In the end pages of Melbourne bohemian artist and all-round legend, Mirka Mora’s autobiography Wicked But Virtuous, is a letter she wrote to her womb six years after cervical cancer forced her to have a hysterectomy. It’s a piece of writing that tends to cross my mind whenever my period is particularly unbearable.
Feeling as though her absent womb was attempting to initiate conversation with her by unexpectedly appearing in her paintings in the guise of a bird; Mora writes of the eeriness of being able to automatically recognise a part of herself that she’d never physically seen, and traces the lifelong relationship her and her womb had shared. The letter is an attempt to tell this once integral piece of her body, that despite how much she had loved it for all the ways it had shaped her and for being ‘the home’ of her three children, she needed to move on.
When reading Mora’s deeply personal goodbye, you do automatically begin to think about your own unique connection and history you share with your vagina and each intricate part which forms it – particularly your menstrual cycle. To be honest, up until I thought carefully about Mora’s letter, I’d never really considered associating my monthlys with anything more than being a pain in my arse. When you’re healthy, it’s a relationship that easily gets overlooked and taken for granted. But the healthy functioning of my ovaries does deserve more than the negative and simplistic connotation I’d assigned it (even if it does leave me weeping uncontrollably and feeling as though I’ve been gut-punched*).
Despite the stigma surrounding menstruation, as well as the deeply entrenched acceptance that women are ‘not themselves’ during this time, I’m starting to realise that how I feel during my premenstrual shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed as utterly distinct from my ‘normal self’ – because it is who I am. It’s my body functioning as usual, and a reminder that my body is alive.
Although my hormones can leave me prone to greater emotional intensity during this time, that doesn’t automatically mean how I’m feeling in that moment isn’t real and doesn’t have merit outside that week. I remember years ago, sitting in the gutter for an hour with a terrible cramp that had left me incapable of walking home, and crying thinking about how I knew nobody who I could call. That emotional reaction was induced by my period yet it was also a greater product of a wider loneliness which surrounded my existence at that point.
Ridiculous as it may initially sound, I’m realising that hating, rather than holding an appreciative sentiment to ‘that time of the month’ is just like hating any other feature of your unique body. I hate the discomfort and the pain my premenstrual cycle often brings, yet I equally value the unique way this process has allowed my body to grow over time. It feels separate because of its transient nature, yet it is me and reading Mora’s letter I wonder how my own connection to this part of me will change over time.
*Moss and Roy in that ‘Aunt Irma’ episode of the I.T crowd is an eerily accurate impression of what I’m like