I’ve been getting my period for 36 years. I remember the exact day when it first came because it was April 17th, my friend Kathy S’s birthday, and I was twelve. It was after school, when shafts of late afternoon sunlight streamed across the 6th green of the Evanston golf course and into our front hall. I’d just come home from school and had run upstairs to use the bathroom. I remember noticing just a few dots of blood, not much, but it didn’t seem like it could have been anything else. I checked as best I could, because I was really hoping it might not be what I suspected. I sat there, stunned, unable to move for a minute as a profound reality descended on my my bright, girl world. Perhaps I felt some excitement, that I don’t remember, but I do remember disappointment. It was over. My childhood, my innocence. Technically, I was old enough to have a baby. Culturally, I was on the hook now. Still not one hundred percent sure, I dabbed some blood onto a piece of toilet paper and ran downstairs to show my mom.
The kitchen, on the east side of the house, was in shadow that time of day. I remember pausing as I entered the room. I remember showing her the spot, I remember her smiling, then laughing in excitement for us both. I however, at her confirmation, began to weep. There we were, in the dark kitchen, she laughing, me crying. It was over, I told her. Everything was going to change now. I would have to make plans around my period, cancel plans because of my period, begin to live a new, furtive existence all because of this unwelcome change. I thought of the exotic-seeming college girls who used to babysit us when we were young. They’d seemed so grown-up, so womanly. It occurred to me that I was somehow entering their mysterious world. Tears wouldn’t stop my period from coming. I couldn’t fight it. I would simply have to buck up and figure out how to lessen its restrictive claim on me.
Skip ahead nearly four decades – past the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. where the class went swimming and girls tried to instruct me how to use a tampon from the other side of the bathroom door (with no success) so that I could join them in the pool – past the rainy nights boyfriends made tampon runs to the 24 hour grocery on my behalf – past all the near misses and the accidents and the timely assistance from anonymous and helpful women everywhere who dug around the bottoms of their purses, saying they ‘thought they might have something’ when I found myself stranded – past that merciless period caring not a whit that the toilet paper dispenser was empty – skip ahead to September, 2011. To the day before last, when it occurred to me, that based on the plans I’d hoped would come to pass these next few days, this would be my last period, ever.
After my initially tearful reception of my menstruation (btw – I cannot fathom how people still insist on pronouncing that silly ‘u’ after the ‘r’ – reminds me of vintage health videos and stuffy health professionals who seem completely clueless, especially in matters of sexual relations) I had come to actually welcome it each month. For me, perhaps because of a tilted uterus, perhaps for other unknown and unimportant reasons, I would begin to feel it coming on in my lower back. The other night I lay in bed and tried to concentrate on that feeling, to memorize it. It had been with me for most of my life, and in the not too distant future it would be just a memory. I have only found one or two women who feel as I do about their periods. Most just complain and enjoy the camaraderie of their shared pains. When I began to feel that low-grade, dull ache, something of a mix of intestinal distress but not, muscle pain but not, I actually welcomed it. Before the back ache though, I’d know my period was coming because something would set me off. Something – which in the moment really seemed to matter – would send me into an explosion of tears; a good, physical, sobbing jag. Fareed, my near ex, might ask me if I expected my period soon (as my cycle was a steady 28 days for decades) and when he was right, it would cause me to start laughing hysterically before the tears were dry on my face. Sheesh. It never ceased to entertain me. When you’re in it, you’re in it – you can’t see that the tears don’t match the offense – but thankfully, when pulled out of it, I was able to marvel at this crazy hormonal reaction, and I always found it amusing. I even enjoyed the dull, burning ache in my lower back. There were times it required some pain relief, but never much. I’m well aware that for many women this is a really painful and dreaded time of the month – a real waste of precious time – but thankfully it wasn’t that for me. I was free to enjoy it to some degree. Each month I enjoyed the feeling of connectedness it gave me; I saw it as proof that I was linked to the earth, nature, the women I shared my world with. I saw it as evidence that I too was equipped for the job of becoming a mother one day. And when I actually got pregnant in July of 2002 – precisely when I’d planned – once again I was in awe of how it all worked. Amazing. How lucky was I to be a woman, to experience this myself? Lucky.
A couple of years ago my periods began to appear every 24 days, instead of every 28. Again, they were like clockwork, but something had begun to change in my body. Each month, when I’d feel the tug of one ovary or the other – I’d secretly think to myself , ‘Wow, I could still have a baby. I could still get pregnant’. But the gap is too wide for Elihu to enjoy a playmate in any baby born now, my financial situation couldn’t handle it, and besides, insane as it sounds, if I were to ever have had another child, I would have wanted it to be with my son’s father, my husband. On principal, that is. In some crazy, twisted way. I would never consider it, but the irrational thought lingers. Therein I am conflicted about this upcoming change of menopause. I’ve had my child – my body works – what’s the problem? I can’t answer this. I’m just a little sentimental. I guess it’s because a familiar part of my life is coming to an end. There are women who will leap for joy when they no longer have to buy tampons and pads, for whom the new freedom won’t have them looking back for a second. Maybe I’ll join them one day, but for the moment I have a little letting go to do.
At the same time my cycle shortened, my period changed. (For those of you who may find any of this post on the verge of poor taste, I bid you look away now.) I began to have what I have called ‘mini-miscarriages’. I would lose so much blood that I wondered if I shouldn’t worry. Might I become anemic? And if I were, how would I know, anyway? I find myself canceling students, moving appointments, staying home. I can’t leave for more than fifteen minutes at a time as the flow is non-stop. Clots come too, it just doesn’t stop. And after a few inconvenient years of this, just a few months ago, another change. My period comes every two weeks. Seriously? It’s as if mother nature herself is slapping me in the face to snap me out of it: don’t be such an emotional pansy – your body is changing, get over it! Unable to continue the loss of income – the huge expense of pads and tampons and just the overall annoyance of the situation – I began to search for a solution. Then it came, in the form of a casual comment made to me by a gradeschool classmate who is now herself an OB/GYN doc. “Get a Mirena” she said. “Your period will probably stop.” Just like that. “Just make sure that whoever puts it in has done hundreds of em.” I must not have looked convinced. “I’ll take it out if you don’t like it”. Well then. My next move, as a still-married, still-insured woman, was to look into coverage, and damned if that piece of over-priced, hormone-infused plastic wasn’t covered. Green light.
One of my friends here in town, and the mother of a former piano student, is herself a doc who does just such IUD ‘installations’ by the hundreds. And so, as if decreed by the speedy hand of destiny, she is inserting mine today. I pay $100 after the insurance. Heck, I’ll make up that loss soon enough. As with any endeavor in life one seems to pick up so much more information on the subject when it’s spinning around in your consciousness – I’ve heard lots of anecdotal advice in the few weeks that have passed since I made the decision to do this. I may spot for months. Many months. I may cramp. It might seem I’ve made a mistake – but no, wait it out. And I will. This IUD will remain inside me for the next five years. By the time I have it taken out, I should be on ‘the other side’ of this transition. Today I have my natural period, tomorrow I spot on account of medical manipulation. When I am fifty-three (seriously, I’ll be fifty-three??) and the device is removed, I will be a woman in her menopausal years.
I’ve never been a fan of change, and adjusting is tricky for me. Thankfully, I’ll have five years to make the transition. See you on the other side…