Warning: This post has to do with my menstrual cycle and will discuss blood. If this makes you uncomfortable, please stop reading. If this makes you uncomfortable and you are uncomfortable with the fact that you are uncomfortable, you might be interested in learning about menstrual cycles! See the fun and easy-to-read guide Menstrupedia and read here about how people are changing the period stigma around the world.
It was our first day in Bangkok, Thailand. My sister and I were doing our first go-round of tourism. After getting Malaria medication, eating at Silom Soi 20 and Cabbages and Condoms in the same day and sweating our way through tuk tuks, taxis, public transportation and city crowds, we thought it was time for some culture.
And by culture, I mean disrespectfully passing quickly through the splendor, history and architecture of Wat Pho and going directly to their massage center.
Sometimes you’re sweaty, tired, and have period cramps. And you just want a massage. A Thai massage, at that. Where else better than the very place that’s credited with it’s invention?
I came wearing long “hippie” pants and a shirt covering my shoulders. When we got the massage, they gave us traditional Thai massage clothes, which are loose fitting pants that are near impossible for me to tie. Every time I got a massage in Asia I had to seek the help of one of the employees to secure them. You would have thought I’d learn.
Both Jennifer and I were guided into the air conditioned room. In this massage center, and all others that we visited in Southeast Asia, privacy is a different concept. Your relaxing massage is enhanced by sharing a space with at least 30 other people. The employees often have full-on conversations, and then whisper to you when they want you to do something. It’s like they’re screaming to each other about their weekend -“WE HAD SO MANY PEOPLE AT MY HOUSE I DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH FOOD”-and then they gently tap you on the shoulder and whisper, “Turn over please.”
In my loose fitting clothing, I lay down in a shared bed next to a older white female tourist. She halfway opened her eyes as I climbed on next to her. I gave her the nod.
My period was heavy. Early in my cycle, the floodgates had been let open. I had a pad in, which you’ll soon find out was not the best option for a Thai massage. I thought the wings would protect me, but I calculated wrong. A tampon would have sufficed. My struggles with the menstrual cup would have resulted in a much worse situation, so at least there’s that.
My masseuse was a middle-aged man with short black hair. He was petite and walked quickly, giving me directions and leading me with his hand gestures. He didn’t speak much English but gave me frequently smiles and nods to indicate I was doing the right thing.
As he put my legs and arms in different positions, I was left vulnerable to the threat of leakage. I opened my eyes as my foot was above my head and I wondered if I was going to bleed through the pants they had given me. He turned me on my side and was practically punching my right hip (getting all those knots out, love that!) and I felt some dampness (to be less graphic on a post about periods). He and the female masseuse next to him started talking. I, of course, didn’t think anything of it. Conversation during massages are normal.
The massage continued for thirty more minutes. He cracked my back, contorted me into a quasi-back bend and slapped my upper back to signify the end of our time together. “Okay, all finished,” he whisper. I opened my eyes, rolled over, and thought, oh shit.
Earlier, I was worried about bleeding through their dark pants. I never considered the possibility of leaving a pool of deep, red blood on their crisp white sheets.
“I’m so, so sorry,” I told my masseuse. I wrinkled my face and tried to communicate how sorry I was with concerned eyes. He just keep smiling and shaking his head. He tried to tell me I had nothing to worry about. I was grateful for him not making a big deal out of it.
At least the next person to sit in the bed where I got my massage would do so on fresh sheets. Yeah, you’re welcome.
I went to the dressing room and changed back into my clothes. My masseuse was waiting for me so he could take my spoiled pants. He had to put them in a “special” hamper. Separate from the untainted ones.
I whispered “sorry” at least ten more times as I walked out. Other clients started to notice and would crack open their eyes to see who this obsessively apologetic girl was. I met back up with my sister at the entrance.
I walked out feeling disgusting. I wasn’t even embarrassed that it happened. I’m all about ending the menstruation stigma. But I was already dripping sweat and couldn’t wait to take a shower. We put our Thai Buddhism lesson on hold until further notice and left the premises.
“I got their sheets pretty dirty,” I told my sister. “I bled through their pants and onto the bed.”
“Oh god, ” was all she could say. She laughed a bit, too.
The only thing that gives me comfort in these types of situations is the thought that I can’t be the only one. Or, I can’t be the worst one. Out of the people who have filed through the doors of the Wat Pho massage center, something had to have been “worse” than my blood on the white sheets. Menstruating women aren’t banned from all temples! Only in some. There’s a success story.
You would guess right now that I would have learned my lesson. I apparently did not. In Chiang Mai, we took a quick detour from seeing the city to get massages. I was again menstruating and again I was wearing a pad, not a tampon. At the end of the massage, I was relieved to not see any blood on the bed. That might be attributed to the dark brown sheets. I changed and found a surprise…but no one but me noticed this time.