Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research


October 28th, 2010 by Heather Dillaway

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words we use when we’re talking about menstruation or reproductive experiences more generally. I’ve been noticing lately that we use the word “waiting” quite a bit. I have a friend who is “still waiting” for her menstrual cycle to be “normal” again after her second child, and several other friends who are either “waiting” to figure out whether they will get pregnant, “waiting” to be done with their pregnancies, or “waiting” before they can have their last and final kid. I just had my basement waterproofed and one of the basement repairmen told me that his wife had been “waiting” ten months to get a menstrual period and that they were worried about her (this is information he volunteered after I told him I studied women’s health). I started thinking more about how the menopausal women I interview always talk about “waiting” to figure out whether they are really “at menopause,” or “waiting” to figure out if this is really their last menstrual period. Or how so many girls/young women who are sexually active are “waiting” to get their periods so that they can be relieved to know they are not pregnant. Or how women with painful periods, endometriosis, or migraines are waiting until those days are over each month. What does all of this reproductive waiting (waiting for menstruation, waiting for menstruation to be over, waiting for pregnancy, waiting for birth, waiting for menopause) mean?


In all of these instances of reproductive waiting, waiting seems a negative connotation and that seems to stem from the fact that we do not feel in control or in charge of this reproductive time. When I think of the other situations in which I might use the word “waiting”, the same holds true. I tell my kids to “wait their turn” and they don’t like it. And none of us really like waiting in line. Fast food restaurants, frozen dinners, and ATM machines are all in existence because we don’t have time or don’t like to wait. Phrases that we use like “worth the wait” also connote negativity about waiting. So, I finally looked up the actual definition of waiting. Depending on which online dictionary you visit, definitions of “waiting” include: “pause, interval, or delay,” “the act of remaining inactive or stationary,” or “the act of remaining inactive in one place while expecting something.” While some of these definitions do not automatically lend themselves to negativity, waiting is defined mostly as a passive activity that we are forced to participate in, perhaps against our will.

All of this makes me think further about whether women really dislike the waiting or the time that comes with menstruation or other reproductive experiences, and whether women really feel out of control as they engage in their experiences. Is this just a word we use or are we really impatient about menstruation and reproduction? When I think about alternative words that are sometimes used, like “tracking,” other words seem much more agentic in that they put women back in control of their cycles and other reproductive experiences. So, is it just the word “waiting” that has the negative connotation or is that word signifying some larger impatience that we have about reproduction these days? I have a colleague who writes about the “inconveniences” of reproduction and how, in so many ways, we try to avoid the reproductive waiting or reproductive uncertainties we face. For instance, instead of waiting to see when a baby is born, we might plan a c-section so that we can know when we’ll get that baby. Or, now we’re told that if we’re “waiting” more than 6 months to get pregnant that we should probably start taking fertility drugs to shorten our wait or get rid of some of that uncertainty. Or now we can find out that we’re pregnant a couple weeks after conception instead of waiting to see whether we menstruate a few weeks later. We attempt to cut out some of those reproductive waits these days. Menstrual suppression is at least partially popular because then women won’t have to be surprised by their periods or wait to know what bad day their period might fall on.

I think perhaps we do need to be more conscious of the words we use to describe our own and others’ reproductive events. Is “waiting” the correct word to use? Is “tracking” a better word to use because of the agency/active control it implies? Is “experiencing” a broader, less value-laden word to use? What do we really mean when we use these words?

9 responses to “Waiting”

  1. Laura Wershler says:

    Heather, What a thought provoking post. I tend to think of “waiting” is an act of powerlessness in most of the instances you’ve noted,especially as concerns our menstrual cycles. I think all the waiting comes, in part, from our collective lack of body literacy. We “wait” because we’ve not been taught that we could be “tracking” or “charting” our cycles instead to derive meaning from what we are experiencing or not experiencing. The sad thing is, that if women learned to observe, chart and interpret (all actions) our menstrual cycle events, or all the things related to the loss or dysfunction of our cycles, many of us would be able to turn waiting into experiencing. I’m going to think about this for awhile. Active vs passive. I advocate for more active charting and acquisition of body literacy, and less passive waiting.

  2. Heather D says:

    The thing I keep wondering though is whether waiting is ever positive for us. We wait in positive anticipation sometimes (excited about what will happen), but in those cases the wait itself is not defined as positive. Anybody have an example of a positive wait?

  3. Heather D says:

    I agree, Laura. But is it just the passivity that is the problem, or is it our general impatience with “wasted time” or our inability to accept the normality of reproductive waiting times? To me, the whole concept of time is interesting, as well as how we think about time.

