Faced with some complicated feelings about fertility, pregnancy and bleeding, Rachel Judkins threw a party dedicated to periods and their life-giving super powers.
I’ve always hated my period, from the very first day it arrived uninvited into my knickers at orchestra practice when I was 13. Decades later, nothing much has changed. While admittedly it is no kind of pressing health emergency, my period and all the mess and baggage that comes with it is enough to make my life hell for a few days every month.
Even though I am one of those annoying over-sharers about virtually everything else in life, when it comes to my period, I’ve always stayed strangely silent. The shame and stigma surrounding them is still very real and, despite it being a perfectly normal bodily function experienced by half the population, they are still seen as dirty and something to be hidden away. Until now I had never questioned it, but I recently came to realise that this is complete bullshit and almost certainly adding to my period angst.
So I decided that I wanted to do something about it.
With my 40th birthday looming, I was starting to think about the big shindig that I was going to throw. My family has always loved a good theme party – my dad dressed in a leotard and headband as a bearded Jane Fonda is a mental image from my childhood that I will never unsee. I had read about people throwing their daughters period parties when they first get their period as a way of celebrating this new phase of life rather than shrouding it in secrecy and shame, and it seemed to me like the ultimate way of breaking the stigma. I desperately wished that somebody had thrown me one when I was staring down the barrel of a lifetime of cramps, stained knickers and hormonal roller coaster rides. While I couldn’t turn back the clock, I could change the narrative on my own feelings about my period by having fun with it. So I decided to throw myself a period party.
But first, there was some heavy personal shit I had to work through.
One of the main reasons that I hate my period so much is that it reminds me of my miscarriage. Every single month I have flashbacks to that horrible day in the hospital when I sat in wretched pain, watching helplessly as my baby aborted itself. The smell. The pain. The thick clotted blood. The whooshing sensation as more and more of it gushed out of me.
Pete and I had been so excited at the prospect of starting a little family together. At 13 weeks, after getting past the “danger zone” we started broadcasting our happy news to the world. We gave the baby the in-utero name “Alfalfa”, like the little sprout. I talked to Alfalfa, I sang to Alfalfa, I loved Alfalfa. But my heart was broken when I found blood in my knickers, followed by cramps, followed by an ultrasound that showed no heartbeat.
The loss was a strange cocktail of grief and guilt, and one that I found myself facing mostly alone. My lovely husband tried to understand how I felt, but to him the pregnancy had been theoretical, so the disappointment was easier to swallow. I had been comparing notes with my also hapu best friend, loitering in the baby aisle at the supermarket and tracking Alfalfa’s growth from apple seed to peanut, but was also really physically invested as well. My body had been hijacked for three months with horrendous morning sickness and exhaustion, an insatiable appetite and a thickening waist. Our baby had been so very real to me on a visceral level and I had failed to carry it to term, but this was a burden that couldn’t be shared. My body was quick to bounce back after the initial horror show, but the distrust I felt with it was harder to shake.
My first period after losing the baby was surprisingly traumatic because it was so reminiscent of the miscarriage. I was at the mall when I felt an intense pain in my tummy followed by a big whoosh of blood. I convinced myself that I must have unknowingly got pregnant again and was losing another baby. Of course I wasn’t, but this became a familiar feeling with this monthly reminder, a physical and emotional sucker punch to the gut. I don’t think I really dealt with the grief properly at the time and I sometimes wonder if one of the reasons I weep so much during my menstrual cycle, is that maybe I’m crying for my lost little baby who I buried under a cabbage tree in my brother’s garden.
I had never told anyone about the connection between my period and my miscarriage, but I realised it was time that I opened up to my husband about it. During our big talk, Pete told me that thinking about little Alfalfa made him sad but that he liked to focus instead on the two healthy children we went on to have afterwards. It suddenly occurred to me that I was looking at it all wrong. Rather than simply bringing up negative feelings about losing a baby, it was my period that had made it biologically possible to be a mother in the first place. If I hadn’t been bleeding all those years I wouldn’t have our two beautiful ratbags fill my life with such love, chaos and joy. I realised that my period was not a curse, it was a bloody gift!
And with that in mind, I started planning my period party.
I had it all worked out in my mind. I’d decorate the house with glittery blood-stained period products, people would dress up in hilarious costumes and we would guzzle Bloody Marys by the bucket load while the kids whacked a tampon piñata filled with red candy. Pete would bake me an amazing vagina cake (complete with oozing red jelly of course), and I’d make a toast to periods and their life-giving super power. It was going to be so much bloody fun.
Pete was worried that it was just too weird and that no-one would come, but I was determined. I made a homemade birthday invitation complete with drawings of a period accident and cutesy tampons, pads and moon cups and sent it out. A grand total of two people responded saying it was a cool idea but otherwise nothing. Radio silence. Either I was waaaaay more unpopular than I thought or people weren’t ready for a period party. Maybe Pete was right – maybe it was too confronting.
I never really got the chance to find out because Covid-19 gatecrashed my birthday and two days before my party, New Zealand went into our first lockdown. I was gutted about having to cancel the celebration and desperate for some fun, so embraced the Zoom trend we had been seeing around the world by turning the party virtual. All my cool ideas of party games and decorations went out the window, but I got a bunch of my friends and family together for a very strange but quite hilarious red tiled frenzy of a period party. We danced, we joked, we laughed, and I felt so much love and support beaming at me through my laptop, that in that moment the shame of my period was buried forever.
About Bloody Time!
Throughout all of this, I made a kick-ass short film about my period that you can watch below.