CW: Graphic descriptions of women's bodies and sickness. Also, mention of child sexual abuse.
I was going to write you a lovely, holiday-y post about the newborn sun and the return of the light, but then I spent the afternoon in a scaldingly hot tub of bloody water, throwing up over the side onto the floor. So, instead, a more personal story.
I have always had an uneasy relationship with my uterus. When I was a teenager, once a month I would call my mother from the school and inform her that it was time to come get me because my period had started. She would bring me home and I would spend the rest of the day screaming, crying, throwing up, and wishing I were dead rather than go through another minute of my 5-8 hour ordeal of pain and extreme nausea.
At around the age of 19, I finally was prescribed birth control pills, and these had the effect of regulating my period to the point that it was no longer an incapacitating ordeal.
I continued thus until my early 20s, when I learned about the dangers of birth control, and decided to attempt less systemic means of control. I went off the pill and Naproxen became my friend, at least during the months when I took it early enough for it to work. The other months I survived, barely.
Then I became pregnant, and never had painful periods again.
Until the past few years.
Gradually, my periods have become more and more severe, closer and closer together, and less and less bearable.
Today caught me off guard, though. It hasn't been this bad since I was a teenager. We're not talking "curl up in bed with a hot pad" bad, as all the Internet articles suggest represent "severe" menstrual cramps (these articles make me laugh and also want to slap whoever wrote them). We're talking about "crawl out of my body and die if I could but instead I'm lying on the bathroom floor vomiting repeatedly, too weak and in pain to know let alone verbalize what I need and wondering if I should be in the ER" bad.
So when I say I have always had an uneasy relationship with my uterus, you might think this is what I mean, but that would be only a partial truth. To understand the whole truth you have to understand that I was told as a child that God (capital G God) only allowed people without uteruses to do certain things, and that uterus-possessing people must do specific other things if they wanted to be pleasing in the eyes of capital G God and not burn in hell for eternity.
Non-uterus-possessing people allowed to: Lead. Teach. Speak authoritatively on spiritual matters in mixed company. Be in charge of their lives. Have careers outside the home. Be ambitious. Build and make things.
Uterus-possessing people required to: Cook. Clean. Wash up after meals. Do laundry. Submit to their husbands. Be quiet in church. Raise children. Only have careers if they do not have children. Make a house a home. Bow to the spiritual leadership of men even when the men are wrong.
Of course, it wasn't said QUITE this way. They used the word "men" to refer to non-uterus-possessing people and "women" to refer to uterus-possessing people. But my body knew what they meant.
And as for the rest, it was in fact said in so many words.
The third thing you need to know to understand what I mean about an uneasy relationship with my uterus is that I was sexually abused starting about the age of 7, for which I blamed myself. As a uterus-possessor, I had learned well the lesson that my "purity" was my responsibility and greatest value, and that failing to guard it had made me unclean in the eyes of capital G God.
So when I say that I have had an uneasy relationship with my uterus, you might compare the use of the word "uneasy" to the use of the word "uncomfortable" in those damned Internet articles about what it feels like to have cramps.
I have hated my uterus. I have hated having one. I have hated being a possessor of one. I have hated myself for everything that having the uterus has represented. I have hated the world for treating me as a person who has a uterus.
I have had a lot of rage associated with my uterus.
In recent years, however, I have come to something of a detente with her. First, I was grateful for the children she gave me. She really is a miracle of a baby-maker. Then, I was grateful that she no longer seemed quite so angry and had given me some peace. I thought maybe we'd get along.
Besides that, I've done a lot of internal work to both align and embrace my divine feminine, to honor and understand her power and her rightful place in the universe and in my life. And also to embrace and understand my divine masculine. To understand that my uterus does not define me as male or female. To own, at a deep level, the fact that I can be exactly who and what I am and that my gender has nothing to with what physical attributes my body happens to possess.
I have come to understand that there was yet a fourth layer to my unease with my uterus which had nothing to do with her (my uterus) but rather with the expectations society placed upon me in regard to her. Namely, I do not identify solely as "woman" and never have, despite being the possessor of said uterus. I never wanted to be a girl. Or rather, I sometimes want(ed) to be a girl, and just as often want(ed) to be a boy, and often felt I'd been born the "wrong" gender and just as often the "right" one.
In short, I'm gender fluid (I also like the term "androgynous" because I feel I embody aspects of both... while "fluid" addresses the fact that I experience and represent gender on a spectrum rather than a binary).
So, back to the bathtub. Today, I woke up from a lovely Christmas nap to find that I was in advanced stages of painful cramping. Abby was asleep beside me. I got up and took Excedrin. I ran a hot bath. Not wanting to disturb Abby, I did all this as quietly as possible.
I got in the tub. At first, it helped. Then, it didn't. Eventually, I called for help. I don't want to belabor the point, but I think it's important that you understand that when I say my cramps become all-encompassing, that means they become everything in my body. Everything hurts and beyond hurts. I want to explosively diarrhea, I want to vomit, I want to dig my insides out and burn them, I want to go to the ER, I want to crawl out of my skin and die. I want to not die. I fear I might be dying.
In this state, then, I began a journey. I have been working lately on being in my body. I know that sounds like a funny thing to "work on," but so much of my life I have spent deliberately outside my body. At first, because of my upbringing. Then because I craved the spiritual high of extra-planar experiences. But mostly because being in my body is hard for me. So many reasons.