  4. SV. says:

    Can’t think of a “positive wait” per se, off the top, but in response to the more active “tracking”, or “charting”, and of course body literacy, if we keep in mind that here is always something actually happening that we can pay attention to, participate in. As in, instead of “waiting” for my period, I am experiencing a different phase of my menstrual/ovulatory cycle, with no more or less inherent importance than the bleeding. And during pregnancy, I was actively growing a baby, not just waitong for a baby to emerge!

  5. Heather D says:

    Totally agree, S.V., thanks for the post! We concentrate so much on what we want to happen in the future that we forget we’re experience life right now. Maybe then we have to send the message that reproduction is a continual process, not a couple of events here and there. Thus, the process is as important to experience as the actual event/result.

  6. A year or so ago, a friend got me a free subscription to a “woman’s magazine” – Redbook – it used to be back in my childhood, Redbook magazine came with fiction, and then:

    “In 1982, Charter sold the magazine to the Hearst Corporation, and in April 1983 Smith was fired and replaced by Annette Capone, who “de-emphasized the traditional fiction, featured more celebrity covers, and gave a lot of coverage to exercise, fitness, and nutrition. The main focus was on the young woman who was balancing family, home, and career.” (Endres and Lueck, p. 305) After Ellen R. Levine took over as editor in 1991, even less fiction was published, and the focus was on the young mother.”

    Waiting…one of the things people do while they’re waiting is read…stories…except stories take time to write, as well as read, so why not just interview celebrities about their “life stories” – cheaper, faster! Especially when you are “balancing” (translation: often overwhelmed by) family, home, and career.

    I remember a quote from Betty Friedan (here it is, from anti-feminist website, originally Time magazine): “All the sex stuff is stupid. The real problems have to do with women’s lives and how you put together work and family.”

    In light of yesterday’s elections, and how strange it is to be glad that Lisa Murkowski is apparently going to win in Alaska – and how the hell many people voted for Sharron Angle? And isn’t Sharron Angle the epitome of the postmenopausal woman in a capitalist system – devoid of empathy, incapable of standing in the other person’s shoes, as the saying goes…you know, something that reading fiction can offer, “the refinement of the sensibilities,” ie., developing your powers of empathy…which “young mothers” don’t want to do, because they’re too busy “balancing…”

    I guess the idea of “tracking” or “charting” my period (perimenopausal) makes me cringe a little, because it ties into the proactive, “agentic” triad of “exercise, fitness, and nutrition” being pushed, rather than the analyzing, strategizing, “waiting” for the right moment to strike/act…labor union, voter drive, the Chinese factory worker is the American worker’s best friend! kind of thing…

    I’m re-reading Loise Bryant’s “Six Red Months in Russia,” enjoying a “menstrual monday chuckle” at the descriptions of red banners, flags, scarves and bits of fabric everywhere…also “A Forgotten Empress: Anna Ivanovna,” about 200 years pre-Russian Revolution…what would be the American equivalent of these 2 books…yes, I’m a perimenopausal American woman…and I’m waiting…

  7. Heather D says:

    G. K. Menstrual Monday, I always enjoy reading your posts on this blog! Thanks for your all these comments and I think they bring up many important points. First, that perhaps in this age of people lacking any time to read, reading while waiting can be very positive and the very act of reading might make waiting positive or at least more neutral in the long run. I have to say that the only time I read for fun (and not for work) is when I’m waiting (at the doctor’s, on planes, etc.). It does reduce the negative aspects associated with waiting. Second, I think you’re right to point out that while tracking/charting periods can be empowering and positive, it isn’t always. Those who are tracking because they can’t get pregnant or because they are searching for an end to perimenopause might be tracking more in desperation or in frustration rather than because they want to be in control of their cycle/body. And you’re also right that a certain kind of tracking might not work for everybody and the minute that we try to standardize or push a certain kind of tracking we might be forcing individual women to do things that don’t give them back control/agency.
    Thanks for pushing me/us on this!

  8. Hi Heather,

    Thanks for your feedback. I really wanted to post something about Yoko Ono’s “secret garden” as metaphor for menopause, but then I didn’t want to go off on a tangent…so when you post something about menopause, that I can sneak in something about secret gardens without being too far off tangent (well, more than usual), I will… :) PS See any snowflakes today? I saw 1, 2, 3…and that was it (north of Detroit).

  9. Heather D says:

    I am NOT ready for snow so I CAN gladly wait for that! (I guess waiting can be better if you’re not looking forward to the end result? But then maybe it’s just procrastination/dread/prolonging the inevitable…) No snowflakes yet but I’m not looking either! And okay, I’ll post about menopause soon.

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