Thursday, August 18, 2011
Written in Blood
Image of a goddess sculpture by my friend Joan Relke and her long-term partner Carl Merten near Sydney, Australia.
My womb has always seemed like the deepest part of my mind: the unconscious, for lack of a better word. It knows things. Somehow it knows when to open the cervix, its little door like something in Alice in Wonderland, to let a baby or something else out. Then it closes up tight, leaving only enough space to spit out messages in blood.
I stayed awake through most of high school biology class. Later on, I gave a pop-up book to my young daughter that showed her (in three dimensions) her own reproductive plumbing. I still think the "experts" in human biology don't know half of it.
The womb is called the uterus in Latin. It is spooky. It is like a Muse that speaks in code.
When I was eleven, I dreamed about a body covered in blood, with a knife in its back. I thought this scary image had something to do with the Second World War, which was still discussed endlessly in the early 1960s. (All the parents of my generation had been in the military, or remembered blackouts and rations.) My mother tried to convince me that dreams don’t mean anything, since they’re not “real.” Nonetheless, I liked to write down things that seemed important, even if no grownup of my acquaintance would see them that way. So I wrote down the words on the note attached to the knife in my dream: Thursday 19.
Two years later, on Thursday, November 19, I saw blood again when I didn’t expect it, in junior high school. I was having my first period.
Time passed, and I discovered sex with guys. At age 21, I had a Torrid Affair (it had to be torrid because it sure wasn’t sensible) with Mr. Wrong, a friend of a male friend who invited us both to stay in his apartment after midnight for a late-night coffee. Our mutual friend left, but I stayed. Mr. Wrong, the descendant of a famous Scandinavian musician, liked to fantasize about being a Viking raider. He never actually served me coffee, but his hospitality was memorable. I didn’t get any sleep, and stumbled out the door in the morning in an altered state of consciousness to catch the bus to the university, where I was taking classes. I made note of the date when our date began: midnight of December 6 (or early-morning of December 7).
I lost touch with Mr. Wrong when I went to England with my family for a year. There I met another man, we become engaged and I imported him into Canada. We got married. In due course, we agreed to have a baby.
I went into labour at midnight on December 6, and gave birth on December 7, anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, which propelled the United States into war (and my dad into the navy). Okay, my womb probably didn’t plan to drop a baby to commemorate the dropping of bombs. Au contraire. My body seemed to remember the very different event that occurred exactly five years before.
My husband turned out to be another Mr. Wrong, and I became a single mother. I had a friendship-with-benefits with a university student who was due to return to his own country. I used a copper-7 for birth control. After a few weeks, my womb spat it out: ptui.
I moved into a co-op for low-income single parents, mostly women. I went to the one gay bar in town and started my first affair with another woman. My life was full of women.
My periods became unpredictable. On one occasion, I had one two weeks early while staying with my long-distance girlfriend. As it happened, she was having hers at the regular time (for her). I began "spotting" between periods. When I kept track of these episodes, I realized that they followed a 28-day cycle. My system seemed to be like a radio that could pick up any other station within range.
When my ex-husband remarried, his new wife was already pregnant. Several days before my daughter's fourth birthday, I had menstrual cramps from hell. I couldn't sleep, so I stayed awake to wait for my period to arrive. When it began, the cramps suddenly stopped like screams in the night that just end, without leaving an echo. I took note of the time: 1:00 a.m., December 4.
The next day, my ex-husband told me the news: his wife had given birth to a girl at 1:00 a.m. that morning.
Eventually, I started having a period every other month, then less often as I reached the end of my reproductive years. I still had mini-periods ("spotting") which could turn into the real thing when I was surrounded by other women. Once when I attended a festival of gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans choirs at the University of British Columbia, I realized that I had to find a dispenser of "feminine supplies" as soon as possible. There was too much inspiration.
There have been no messages from my womb for a few years now, but anything could still be in there. I don’t know everything that’s in my mind either.
One of my pet peeves in written sex scenes is the use of “womb” (usually by a male writer) to mean vagina/cunt/pussy/snatch/muff, etc. Blood from the womb can pass through the vagina on its way to the outside world, just as concepts from the subconscious can emerge into the conscious mind to be expressed openly. This does not mean that different parts are the same.
Blood comes from the deeper organ, which is a hollow muscle that can’t be deliberately flexed. Womb-blood reminds us that not everything is under deliberate human control. It’s our internal version of the ocean where all life is said to have begun. It's messy and leaves stains to make sure it can't be ignored.