– BY SARAH SAHAGIAN –
(Menstrual) Blood and Tears: ‘How I Survived a Very Public Menstrual Leak While Vacationing in Berlin.’ – A guest blog by Canadian writer Sarah Sahagian (photo).
Please, allow me to tell you the story of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s more embarrassing than the time when, in Grade 6, I fainted in sex ed. It’s even more embarrassing than the time when, at age 29, I was volunteering to judge a Middle School debate tournament and I got hit on by one of the tweenage competitors. By our society’s standards, it’s a really, really embarrassing story. It’s almost as embarrassing as Donald Trump running for president.
So, what exactly, happened to me? Well, this one time, my tampon decided to quit it’s job while I was on vacation with friends in Berlin.
‘Some friends and I headed to Berlin, one of the coolest cities on the planet, and therefore one of the most embarrassing places in which to embarrass oneself’
Before I tell you all of the literally gory details, I should say I have always had a heavy flow. I’m not a dainty menstruator. No shade on people whose periods are light, but mine is more of a blood-red monsoon. Each time I get my monthly visitor, I feel like I should issue a tsunami warning to my underwear: ‘Caution! Get to high ground! Save yourselves! File for refugee status in my boyfriend’s drawer! You don’t want me to put you on and wear you around for at least the next 5 days! Flee!!!!!’
Because my flow is substantial, I spent the first decade and a bit of my menstrual years eschewing tampons. A friend once told me she felt like she had ‘too much junk in the trunk to wear booty shorts,’ and while I disagreed with her on that, it’s actually how I feel about tampons. I have too much blood in my uterus for that shit!
In high school, when the cool girls talked about the merits of Tampax, I spread my wings (the ones on my menstrual pads, of course) and learned to fly through that time of the month.
Over those first few years of my monthly cycles, I became an expert menstruator. My school uniform was dark too, so even if I did get blood on it, you couldn’t see it. I began to feel invincible. I’d mastered the art of bleeding out my body.
Then, I got cocky. At the age of 24, I started taking risks with my period regimen. I had a routine that worked, but I felt the siren call of tampons. Skinny jeans were in and I was sick of the bulk associated with pads. I was also sick of that clammy feeling I got in my lady garden when I DESPERATELY needed to change my pad on Day 3, but couldn’t find a bathroom. So, I thought I’d be a modern girl and give tampons a real try.
‘I’m not a dainty menstruator .. I feel like I should issue a tsunami warning to my underwear’
My experimentation with tampons coincided with my vacation in the summer of 2010. Some friends and I headed to Berlin, one of the coolest cities on the planet, and therefore one of the most embarrassing places in which to embarrass oneself. Everyone in Berlin has the chilled out air of an effortlessly hip artist who creates groundbreaking guerrilla installations in abandoned warehouses, then celebrates by taking MDMA with a bunch of professional mimes at a party held on someone’s houseboat. It’s too hip to quit.
On a sunny Sunday, I was feeling pretty cool while hanging out with my buddies at Berlin’s Mauerpark. I don’t usually feel plugged into the Zeitgeist, but being in a city where everyone is always en point made me feel like I too, could be one of the hip kids. I felt more smug and cosmopolitan than a woman who unironically went to see 27 Dresses has any right to be, so naturally, the universe decided to take me down a peg.
The Mauerpark is an amazing and gigantic green space that used to be part of the Berlin Wall. It boasts outdoor volleyball, a flea market with craft venders so niche they’d make Etsy feel jealous, and it was here that my tampon quit it’s job without notice. Now, this wasn’t ‘a 5th day of your period residue blood’ situation either. This was the full on stuff. There was a Quentin Tarantino movie ‘s worth of gore leaking out of my nether regions, and I was suddenly playing without a net!
‘You leaky woman! Stay away from my kaftan stand!’
My friends and I were walking through the flea market when I realized that a shower of menstrual blood was pouring out of my body, running down my thighs in very noticeable streaks. I debated not telling them, but unfortunately they figured it out. Soon, my cheeks were as red as my thighs. I seriously considered faking my own death so I would never have to speak of this event again.
So there I was, in an awesome outdoor park where you could get any type of gluten-free vegan baked good you want, but washrooms were not so plentiful. I was leaking menstrual blood all over the outdoor market, with various venders giving me dirty looks that said, ‘You leaky woman! Stay away from my kaftan stand!’
My friends and I had to leave the park in search of a useable washroom. Eventually, we happened upon a pizza place where I begged the owners to let me change my tampon in their bathroom. They didn’t seem super enthused about the idea of helping out a non-customer, but by this point my lower body looked like it was re-enacting the scene in Saving Private Ryan where they land on Omaha Beach. Because they were humane people, the staff took pity on my bleeding body and let me use their facilities.
As I used that dirty restaurant washroom, I cried actual tears of relief. I remember how immensely grateful I felt for the chance to wash off my blood-smeared extremities with scratchy paper towel and realized I had just survived the most awkward and humiliating moment I had ever experienced. Goddess willing, it will never be topped.
‘My lower body looked like it was re-enacting the scene in Saving Private Ryan where they land on Omaha Beach’
The thing about this moment was, it was only so very embarrassing because society has constructed menstruation as something dirty. It was embarrassing beyond words, but it shouldn’t have been. Accidents happen. I mean, I get a runny nose in public any time my allergies act up and I’m out of Kleenex. That’s my insides leaking out for all to see. This, however, doesn’t seem like nearly as big a deal to me. Why? Probably because everyone’s nose runs sometimes, so it’s been normalized by society. Because menstruation has historically been associated with people deemed female, the patriarchal conspiracy that’s determined to make women hate their bodies decided it was dirty, and something to be hidden away, never spoken of and certainly never seen. It’s the absolute most taboo form of waste.
Of the friends who were with me on that fateful Bloody Sunday, two of them were cisgender men. They were at first shocked to see my crimson wave make an unexpected appearance, but ultimately, they got over it. They helped me search for a washroom just like my girlfriends would have done. Being exposed to my period didn’t hurt them: they weren’t traumatized for life by exposure to my unspeakable moon blood.
In fact, I believe watching me bleed all over the grass at a German park was good for my guy friends. After the whole incident was over, my good buddy Samir said to me, ‘Wow, I’m glad I saw that! I don’t think I really appreciated what menstruation was before. But now I get it. I respect the work you and other menstruating people do.’ The work we do? It sounded weird to me at first, but it’s sort of true. Menstruating requires work. It requires forethought and problem solving. You have to figure out how to deal with that process and it’s not exactly a brief one. It can be a chore, but you know what? My day at the Mauerpark taught me that, even when everything in menstrual land goes wrong, I’ll live. It’s just my uterine wall shedding its lining. I shouldn’t be ashamed of that. Yes, I menstruate, but so what? A few billion other people do too.
This guest blog is written by Sarah Sahagian. She is a professional feminist and a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York University in Toronto (Canada). Her writing has been featured in The Huffington Post, XOJane, the satirical newspaper The Beaverton and She Does The City (among others). Her first novel, Good Girls (fiction about teens at an all-girls school who do debating as an extra-curricular activity) will be released in the fall of 2016. Pre-order a copy? Visit Amazon.com. You can follow Sarah on Twitter here: @sarahsahagian.
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