when my husband’s face suddenly turned bone white. He kept glancing back and forth between my thighs and the midwife, like he was watching a gory tennis match. Later when I asked him about it, he said that he was looking at the midwife to see if she was worried, “I didn’t realize that a person could bleed that much and not die,” he said. But the midwife was calm–she just kept mopping the universe of blood I was creating as she told me to push and guided me through. She understood the deep jungle of my body and what it could bear and still be thriving.
Last summer I was camping with my son’s class and one of the parents brought a telescope. It’s behemoth mass was lugged up the dunes in Malibu and set up to view the full moon. I watched my six-year-old, son’s face as he peered into it. “Can you see it?” I asked, but I didn’t need to–his chin went slack and his little body tightened with excitement– he saw it. When it was my turn, I pressed my eye into the cool plastic ring and waited as it adjusted, and then the face of the full moon came intimately into view–luminous, tremulous, and pearlescent. My throat thickened and tears came, as if I was seeing something precious that I had forgotten.
In the tent, later that night, I snuggled between my boys as I listened to the sound of the waves crashing across the street. I thought about the deep places in the ocean that have not been explored, that have not been marked or understood by science. My body is like that–there is so much that science can’t explain about conception, birth and the cycle of creation. The moon pulls the tides into a rhythm, and the moon pulls my body into the same. I was overwhelmed with the connectedness of it all. I remembered seeing my ovaries during an ultrasound for the first time, how they looked–luminous, tremulous, and pearlescent, so much like the moon. No wonder they call to each other.
Image by Danimatie