The Bloody Grief of Periods and Everything In Between

Readers, be gentle as you go, and call me in with love for the things I get wrong.

connie ni chiu
11 min readAug 19, 2021
Unsplash Image: Jason Leung

The red bloomed differently this time. Staring down at my underwear, I felt my heart sink at another life not possible this month, an ending that never began. My periods had always been a thing of resentment and contradictions, now a grief in waiting.

As a teenager, I dreaded the monthly thickness sweaty inside and around my parts. Dreaded the unforgiving anxiety of “leaking,” exposing the failure of my body to be elegant, unobtrusive; a ruby revealing the very thing that biologically stained me. Dreaded, then and now, the expected and unexpected thundering of cramps and backaches and fatigue, an untamed reminder of my womanhood each month.

The older I got, the deeper I resented this bloody ritual, less so the physicality of inconveniences and aches, and more so the social unawareness that withheld grace, disappearing my body into shame. Was I the only one who experienced periods as a shedding of our innermost layers, tissues, blood, selves, and souls? A small death each month?

My periods were never sad unwanted things, a hurt that invited haunting, this rejection of a particular future I finally allowed myself to discover. I never felt broken seeing myself shed; til now. Yet this month’s ache was not unfamiliar, just more enduring, seeping into my bones as retribution for getting my hopes up, for flirting with motherhood too soon.

There is always disappointment in eagerness and anticipation; a rejection, a malfunction of the body. We tried to make a baby and failed.

It took my entire relationship and marriage with my partner (and all of my 20’s) to want children even in the slightest. My partner still married me after I told him, decidedly and repeatedly, that I didn’t want children, that I may never want children. He dreamed desperately of starting a family, yet he chose me as I chose myself. What a love he embodies.

It’s gradual, this coming around to. It’s sudden too, happening one day during one particular moment. I’m still grieving the parts of my identity I had to shed to arrive here, the parts I’m proud of, the parts where I embraced my womanhood outside of motherhood, rejecting the martyred role of creating and sustaining a life other than my own. I’ve always loudly proclaimed my body as mine. Nothing has changed, yet I now grieve all the changes, the things to come, an anticipation for a different kind of life that I never willed myself to imagine. How do I grieve a future that has yet to begin?

My friends and I have never shied away from our bodies, asking each other about our sex lives (in restaurants, bars, parks, Instagram stories, you name it), our lopsided boobs and vaginas, our glorious poops and discharges (we even joked about starting a Twitter account for daily updates in college), and of course, our bloody damn periods. I’m notorious too, for publicly oversharing on social media and amongst my traditional Lao/Chinese elders who would blush to the roots of their homelands at the mention of sex and “private parts.” The word vagina even appeared in my wedding vow to the gasp of family and in-laws, and whenever they ask about children, I’d smile slyly with, Albert and I are having sex on these dates. Thanks for asking.

Yet, shy or not, the politics of emotions, identities, and histories often did not make their way into our conversations, which wasn’t to say that we didn’t care deeply about each other’s inner feelings. Perhaps it was our own lack of practice in knowing what to ask, when to ask, and more so, how to ask, paralyzed by the thought of holding space when the answers to our awkward questions tumbled out in the shape of sorrow and loss.

My friends and I grew up in an era where we were made to believe that sexism had been eradicated because women can have it all — become doctors, lawyers, CEOs, President of the USA and raise a perfectly instagrammable family. No one told us that sexism had merely evolved into a more pernicious and insidious form that involved gaslighting around ambiguous consent, sexual aggression, gendered systemic scarcity, and the never-ending competition on social media where everyone looked like they were having it all. And more, filtered through toxic positivity as the cherry on top.

We found ourselves circled around our failures at not having it all, our silly attempts at purging a shame that wasn’t ours to begin with. It felt like our inner selves and tissues rejecting themselves. How do we sit with this kind of shame as millennials raised to be intersectional feminists who didn’t lean on others for support? Sure, some of us desired men, but none of us needed them because we could do it all ourselves. It turns out we still need their sperm.

Some of us had an “easier” time conceiving, relatively quick so we called them lucky, though I often wondered if “luck” masked our private jealousies and bitterness. Others had — still have — a “difficult” time, dragging from months to years, spliced with medical interventions, unforgiving timelines, unplanned debt, ovulation strips and apps that pinged you with Peak fertility! Have sex today! High chance to get pregnant! like carnival rides screaming at you to fasten your seatbelts. The irony never escaped me, and more often than not, I felt myself wanting to get off before even getting on, spiraling back into self-doubt that maybe I didn’t want children after all.

