Friday, April 10, 2015

Romancing PMS

I'm among the lucky 3-8% of women who have won the PMS bonus sweepstakes: full-blown PMDD, or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Tiredness, irritability, inability to concentrate (what I like to call "stupid-head"), and cravings for salty chips and sweet carbs—oh, yeah, must be that time of the month. And as I've edged closer to perimenopause, my symptoms have only gotten worse. Trying to write during this five to ten-day period is like trying to swim through sludge.

PMS and PMDD aren't life-threatening, and are experienced only by women, so comparatively little medical research has been done in this area ("The causes of PMS are not clear, but several factors may be involved," the web site for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Women's Health helpfully notes). I've talked about my PMS problems with my primary care doctor, my psychiatrist, a specialist on women's mental health, a specialist in menopause; I've tried myriad remedies to alleviate symptoms Vitamin B? Vitamin D? Calcium with Vitamin D? SAM-E? DHEA? Birth control pills? Amphetamine Salts? I've tried them all, never mind my daily dose of antidepressant. Some alleviate some symptoms, while adding fun new side effects; some do little to nothing at all, at least that I can see.

Can you tell I'm feeling cranky right now?

When science lets you down, sometimes art is the only solace. I've been watching the clip from the film "No Strings Attached," the scene in which Adam (Ashton Kutcher) brings cupcakes and a mix CD to his friend-with-benefits Emma (Natalie Portman). Emma and two of her female roommates are all on the same cycle, suffering from PMS. I can't help but laugh when Portman and her friends start reading the song titles off the mix CD, made especially for a woman having her period: "Even Flow," "Red, Red Wine," "I've Got the World on a String." Here's the clip, for your viewing pleasure:





The only similar PMS scene that I can recall from romance novels is from Loretta Chase's effervescent historical Mr. Impossible. Its "great dumb ox" hero, Rupert Carsington, is in a panic when he hears that Daphne Pembroke, the whip-smart lady who is supplying the brains to his brawn on a Egyptian desert exploration, has fallen ill. Barging into her room, he insists that she tell him what is wrong, and how he can help. When she finally gives in and admits "All I need is time. It's my monthly courses," and tells him there's nothing he can do, he responds "For such a clever woman, you are woefully ignorant. There's a great deal one can do," even though he himself has no idea to do. And in he wades:

He didn't go away. He mixed the laudeanum with honey and water and watched her drink it. He wet the cloths and wrung them out and laid them on her forehead. He rubbed her back. He distracted her with humorous family anecdotes. He did not leave until she fell asleep. (233)

Ah, what I wouldn't give for an Adam or a Rupert right about now...


Given that menstruation, and the trials that often accompany it, is a monthly occurrence in the lives of most adult women, I wonder at the lack of mention of the subject in romance. Can you think of other romance novels in which the crimson tide is used to help develop the romantic relationship between the protagonists?

23 comments:

  1. To Seduce A Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt comes to mind. The heroine has terrible cramps. Here are some (abbreviated) excerpts.
    “Is it always like this? I mean, I know it happens monthly, but is it always so painful? How long does it last? Does every lady have this much pain, or do--"
    "I can't believe this," she muttered. "I know you weren't born under a rock. Why are you asking these questions?"
    "You're my wife now. I'm sure every man wants to know these things about his wife."
    "I very much doubt it," she muttered.
    "*I* at least want to know these things."
    "Why?"
    "Because you're my wife. My wife to hold, my wife to protect and shield. If there is something hurting you, I want - no, I need - to know it."

    There are some sweet scenes involving him trying to help her to feel better. One of my favorite books read last month!

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    1. Thanks, Dominee, for the rec. I haven't read this Hoyt yet!

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    2. This is one of my favorite historicals. Period. I lvoe this scene but then I love many of them. A must read.

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  2. There's a scene in Shannon Stacey's Yours to Keep (a pretty lighthearted contemporary featuring the fake relationship trope, which is my catnip) in which the heroine's period is kind of important in growing the connection between the leads. (She feels like crap and sleeps on the couch and the dude realizes how much he truly enjoys having her close--my memory is vague so I'm probably not being accurate.)

    While it's a fun story, I remember that book because of that scene. It's the first and only time I've come across it in a romance.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. I'll have to check it out!

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  3. The Gift by Julie Garwood

    Nathan is in a panic about Sara being ill and seeks advice from another woman only to be told to comfort her. So he goes back and spoons her while rubbing her back.

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    1. Ah, Garwood might be the winner in the first-to-write-a-hero-worrying-over-a-heroine's-menstrual-pains sweepstakes...

