As a woman with endometriosis and infertility, I have developed feelings of antipathy or dislike for my menstrual cycle. My cycle tells me every month that I’m not pregnant. When it’s late, I get a little bit hopeful, and when it arrives, I am disappointed. It comes with migraines and other pain. Fortunately, my endo pain has not been as severe as many women experience despite having a severe case. My cycle feels like it has no purpose other than to torture me.
I am struggling to transform my feelings about my misdirected cycle and infertility, and I am working on acceptance. I want to recapture or reframe some of that feeling of sacredness. I recently joined a Red Tent group in my community because I was interested in learning more and potentially transforming these feelings.
Red Tent groups are organized around women supporting each other in our womanhood. The group is named for the tents used in biblical times for women during menstruation, and the idea of sacred menstruation is a central focus of these groups. There’s an idea that the menstrual cycle is a powerful, sacred component of our womanhood and for life itself. The groups also provide a fellowship for women to support each other.
It’s hard to celebrate my menstruation when mine is dysfunctional. It has caused me pain, led to surgery and medications, cost me a great deal, risked my health, and contributed to my childlessness. I can comprehend the sacredness of a healthy, fertile woman’s menstrual cycle, but what about mine? It’s hard to understand where women with endometriosis, hysterectomies, infertility, and other womb-related issues fit in here.
Some women involved with this movement will say things like: “Neglecting the sacred cycle has meant that women are plagued with menstrual disorders, pain, hormonal imbalances and severe mood swings that needn’t exist at all.”
I hear messages that somehow I caused my endometriosis by somehow failing to honor my sacred cycle? Perhaps I am misinterpreting, but there are many such messages out there hinting that women cause their own menstrual disorders, etc. There are sometimes corresponding claims that we can cure these ailments through honoring the sacred cycle as they describe.
I don’t believe it. Further, those kinds of beliefs and messages are harmful for those of us struggling with conditions like endometriosis. I had endometriosis long before I knew I had it. If I had taken more time and energy to honor my sacred cycle, I wouldn’t have developed endometriosis? Is there any science to back up such claim? No! I didn’t cause this!!
In fact, some scientists have found evidence of endometriosis in developing fetuses (see the work of P.G. Signorile published in 2010 and 2012). It’s possible that conditions like this have their basis before a woman like me has taken her first breath. No amount of honoring the moon would have changed that. It hurts women to put that blame on us.
That said, there are many positive sides to the Red Tent movement and to the idea of sacred menstruation. Many have regarded menstruation as a curse, even “The Curse.” It’s valuable to reframe that in a positive light that reflects the powerful, life-giving womb and the monthly cycles that are supposed to cleanse and refresh it. I like the empowering messages for women and the idea that we need to be gentle with ourselves and acknowledge the realities of our hormones and monthly cycles. I think there are ways this can help us cope with and even ease some of our symptoms. Perhaps most importantly, it is wonderful to have a community of women supporting each other during these parts of our lives women only share – menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, etc.
If I could make a suggestion, I suppose it would be to widen the tent. Welcome the sisters who have been afflicted by womb-related diseases and health conditions without judgement or blaming us. What about the many women who experience the intense struggles of infertility, or women with hysterectomies? Perhaps we need a broader set of positive beliefs that can include and support us. We might be some of the women who need this tent and sisterhood the most.
Thoughts? Have I misunderstood? Have you wondered this too? Have you somehow reframed your illness in this context?
Image: Blood Moon Montage by George Capalbo
Text Copyright Snowdroplets 2015