What we didn’t talk about were the quiet moments when the roller coaster stalled, malfunctioned, or jolted to an end before it even started and you got off only to wait in the back of the line until the strips and apps screamed Peak fertility! and you fastened your seatbelts again. And again and again.

I asked my “unlucky” friends how it was all going, pretending not to be envious about the most intimate parts of their bodies and relationships. Their typical responses bordered on process and exhaustion, Oh-Em-Gee I’m exhausted! The scheduling, the rigidity, the costs. Nothing is pleasurable anymore and we fight and get on each other’s nerves. When ovulation hits, it’s drop everything and boink, prod, jab!

I was exhausted just listening. And heartbroken for my friends and families who are queer, and for those labeled infertile or sub-fertile (I too was labeled sub-fertile by this posh fertility clinic in Santa Monica, whatever that means).

And I rage. I rage over the details of medical necessities involving countless fertility interventions that cost a crime for each non-guaranteed procedure. I wondered how many (male) economists, policymakers, and politicians factored these costs into their analysis of family care within this nation’s wildly inflated and growing canyon between the “haves and have-nots” (though more aptly termed as those who’ve benefited from stolen generational wealth and those who’ve been stolen from—and I don’t just mean money). This canyon between identity-marginalized and dominant groups where real human lives are sacrificed to this white supremacist, settler colonial, heteronormative, partiarchical systems of extraction. This too, is a bloody crime scene.

Thanks to 2020, I’ve been trying to intuit emotions and vulnerability by practicing endurance and spaciousness with my loved ones, asking how they are holding up emotionally, if there is anything I can do to support. Oh, we’re okay. It’s disappointing and sad whenever aunt flo visits, especially when we first started but after a while…you get used to it. Like, oh hello there again, period. I’ve been expecting you.

But once in a while, my dearest friends’ inner layers slip out like bloody tissues in the words of shame, failure, rejection, and not good enough. During these moments, I can’t help but feel overwhelmingly resentful of the human body and the social constructs/constraints of womanhood, fated to endure the ups and downs of periods from youth through menopause. That’s about half of our entire lives.

Now, what happens when our inner layers and tissues literally slip out of us, a bloody mess of bodily failure? Miscarriages are unspoken but so deafening, a thundering loneliness when two bodies collapse back into one. Does every failure to conceive feel like the phantom limbs of a miscarriage? Do we get to grieve a loss that has yet to become? Do we get to claim that kind of sorrow, that kind of specificity? Or are phantom limbs not real enough to grieve in its abstraction, our ghosts not bodily enough?

Asked another way: Can we grieve what has yet to be? Which is perhaps simply a mourning of our inability to create in our own image because ours is not enough.

I ache most over how essentializing this made up thing of womanhood can feel, an inescapable role in a society that cannot see its own patriarchy, its creation in its own image. This leaves us grieving a future we feel ashamed and inadequate in changing. This leaves me holding my underwear stained red, a sadness and emptiness unwashed in my hands that cannot be explained beyond, You’ll get used to it.

People often ask why I don’t want children, as if my lack of desire to be a mom is inherently questionable. My responses varied widely over the years, anywhere from not wanting to give up my own self-indulgences to not seeing a future world that felt safe and abundant enough to not allowing the trauma of pregnancy and childbirth to scar my body. It is never enough to simply state that I have no desire to be a mom; neither is not wanting, not seeing, not allowing. I couldn’t rationalize the future in the affirmative, only the negative where everything came out as half-truths.

This lack of desire. That, it turns out, is also a half-truth.

I never asked myself why and even this asking is a form of my own internalized shit. What’s so wrong with feeling no desire to be a mother? Why do we feel compelled to ask why? This question slaps like an accusation, and when we slap ourselves, I can’t help but wonder if it’s our own attempts at excising the parts of ourselves that feel lacking.

It was only after I collided with my mom’s experience of being pregnant with me that I stopped slapping myself and pulled out the other half of the truth.

