Exploring Reproductive and Menstrual Health: 5 Creative Works
Words By Manal Ahmed, Art By Monicore
Creative written work is a landscape for invention and imagination—a place where we see our deepest emotions mirrored and articulated. But although there are unending—and important—works that interrogate love, heartache and desire, there aren’t many that address menstrual and reproductive health and all the issues, complexities and wonders that come with it. People around the world experience illnesses such as PCOS, fibroid, endometriosis, debilitating periods and infertility, but these issues are rarely represented in creative work in recognizable ways. Discovering works that explore these topics meaningfully can bring solace. Here are five creative works that explore menstruation, bleeding and pain in affecting and human ways.
1) Deluge by Leila Chatti
This is a stunning compilation of poems that chronicles the writer’s experience with an illness that caused incessant bleeding in her early 20s. As readers, we weave in and out of hospitals and surgical rooms, witness cold, clinical doctors and become privy to the poet’s most personal and vulnerable moments. Chatti examines big ideas—religion, desire, female bodily autonomy—and ties them to personal themes such as relationships, love and shame, making this a deeply stirring read. At one point, she writes, “The doctor speaks to me/as I am told one day a husband might,” and then, “My body the crux of the relationship.” Though she recognizes how women’s bodies are often weaponized against them, she rejects this entirely, instead articulating her desires, pains and transformation on her own terms.
2) Bore by Haya Alyan
This quiet, powerful poem is harrowing and painful as it traces the aftermath of a miscarriage and the helplessness that comes with it. Intensely lyrical, it personifies the uterus, noting its “pink and crinkle” as though the uterus were the baby itself—a living, breathing thing that occupies much of the space in the poem. Through this, Alyan skillfully explores her complex relationship with her body.
3) Healing Saga by Alanna Okun and Aude White
The visual art in this work situates the reader more intensely in the world it creates. Though the writer documents a very personal experience with fibroids here, it’s easy to relate to her tribulations, doctor visits and ceaseless anxieties. The black and white calendar with red dots, the red pills, the ghost outline of a baby’s crib: these are all vivid and searing images that impact the reader. This piece outlines the real physical, mental and financial costs of having a debilitating illness that many will find relatable.
4) poem in praise of menstruation by lucille clifton
Some nights when I’m on my period, despite the pain, I feel that it connects me to the world at large and overarching natural systems. In this poem, clifton calls this “wild water…beautiful and faithful and ancient.” I turn to this poem when I want to celebrate myself, my body and the many functions it fulfills.
5) Jordan convinced me that pads are disgusting by Olivia Gatwood
This poem, tender and light-hearted, offers a glimpse into what a moment like getting your period can mean for teenagers, friendships and feeling that you’re at the beginning of something. Gatwood’s fresh, humorous voice immortalizes a moment with her friend that is specific yet universal. It makes me laugh every time. You can also watch her perform this work here.
These creative works have served as important reminders that reproduction and menstruation are multifaceted, with aspects to them that are painful, beautiful, ugly, confusing and so much more. They have illustrated that such topics are worth writing about and can offer a shared sense of catharsis. In five distinct though equally stunning writing styles, these writers have provided unique insight into the inner processes of our body, and how we might try to understand them. Discover more creative work on the F(r)iction Log.