I don’t go to the mikvah anymore.
For many years I did, and it wasn’t terrible. The balaniot were always nice. But the process to get there was a monthly struggle between my religion and my common sense.
Before I was married, menstruating did not interfere with my day-to-day activities. No one had to know about it, unless I complained to a girlfriend if my cramps were especially uncomfortable that day.
But once I began to keep the laws of taharat hamishpacha that monthly flow became the focal point of my existence. It changed how I slept, it changed what I wore, it changed who I could touch. I was required to do internal inspections, which I did not wish to do. I was required to drop everything and run to the bathroom before the sun went down so I could check if I was bleeding. I was required to cancel plans, miss events I wanted to go to, in order to go to the mikvah. When I was not a niddah I would feel pressure (not from my husband, but from myself) to sometimes be intimate when I had absolutely no interest in such activities, because I was expecting my period in a few days and we had only been together twice that whole month.
In addition, we struggled to find a method of birth control that suited our needs. Hormonal birth control made me gain weight, become depressed, and tanked my libido. My doctor recommended against IUDs because of my medical history, and diaphragms caused an endless cycle of bladder infections and yeast infections.
When we were first married, we consulted a rabbi over all these issues, and I was constantly feeling let down. I was taught in kallah classes that Judaism’s view on sex between husband and wife is “the more the merrier,” and that as much leeway as possible would be given to allow them to be together. But, at every turn, it seemed like we were being prevented from being together. I just felt like I was constantly worrying about what was going into and coming out of my vagina.
I finally said something to my husband about my discontent, and after much discussion, we made our first decision: No more rabbis. We will decide together what kind of birth control to use, halachically sanctioned or not, and we will decide together if we want to have another baby or not.
I was happier, but still frustrated over the extreme impact my period had on how I went about my daily routine for 12-14 days out of the month. Once again, I voiced my vexation to my husband, and we made another decision: No more harchakot. Sex while I was a niddah was still out of the question, but we both felt that all the stringencies were extremely unnecessary in our relationship. We’re not going to both suddenly rip all our clothes off in middle of the dining room if he passed me the mashed potatoes at dinner. And if one of us is feeling low, why shouldn’t we be allowed to get a loving, reassuring hug from our life partner?
The final blow came when, after a full period-free year and a half while nursing my third child, I noticed the signs of my returning fertility. When I stopped bleeding, I realized I had no desire, no interest, and actually felt a level of revulsion, at starting the process again of internal checks to count seven clean days before I could go to the mikvah.
I knew the magnitude of this decision was much greater than the others. I wasn’t sure how my husband would feel about a complete violation of the very bottom line of the halachot of taharat hamishpacha. I knew he had every right to be insistent that I do my bedikot and go to the mikvah, and that fact alone made me realize both how much I abhor halacha’s restrictive grip on the agency women have over their own bodies, and how much I love my husband. Because if he felt like this was a red line, if he felt we could not have an intimate relationship without my use of the mikvah, if I had to choose between being married to the kindest, most caring, thoughtful, and devoted husband in the world and going to the mikvah once a month, there wouldn’t be a contest.
I broached the subject with trepidation.
“It’s your body,” he said. “I can’t tell you what to do with it. I obviously would prefer if you did go, but if you have objections, I respect that.”
“I’m not ruling out the possibility of ever using the mikvah again,” I assured him. “It’s just…the thing is…it’s just blood. It’s healthy, it’s normal, it’s a regular occurrence in 50% of the world’s population. I’ve heard all explanations about how niddah doesn’t mean I’m dirty, and going to the mikvah is about spiritual cleanliness, about rebirth and renewal and all that jazz. But that bottom line is, even if you see beauty in the idea, it’s still a Big Deal. And I just need to feel what it’s like to live a life in which having a period is not a big deal.”
And so I have. And so far it’s been wonderful.