After 31 years, my mom — a single mom, a refugee from Laos, the spirit and embodiment of relentless love — nonchalantly told me over lunch one very ordinary day that my biological dad punched her belly while she was six months pregnant with me. My own belly gutted hollow as the chair and linoleum floor dropped out from under me, his violence flashing before my eyes at the sheer factness of her retelling. His punch reverberating across time and space, landing here, now, me. A drowning. I can’t even remember what he looks like.

The casualness in how she said, He was trying to kill you because he didn’t want you, felt like the most normal of things in our relationship. And then it was over.

Writing this now, I couldn’t help but see a brutal braiding of my mom’s retelling with how some of my friends would share — casually, nonchalantly, and at times, with a soft sad laugh — that they had a miscarriage or a series of maybe-miscarriages. Not pregnant yet, but still trying. You know how it goes! As if miscarriages weren’t another form of quiet violence our bodies commit on ourselves.

It is this normality, this casualness, this expectedness that we brush off with a sad smile or soft laugh that breaks me, that makes me wonder what it desperately means to be human in such inescapably concrete yet overwhelmingly elusive terms.

I held back tears then, afraid to ruin lunch with my mom. Writing this now, the ever growing lump in my throat throbs with her histories and sorrows and tragedies retold so ordinarily, a series of maybe-miscarriages waiting to happen. Even now, I feel myself holding back tears, afraid of ruining this memory.

Bitterly, I also catch a sad laughter mid-rise in reminding myself that I got my period this morning so of course I’m emotional with hormones, that I’m okay, I’m used to this, it’s expected. Then, replaced with feelings of shame and embarrassment from texting my friends about feeling pregnant two weekends ago and signing off with that awkward-teeth-gritting-emoji, But it’s probably a placebo effect or something! That same qualifying statement reverberating across time and space as protection against how our own bodies will betray us. That also feels entirely human. The disappointment aches the same, enduringly so.

My therapist often asks if the story I tell about not wanting children has to do with my mom’s relationship with a man who should’ve loved me but instead violently rejected and abandoned me. I nod yes every time but I’m honestly not sure; it wasn’t me he hit. On more than one occasion. He remains a phantom limb of my mom’s first love who malfunctioned before I even was. I guess the story I tell wonders if he grieved me before meeting me, the way I now mourn my periods as missed connections, a series of maybe-miscarriages. But perhaps I should replace the word grieve with resent.

I hate that the part I fixate on is the violence of a stranger rather than the immense labor of love from someone who has weathered every imaginable storm to walk me down the aisle and ask when she’d get to hold her grandbabies (to which I tell her when I’m having sex next so hopefully nine months from then).

Is this fixation part of what it means to live in my skin? To only see my own brokenness as a void rather than an opening seeking sunlight in the form and shape and touch of others. A labor of love. An unburying of all that’s possible inside of me, broken or not.

On the inside, we’re all the same bloody mess anyway.

Recently, a girlfriend and I have been writing love letters to women of color — her brilliant (and drunk) idea one night. We were Zoom brainstorming prompts for the second letter, laughing, venting, yucking it up, and loving up on each other after a challenging week. I shared my idea of creating a listicle for all of our unqualified joys and pleasures of being two women of color and she immediately blurted out, Guuuurrrrl, #1 on my list is PMS. Like can I just enjoy my fucking PMS? To which I clapped with laughter and said, Yes! Like imagine walking into a work meeting full of white dudes and being like, Hey, I’m menstruating right now so I can’t lead tonight’s meeting. Thanks for understanding, team.

Our shared laughter over each wild scenario left us giddy and love-drunk on an ordinary Friday afternoon. A different view of us, our healing in bloom. And sure, wild scenarios now but not impossible if we only unbuckle our seatbelts, get off the ride, and build for ourselves an entirely different way of having it all, of what it means to be so entirely us in ourselves.

To be us; to be enduringly so as creation stories pregnant with bloody underwears, sad throat-lumps, weathering storms in the name of love, exhales of soft laughter, forgiveness of self then, forgiveness of self now, forgiveness of self again and again. A creation story in our image bursting with overly simple yet layered life-things that are alive, unqualified, living inside of us. One day, we will no longer have to keep forgiving ourselves.

We are blooming more than bleeding. Made from the literal connective tissues of all that came before us, all that is here now, and all that will come through and after us. Our grief, an enduring gift, an embodiment of unrelenting love persisting. Blooming, and so entirely alive.

Blooming, March 28, 2022