Trigger warning: This story contains language that describes disordered eating behaviors.
On June 14 around 7 a.m., I got my period for the first time in seven years. After countless visits with doctors in two countries and four cities and more tests, theories, and baffled expressions than I care to enumerate, I was pretty convinced I was broken forever. I felt sad and left out every time someone asked if I had a tampon. I didn’t know why the moon wasn’t communicating with me. I worried I wouldn’t be able to have kids.
Doctors assured me that the problem had nothing to do with my diet—a possible culprit behind absent reproductive cycles. I got plenty of protein, ate all the healthy fats that wellness gurus swoon over, and was light on sugar and alcohol. I was skinny but always “within normal range,” and never thin enough to trigger alarm bells. I was a nutritionist’s wet dream, a poster child for the Whole 30, the good eater every parent dreams their child will grow up to be. Or so I thought.
I took great pride in the private cosmology that was my diet. It rested on the back of meticulous research (anything is a carcinogen if you google it hard enough) and an intense pseudo-moral intuition about what was good or bad to eat (It just feels wrong to drink something intended for another mammal’s young. Don’t sweeteners seem emotionally lazy?). I imagined God flying into my refrigerator to hand me the World’s Best Fiber Intake trophy. I would use it to food-shame everyone in the cafeteria in Heaven.
Then I met a gifted nutritionist who saw my diet differently. The truth is as complicated as the human body, but at least part of the truth here is that my controlling insistence on being “healthy” (partnered with a controlling insistence on being productive and otherwise impressive, but that’s a whole other essay…) created enough stress on my body that my brain put my reproductive system on lockdown. This space: not safe for baby.
The path to health included an extremely uncomfortable commitment to taking in more. More fat, more carbs, more liquid intended for another mammal’s young, more sweeteners. More sleep, more physical touch from myself and licensed practitioners, more gentleness and care in every way. I didn’t think any of this would work, reeking as it did of that modern enterprise I least admire: self-love. And yet here I am, back among the bleeding just four months later.
That first spot of June blood felt like a miracle.
I had seen the (life-altering) ninth episode of PEN15 where Maya becomes a woman and also those sleek free-bleeding underwear ads, so I knew public discourse around periods had changed since I’d left the game. People love uterine lining now! So I decided to tell everyone about mine.
My dad cried and said, “I’m so happy for you,” as if I had actually accomplished something.
My mom was also so happy for me for thirty seconds, before panicking that my period might disappear again.
I texted my ex-boyfriend who lives in a different city and he responded with three popping champagne bottles, which to my knowledge is the first time he’s ever used an emoji.
My 77-year-old boss clutched his chest with joy and, eager to convey how deeply comfortable the conversation was for him, added some thoughtful follow-up questions about cramps.
The stranger my friend tried to set me up with at his birthday bought me a celebratory drink and insisted: “It’s 2019, only lame men are grossed out by periods.” (I experienced newfound hope in woke masculinity.)
Another guy I went on a blind date with that week listened to the whole triumphant story compassionately, even offering some related experience of a health mystery solved through diet. We’re all just souls trapped in these weird malfunctioning vessels, I thought.
A third date got squirmy and asked if I was telling everyone about this. I decided to take a break from dating, but that was okay because my social calendar was already full: I was planning a blood party.
A blood party is the party you have to celebrate getting your period for the first time in seven years. At least, it’s the party I throw to celebrate getting my period for the first time in seven years. I had been fantasizing about this day for a long time, so I already knew the essential elements: Bloody Marys, blood orange bellinis, some sort of fertility ritual. I also wanted it to involve dancing naked around a campfire deep in the wilderness under the aurora borealis, but I live in Los Angeles and don’t own a car so I settled for Elysian Park at dusk with some streamers.
I invited many people, all of whom had experience with menstruation. I encouraged friends to fly in from distant cities, threatening that I may never get married or have a child and so this may be their only chance to prove their love by celebrating a significant life milestone with me.
The response was overwhelming. Everyone wanted to toast to my bleeding. They had lots to say about periods in general and their place in society. They were eager to inaugurate a ceremony that honored womanhood. Someone asked my underwear size. Someone offered to bake me a red velvet cake. Some people actually did travel from distant cities to come to my blood party.
The ceremony was beautiful. Partially inspired by a friend’s transcendent Passover seder, we blessed objects from a centerpiece representing each of the organs in the reproductive system: a pea for the pituitary gland, a candle for the hypothalamus, two Twizzlers for the fallopian tubes, frozen pierogies for ovaries, an egg for eggs, a cozy sweat sock for the uterus, and of course, beet juice for blood.
Then we said some affirmations:
“As the hair follicles rise on the surface of the ovary, so I rise to meet the challenges and joys of the days ahead.”
“As the uterine lining thickens and builds, so I thicken and build in experience and understanding.”
“As the egg enters the fallopian tubes, so I willingly enter the dark tunnel of the unknown where I can’t see anything and fear is my only companion, because I know this tunnel is the only path to a new freedom.”
In other words, I really leaned into the self-love element. Which was easy, blanketed as I was in other-love from some truly wonderful others. I may never know how a bride feels on her wedding day, but if it’s anything like a girl at her blood party, I believe this feeling really does have the power to heal.
In the process of planning my party, I had so many people share similar stories of periods lost and found. There is a lot that’s wrong with a culture that obsessively endorses restriction in the name of health, that worships a number on a scale above how one feels in one’s body, that insists we be both hyperproductive and denying—a bunch of cars running on empty. I’m always discouraged to realize how poorly our culture cares for women’s bodies, but inspired every time I have cause to reflect on how many courageous, supportive, creative, loving women I have in my life. We show up. We bleed together. We celebrate.
Alice Victoria Winslow is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Instagram @avwinslow.
Originally Appeared on Glamour