Monday, January 3, 2011

A Little Bit of Blood

(If you can't tell from the title, this post is going to deal with "feminine matters" [read: periods]. If such things are unappealing to you, move onward...)

For the first time in my life today, I saw a male gynecologist. My doctor was out of town and I had a matter that needed to be taken care of. (No, I am not pregnant.) Although I see nothing wrong in having a male gynecologist per se, it was something I always avoided. Because, quite frankly, they don't have the same parts... and they don't know what it feels like.

Now maybe this isn't a fair way to make this decision. But my prejudice (it is that, I'll admit) was slightly bolstered today, when I asked the doctor if a particular procedure would hurt and he answered with a smile, "Well, I've obviously never had it but..."

The whole experience got me thinking about niddah, taharat hamishpacha, and rabbis. I remember when I found out the particulars of this system as a high school student. That if a woman bled in between cycles she had to bring a sample of the stain (likely on her underwear) to a rabbi to determine whether or not it was kosher. I was horrified. With all the talk of tzniut, this was considered acceptable? And not only acceptable, but necessary? Granted, her husband could bring it for her, etc., etc., but it still seems so immodest and even demeaning to have some guy who's not your sexual partner know about the color of the stains in your underwear.

Now I know that female yoatzot are increasingly taking up this role, which (in my mind) is a good thing. But for hundreds of years the above scenario was the norm. And in more right-wing communities, it still is today. (Though why a yoetzet would be considered threatening to the tradition is really beyond me.)

My train-of-thought went further and somewhat away from the male-rabbi-issue. I'll be open about the nature of my visit (ah, the luxury of anonymous blogs!). That is, for many months now, I've been having abnormal bleeding. To be specific, I've been "spotting" ALMOST EVERY DAY and bleeding heavily twice a month. (Probably due to fibroids.) Not fun, sure, but it would be even less fun if I was Orthodox. Because if I was Orthodox and (therefore) keeping the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha, I wouldn't have been able to touch (let alone sleep with) my husband for the past few months.

I remember the discussions of Taharat Hamishpacha in high school and seminary. How it was a perfect system because it allowed for a "honeymoon" each month where the husband and wife longed for each other like it was the first time since they hadn't been able to touch for the two weeks prior.

All well and good for women with normal cycles. But the punishment for those women with abnormal cycles and their husbands is colossal. (There is a really interesting example of this in Anat Zuria's film Tehorah.)

I have (as of yet) no conclusion to draw from the above rant. It is just that. A rant. But I do have to say that given my situation, I am quite happy not to be Orthodox at this point in my life. I imagine a world in which I would have to deal with a rabbi in addition to a gynecologist, where this medical stress in my life would be coupled with a lack of intimacy with my husband - and I am particularly thankful that I am where I am today.