So I have been doing these deliberate exercises to teach myself to stay in my body and be here. Even when I meditate and travel to other planes, I start by grounding myself inside this exact body.
I've also been learning to listen to my body. To gently enquire of it what it needs, and then to provide that.
Same way I've learned to listen to plants.
So here I was wanting to crawl out of my skin and die and I want you to know how fucking proud of myself I am that I did NOT. I fucking stayed in my body. Deliberately, consciously, intentionally.
And, despite the all-encompassing pain, I asked her to talk to me.
This was particularly challenging because every time I tuned in and listened, the nausea intensified and sent me over the edge of the tub toward vomit territory again. But eventually I managed it. I tuned in and I heard her.
At first, what I realized is that the sensation was the sensation of rage. Then I realized that it was not just the sensation of rage, it IS rage.
Old rage. Rage from childhood that never got heard and released. Rage I've stuffed down. And, beyond that, below it, ancestral rage. Rage against patriarchy, rage against colonization, rage against destruction of my ancestral spiritual traditions and knowing, rage against the burnings at the stake. Rage: some mine, some ancestral, some absorbed from around me. Rage stuffed down and turned against myself.
It's important to know that while I was having this extremely internal experience, Abby was sitting on a stool next to me, following instructions as I issued them: "Ice water. A stack of clean, cool cloths. Hold my hand. No, don't touch me. Hand me a cloth. Take this cloth from me. More ice. Unplug the tub. Plug the tub."
"I'm sorry I threw up on the floor."
And inside: "Okay, rage. What do you need. I'm listening."
"Abby, a carrot."
I didn't judge. I didn't know why. It's just what she said, my rage and my uterus: A carrot.
Abby didn't ask. She just handed me a carrot.
I took a bite. I chewed it, my mouth open, bits of it dribbling out into the dirty tub water. I pressed bits of it in my teeth, squeezing out the juice. I swallowed a small amount, and handed the carrot back to Abby.
A few minutes later, another bite of carrot.
Five bites of carrot later, I drank some water and asked for tea. And a towel. And help getting out of the tub.
Ten minutes later, I was half asleep in bed.
Half an hour later, sipping tea and telling Abby what had happened in the tub that she couldn't see.
Something had happened when I ate that carrot. It felt like I was honoring and expelling rage with each bite. And like I was imbibing something more wholesome in its place. I noticed that the carrot was orange, the color of the second chakra, the chakra of creativity and reproductive organs.
It has not escaped my attention that it is also shaped like a phallus, a symbol of patriarchal supremacy, crunched between my teeth.
I looked up carrots online. Google tells me that chewing raw carrots and drinking carrot juice are known in holistic circles to provide relief from menstrual cramps.
I did not know this before today.
My body told me. The rage told me. The carrots themselves told me.
There is an ancient practice known to most indigenous cultures of learning a plant's medicinal properties by communing with it spiritually. I have been practicing this, eager for it, opening myself. I think it is no accident that I knew what plant to ask for, without "knowing" what plant to ask for.
So. That is what happened today. Now back to that holiday-y post. Today marks a period of time when we move past the darkest few days of the year and start turning once again toward the light.
Winter is not yet over, but we feel the light in its infancy growing toward the ease and warmth of summer again. Hope returns.
But maybe we don't feel that yet. Some of us are deep in darkness. Despair, pain, loss, grief, SAD. Whatever it is, we're in it.
May I gently suggest that, if you're here, and if you can manage it, that you gently enquire of your suffering what it has to teach you.
Sometimes, the greatest lessons come out of the darkness.
And when you do see the spark of light, the first sign that summer might one day return, celebrate it. Tinsel and shiny ornaments, y'all, and whatever it takes to hold the spark and grow it.
And in the meantime, remember that the darkness is holy too.
May you be blessed. May you be warm. May you HERE.
Merry Holy Day.
"Within everything is the seed of everything." ~ Philip Carr-Gomm
[Photo description: Winter sun through trees over a rooftop.] [Photo credit: Everett Head, 2019]
Fen Druadìn (they/them) is anamchara, storyteller, dragon, student of trees, and a breaker of generational curses.
Fen's mission here is to love and remember themself completely, connect deeply with the world, and help others do the same for themselves.
Fen connects deeply with the universe through their relationship with a sacred land in the Appalachians of North Carolina, and shares messages here and elsewhere. When not in the woods, they can be found on Facebook and Patreon.
If you feel led and are able, you can support Fen's work in any of these ways:
You can also contribute to the work of reconnecting with yourself and the world in any or all of these ways:
Stand in front of a mirror, look in your eyes, and say, "I love you." Repeat daily for as long as it takes
Send your love to the trees and stones and water and Earth
Spend time in quiet meditation with a plant or stone person, and listen for messages
Clean up litter in your neighborhood and/or engage in other acts of environmental restoration
Build a personal relationship with the plants and animals in your area by spending time with them and listening for their messages and responding to their needs
Reconnect with your own strength and power and truth via meditative practice such as yoga, guided meditation, chanting, drumming, dance, or any other tool that feels right and helps you ground and connect
Engage in this community and/or other communities committed to re-establishing our right relationship with ourselves and the earth
Wherever you are, on your journey and in your life, may you be well, may you be at peace, and may you always find the next good step.