(or a chat about our origins)
By Raksha Sidhu
I write in English and Kannada, my mother tongue. This story is written in English and includes verbatim dialogues with my son, written in Kannada, as I mainly converse with him in Kannada. I think this piece still works well in translation. It was written when my son was 2 years and 4 months old.
Smell of Blood (or a chat about our origins)
My period had just started. As I changed my pad the pain in my abdomen started to shoot up my body. I told my toddler son K, that I was in pain and that my stomach hurt. He said ‘taachi maadona….aamele sari hogatthe’, (let’s sleep, then everything will be ok). It was bedtime. I agreed. We made the bed, while he was being his usual disruptively playful self. I was not in the mood to play, and so I firmly told him to stop and that I needed to lie down. He quietly complied. Then, as we both got under the mosquito curtain, he said ‘eeeee vaaasane’ (eeeee smelly). I asked him ‘nannindana ninnindana?’ (me or you?) He replied ‘ninninda’ (you). Then he clarified further with ‘kakka vaasane’ (potty smell). I was puzzled. I knew this was not the case as my bowels were empty. Then I realised he was smelling the very strong smell of menstrual blood. I told him ‘adu kakka vaasane all, adu raktha vaasane’ (that is not a potty smell; it is the smell of blood).
As soon as I said it I wondered how he might react. He showed no signs of worry or discomfort. He was totally cool. Then as he started breastfeeding to drift off, I went onto explain how mummy bleeds. ‘Don’t worry, ammage yeenu aagalla’ (don’t worry, nothing happens to mummy). Then I thought I’d better say more about this ‘raktha’ (blood). I explained that when a baby is in its mummy’s stomach, this raktha keeps it soft and fed. When there is no baby, then ‘whoosh, the raktha comes out’.
To clarify further, I told him he had also been in my belly. I asked him if he remembered, and he vigorously nodded, ‘yes’. I was surprised. Who knows? Maybe he does remember. Then I asked him how he might feel if mummy had another baby in her belly? To simplify the answer, I gave him multiple choice options – ‘kushi aagatta, bejaar aagatta?’ (Will you be happy or will you be xyz? Xyz is hard to translate – it means feeling off due to any number of emotions- sadness, anger, boredom etc.).
K almost never stops suckling until he is asleep. Only a very strong reason, such as an irritant in his eye, can interrupt his process. Yet, on this night he stopped briefly to say ‘kushi aagatte’ (I will be happy). No thinking, no hesitation. Snap came the reply. I was again stunned. In this moment, I felt I was communicating with an old soul.
This reminded me of how I felt when he was born. He would look at us with the deep knowing stare of a person aged 140! So maybe it is time to start daydreaming about a sibling for K?
I wrote this piece for my own pleasure and to share with immediate family. It came very naturally, quickly and smoothly. Then when I thought of submitting something for the newsletter, this piece kept pressing for attention and demanded to be let out into the open. Then I thought oh, such a private, disgusting (!) topic. You see, when I say ‘disgusting’ it is not an admission of my own internalized disgust. I love menstruating. I love the monthly reminder of what a wonderful body I have. When I was overweight and stopped menstruating my Indian doctors were suitably blunt. After running a few routine tests they told me I needed to lose weight. That was the source of the problem. So I lost weight. And pretty much soon afterwards I started bleeding again. I loved it when I first started menstruating, aged 12. I felt so excited and happy. I was disappointed when I stopped bleeding after a few days and looked forward to the next instalment.
Even the excruciating pain was somehow a delight; to roll and moan in bed while the endorphins flooded my system and my grandmother kindly looked on with concern. I might even stick my neck out a bit: I love the smell of this blood. Not in a way that would warrant being featured in a special edition of some fetish club. More in a way that is deeply responding to the rich and ultra dense nutrients and magic in this blood, which given a chance becomes the first home of a tiny creature, that will be a future human.
So, no! The disgust is that of the deeply patriarchal society I come from, where menstruation is seen as dirty and to be avoided. My cousin’s wife once told me that her husband (my cousin) found out about menstruation from her after their marriage, while watching her wash a bloody panty. I was shocked. How can someone go through life and not learn such a simple, basic, beautiful fact of life?
Then I thought ‘nah’. This is the gestalt community. Surely they can stomach, perhaps even enjoy such a piece? After all, everyone either menstruates, in the past, present or future or knows someone who menstruates. And so here it is.
Raksha Sidhu is currently on a career break being with her toddler son. She previously worked for the NHS for 16 years and was in private practice as a psychotherapist for 4 years.