Monday, October 24, 2016

Those Monthly Cramps

Have women always had them? Oh, yes. From Wonders and Marvels:
Questions about medical practitioners’ expectations apply even more to period pains. Simpson considered that these too should be treated, recommending blood-letting, warm baths and fomentations, enemas and sedatives – the latter including opium – as well as treatment between the periods to relieve any underlying inflammation or congestion. Different theories as to what caused the pain existed; was it due to the blood being ‘too thick’, to an obstruction, or to the veins which send the blood into the womb being stretched by the sheer quantity?

Here, too, women’s voices can be heard even in male-authored texts. In her book Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Woman’s Lives 1540-1714, Dr Sara Read noted a passage in Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia (1615)
Between the kidneys and the womb the consent is evident in the torments and pains in the loins which women and maids have in or about the time of their courses. In so much as some have told me they had at least bear a child as endure that pain; and myself have seen some to my thinking by their deportment; in as great extremity in the one as in the other.
This explains why pain can be felt in other parts of the body; there is ‘consent’ or ‘sympathy’ between the organs. One way out of experiencing period pain was to get pregnant before your first period, and this was thought to be good for the baby as well: The English Midwife (1682) states that ‘if a virgin conceive before her first flowers [a traditional word for periods], it proves lusty and perfect child’.

After women’s roles started to change following the First World War, and in the popular literature of my mother’s day, the expectation of pain was played down in favor of the image of the girl who simply needs to ‘take things a little easier during those days’, the phrasing of a 1930 booklet for girls, Mary P. Callender’s Marjorie May’s Twelfth Birthday (a marketing device for Kotex pads). A similar message is promoted today, for example in the information campaign linked to the marketing of one brand of sanitary towel, which mentions cramps, tiredness and backache but emphasizes ‘stretches’ and ‘a positive mindset’. (Read more.)

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