This Hilarious Erin Chack Essay Perfectly Illustrates The "Weirdness" Of Periods — And Why It's So Important To Talk About Them
Even though it's been about 17 (!!!) years since I first started my period, I'm still not an expert — and I'm pretty sure that most people out there who menstruate would probably agree with me. Periods are weird. Periods and their symptoms are unpredictable, even when they come every 28 days like clockwork, even when, like me, you've had about 200 of them. Periods are a huge pain in way more than just the uterus, and we definitely need to talk about it. That's what Erin Chack does in her hilariously relatable essay "Why I Can Never Visit Egypt" from her 2017 collection, This Is Really Happening.
"I've had my period over a hundred times in my life," she writes, "and still every time it comes I think to myself, I can't believe this is an actual thing that happens. It's like the uterus is a magical storm cloud that lives inside your body and rains blood for days and days on end. How is everyone so calm about this?"
But that's the thing: we're not super calm about this. At least not at first. How many of us had our periods arrive one afternoon with very little fanfare and a surprising lack of information beforehand? That was definitely the case for Chack, who first imagined that a period was a tiny spinning pyramid inside a woman's stomach, and had to endure her mother's white knuckled, bare bones explanation during one super tense (and hilariously relatable) car ride to ShopRite.
And once her period did arrive, Chack understood next to nothing about flow or how to insert a tampon. What she did know what that her period was supposed to signal this ascent into womanhood, whatever that means — an idea that has done more harm than good when it comes to menstruation politics. She writes:
"When we made eye contact — me and the period — I was not overcome with a rush of maturity like I'd hoped. I didn't suddenly hear Shania Twain's 'Man! I Feel Like A Woman' playing in my head or feel a maternal instinct toward the toddler whining two stalls over. Instead I thought with alarming clarity, I'm going to have to deal with this every month for the next forty years, and shoved a wad of toilet paper in my ruined underwear as a makeshift pad."
It was losing her period during cancer treatments a few years later that made Chack decide to "never take you for granted, you beautiful horrible liquid alarm clock" — but if you think that led to an epiphany that all things menstruation suddenly became wonderful and easy, you'd be so, so wrong. What it did lead to was a menstrual cup, and another side-splitting example about just how perplexing periods can be. Because although menstrual cups are the latest in period technology — deemed healthier and more environmentally friendly than traditional pads and tampons — many people haven't exactly been given a ton of information (as usual) about how they work. Chack didn't have too much trouble inserting it. The removal? That was a different story. She writes:
"I awoke the next day at eight a.m. and zoomed into the bathroom, excited to see what my cup had harvested while I slept. I consulted the directions insert one more time before attempting to remove the cup. There was a lot of talk of 'bearing down' and using your pelvic floor muscles to force the cup out, which I had missed the night before on my initial perusal. But the rest seemed pretty intuitive. Grip the stem and pull down. Simple enough."
Except after a couple of tries sitting on the toilet, and then standing in the shower, it was time to admit that the cup was stuck. Texting her cup-using best friend Alijah didn't help. Asking her boyfriend to go on a rescue mission definitely wasn't happening. After taking the morning off from work, Chack came to terms with the obvious: This was something had to do by herself. Much like, well, all of us. But just because periods are strange, uncomfortable, very personal, things, it doesn't mean that we have to allow this "just get on with it" mentality we've all been indoctrinated with to continue.
Why have periods become this secret shameful thing we hide in clutch purses because heaven forbid someone sees you holding a tampon? Why are we told to ignore them during gym class? And why have we allowed those who don't experience periods to laugh them off? Menstrual taboo can rear its ugly head in so many different ways both simple and sinister. From the shame and embarrassment that women all over the world endure when it comes to their time of the month, to the more sinister health issues that result from a lack of understanding and education, it's crucial that we all keep talking about the realities of periods, from the serious to the decidedly less so:
"Finally, I had managed to get it low enough to grip around the base. With one sure yank the cup popped out. I couldn't believe it. Free! At last! I held the cup at eye level and felt exactly how Sir Arthur must have felt the day he pulled the sword from the stone. Victorious. Triumphant. Covered in blood... On my way to the train I texted Alijah a flurry of messages: I fucking DID IT dude! It took all morning but I BIRTHED that thing. It was so fucking NATURAL. I am JUICED on being a woman right now. I LOVE VAGINAS. Do you think I should make a shirt that says that?"
And hey, if you're anything like Chack, you might just get a really good story out of it.