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  4. Mr. Impossible is one of my all time faves and while I don't have PMDD, I can sometimes have (aggravated by stress and caffeine) what I call Killer Periods--fainting, cold sweats, and waves of cramps that feel like I'm going into labor. I have to just lie down, load up on pain killers and ride it out. Anyway, Rupert had already stolen my heart bUT I remember really liking that scene....

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    1. One of my all-time favs, too, Angela. Just love books where one protagonist loves the other because she/he is super-smart :-)

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  5. Mr. Impossible is one of my all time faves and while I don't have PMDD, I can sometimes have (aggravated by stress and caffeine) what I call Killer Periods--fainting, cold sweats, and waves of cramps that feel like I'm going into labor. I have to just lie down, load up on pain killers and ride it out. Anyway, Rupert had already stolen my heart bUT I remember really liking that scene....

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  6. Rupert Carsington is one of my favourite romance heroes. I remember that scene. But I cannot think of any other book with such a trope. Menstruation, generally speaking, is one of those things that romance novels tend to ignore.
    Each month I have to suffer a couple of terrible headaches, some other aches and a lot of irritability. I just accepted it. But now I have to see it in my daughter, and it breaks my heart. Why has nobody discovered anything to make this better? Yes, I think like you -If men had to suffer this each month ...

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    1. If I were a billionaire, I'd definitely establish a medical foundation devoted to research on women's health, specifically PMS...

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    2. If you want a good chuckle, look up a very old piece called "If Men Could Menstruate" written by Gloria Steinem. It's a hoot!

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  7. Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft. Her problems are the result of an earlier miscarriage. I was one of those women who took 7 years to be diagnosed with endometriosis. I wouldn't talk to my doctor about my problems as he said there was nothing wrong and I felt he'd be prescribing for mental problems if I said another word. It took him retiring and a new female doctor before I got help.

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    1. Thanks, Elaine, for the rec. Yes, talking with doctors who don't listen, or condescend to you because you're a woman, is a major problem. So sorry you had to go through all that unnecessary suffering :-(

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  8. It's not a romance novel, it's a historical fantasy with romantic elements: Juliet Marillier's Blade of Fortriu. Heroic fantasies so rarely mention periods while their protagonists are climbing mountains and fording rivers, so I was impressed.

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    1. Thanks, Anonymous, for the suggestion. I'm always on the lookout for good fantasy/romance!

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  9. The only one I can think of is See Jane Score. The H/h have been hooking up and then as their relationship deepens, they hang out even when she's on her period and not in the mood. I think the hero brings her chocolate and a heating pad, too, which is pretty dreamy.

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    1. Thanks, MamaBlanks, for the rec. I will definitely check it out!

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  10. Janet Webb commenting: Laura Matthews's A Prudent Match -- the heroine's menses come at a very inconvenient time and the discussion around that is embarrassing for both parties -- but it moves them forward in a way that might not have happened. Tempting Harriet by Mary Balogh, the heroine thinks internally about her period before and after the birth of her child ... and the hero, knowing Harriet is on her period, is able to "show a little tenderness" and talk to her in a way he had never spoken with past mistresses. Interesting topic.

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  11. I don't remember any (though I have read Mr. Impossible), but I would be more surprised to see it mentioned much. Periods and PMS aren't sexy. Considering the fantasy elements in romance and what else it elides or outright lies about (such as that sex with the person you decide you want to live with for the rest of your life is the bestest, most revelatory sex every), this omission isn't surprising.

    -lawless523

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  12. I have had PMDD way before I knew it was called PMDD, like since menstration started in grade school. My cramps were so dibilitating I would miss school. My mood swings were horrible, sometimes violent....finally went in birth control in high school to try to control the symptoms, and it helped.
    I have not read Mr.Impossible, but will check it out, and cannot think of any books that mention it. As unknown mentions, it is not sexy.

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  13. Time Travel Romances tend to contend with periods a bit because of the "technology" involved in dealing with them. I can't remember the title of one where the heroine hunts down and uses a sea sponge but I recall loving that moment. In Lingus
    by Mariana Zapata (oh how I wish this book was better edited) the hero and heroine are friends in this slow building romance between a male porngraphic actor and a teacher when her period comes on suddenly and stains her clothes. He fetches her emergency panties from the car. He thinks it is very funny. He also is very sweet while she isn't feeling so well. In One Night in the Spa by Kathy Lyons, the heroine has been a professional athelte for most of her life and most importantly during puberty. After a career ending injury, she is dealing with not only an overall life change but menses like she has never had to before because of her previous exercise regimes. She basically goes through puberty. Really intersting. She doesn't always like the changes. Great topic!

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