The Indelible Marks of a Bleeder by Leah Sookoo
The Tall Tales of A Woman Who Bleeds
It was a hot day and we drove with the windows down. Sudbury to Regina was a long few days, and I was squeezed in a parent sandwich in this weird front middle seat. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car. I remember the baby blue shorts I was wearing complete with a black strap belt, exposing my upper thigh which was glued to the leather. I finally peeled myself away into the open air, standing beside the door. That’s when my suspicions had been confirmed. I sensed it during the drive, but I couldn’t check. Perched on the sidewalk, I felt it again: the loving, familiar stream (or rather a glug) somewhere between my body and my underwear. Instinctively, my eyes darted to where I was seated and I saw that indelible mark, a shameful blemish of burgundy on cream. Quickly covering up my butt with my hands, my 12-year-old brain tried to devise a plan, but before I could, my step-mom leaned in. “Hmm what’s this?” She bent toward it. “Chocolate? Did you sit in something?” I mumbled that I didn’t know. She proceeded to lean down to smell it and then lick her finger to smudge it. It was almost too much to bear, but bear I did, along with all the other cringe-worthy moments of my youth. Every other time I got up from a chair to find a crimson smear; every other time my friend’s pointed out that yes, I did in fact have a spot on my shorts. Could I borrow your sweater? Can you walk behind me? By adulthood, I, too, was burdened by the weight of my body’s treachery.
Surely, a woman of her age would have known what that was. Surely, teachers and parents and the world around us, would have known what we were bashfully trying to hide. But they all played deaf and blind to our spots, our stains, and our strained faces as we quickly looked away and ran to the bathroom. Squaring up with our reflections, we just wondered if we were normal.
I had to ask my step-mom for a pad, and as I recall, she was unnecessarily hushed, inquisitive. “I don’t have any. Do you use tampons?” God, if you’re real, please strike me down right now. I told her I didn’t, so her inquiry continued. “What do you want me to pick up for you?” Whatever, I don’t care, just leave and make this conversation end so I can go back to being a normal kid on summer vacation. Not a “problem to deal with,” just me, a girl who hadn’t really changed all that much between 11 and 12 besides getting a period.
If you talk to anyone, you’ll hear the same stories. Unlike most mythology, we don’t question validity when a woman tells you she bled at school on a chair or felt the drip down her leg at soccer practice. The tales aren’t tall, there is no exaggeration, though I’m sure we often wish there were. There’s no glorifying it; every teenager has been baffled, ashamed, and betrayed by her own body as a rush of new hormones came to change everything as we knew it.
I look back at my 12-year-old self and I understand just how normal I was. Unwavering anxiety and embarrassment tumbled behind me as I groped into maturity. Is that unique? No. I wish I could look back at her and say, no one else has any idea what’s going on. Your eyebrows suck but it gets better. And sure, you might have been the first one to get your period at school, but you won’t be the last.
By the time I discovered menstrual underwear and a cup, I was nearly 30 years old. Let us take a moment of silence to remember all the fallen soldiers (underwear) that found their fate in a garbage can. I had been bleeding for half of my life, for goodness’ sake, and I could still be found wrapping toilet paper around my underwear or asking strangers in hushed tones if they had an extra tampon.
The shame did not really fuel me to find more secure period paraphernalia; I wish it had. I, like everyone else, came to accept it, to live with this burden, this secret facet of my identity. Indeed, it was not the ruined underwear or the stained jeans that brought me face-to-face with alternative methods; or even a movement of women joining their voices in a growing conversation about bleeding. No, it was, in fact, the desire to cut back on waste and plastic use. Because when I commit to something, I do it right (#plasticfreejuly). I was terrified of the diva cup and today, I can’t tell you why that might have been. We fear what we don’t know? I didn’t know a life outside of toxic sticks of cotton and panty liners sticking to my pubic hair. Today, talking about my menstrual cup (I’m partial to the dot cup) is like when a mother cradles her child and says, “I don’t remember life before her!” I used to think: Really? As if. Now, I vaguely understand.
Although their ads are abundant, promising glorious freedom for the blood-flowing form, I was hesitant to try Thinx or any menstrual underwear. But when I did, let me tell you, the gates, my mind, my canals were opened and sweet security followed.
Why did I wait so long? I was aghast, angry with myself for not acting sooner. I took to the vast streets of social media to tell everyone I knew to make the investment. If not for yourself, for your underwear, your bed sheets, your chairs and jeans. Give me your bleeding, your tired, your weary of washing, and I will give you the gift of wisdom: no longer shall you sneak a tampon in your sleeve, no longer shall you inquire under your breath, no longer shall you run to the bathroom. Liberty!
I am not promising that the shame will dissipate — that’s not for one woman with a menstrual cup to decide for all of society. You might still need to rinse your cup in private and snatch your underwear from the wash before your roommates find them. But I promise you this: the 12-year-old inside of you will smile every time you wear white pants on day 1. You may not be able to erase the years of trauma, but you might make peace with your flow. You might even grow to appreciate it and all the things it does. And maybe, when you have a teenager of your own, you’ll gift her with a pair of menstrual undies and say, welcome. When I was your age, it was a secret society. But today, it’s a club. Even when you forget to wear them and leak, when you leave a stain, when you feel that familiar drip down your leg, you’re in good company. We’ve all been there. But, here, take these. I hope they help you feel normal, safe, secure. Because girl, you are.