Raise your hand if you love having your period. Really. I mean it. I know that we make all sorts of jokes about our monthly menstruation, saying funny things like, “I’m on the rag.” or “Aunt Flo is visiting.” And, for some of us, monthly menstruation is a time of excruciating pain, as well as crushing disappointment at yet another negative pregnancy test. But, what I will propose in the following blog post is that we offer our period each month as a time of prayer and reparation.
If you’ve read “The Red Tent” or the book of Leviticus, you know that ancient societies like the Hebrews were very suspicious of a woman’s monthly blood. Menstruation was considered a source of uncleanliness in women, for which they were isolated away from tribal life and marital relations. (I know this “unclean” label sounds terrible, but I can’t help but wonder if ancient Hebrew women laughed quietly to themselves as they headed off to the menstrual tent, knowing that they were about to enjoy five days of girl talk, frequent naps, and chocolate while their husbands picked up the extra work at home.) If a menstruating woman touched a warrior’s weapons, they would have to be purified. And, if a husband had sexual relations with his menstruating wife, he would have to be ritually purified.
This negative view of the female body even persisted in the Catholic Church during the early years of Christendom, with a certain squeamish suspicion of all things physical promulgated by the ever-lingering heresy of Gnosticism, even amongst devout Catholics. In contrast to most people of her day, my favorite Saint Hildegard of Bingen wrote about female menstruation with clinical calmness and theological orthodoxy; unlike most of her religious peers, she harbored no suspicion of the body and repeatedly praised God’s design in the female body. I love that woman.
So, if you shudder when you think about having your period, you might be subscribing to ancient prejudices against your own body. Or, another reason for your repugnance may be because you equate menstruation with suffering. I know that some women have terrible cramps and excessive bleeding when they menstruate, while others who struggle with infertility view their period as another failure to conceive. If that is the case, I am so sorry. I remember buying my first pregnancy test after my first month of marriage, so hopeful and eager, only to see a negative result; little did I imagine the long years that lay ahead before I would be blessed with a baby in my arms, and I understand the grieving that happens each month when one desires pregnancy but has a period instead. If you have these issues, please know that your pained menstruation and your infertility are not normal and are a sign of a physical problem, such as endometriosis or hormone imbalance, that can be remedied. Your NaPro doctor can help you to chart your cycle and can diagnose and treat your difficult periods with natural hormones or other gentle and natural means. The Pill is not the answer to painful periods, and if you have a doctor who will only prescribe the Pill for your menstrual issues, I encourage you to seek a NaPro doctor.
What I would like to encourage each of you to consider, as you read this, is offering your monthly period as a time of prayer and penance. Whether it is for you a week of pain or tears or only relative inconvenience, every month you have a beautiful opportunity to “offer it up.” I say this from my experience in pro-life ministry, as well as my own infertility pain, namely, please consider offering up your cramps and discomfort as a prayer. As a prayer for the woman who rejects her fertility and has had her tubes tied. As a prayer for the woman who rejects her baby and has an abortion. As a prayer for the woman who contracepts. As a prayer for the woman who is infertile. Each month, as your uterine lining sheds, I encourage you to ponder the beautiful mystery of that and to offer that up as a prayer of thanks to God. This blood is a sign that you have the God-given capacity to offer hospitality to a tiny child in your uterus and that your feminine fertility mirrors the life-giving action of God. When we bleed each month, we can say with Jesus, “This is my blood, given up for you”, and we can offer our menstruation as a sacrifice for those who cannot bear children and for those who reject their children and their fertility.