When I was a little girl, my mother explained to me about the menstrual cycle. I was both horrified and fascinated by the whole thing, and I was glad I knew about it before that awkward meeting in school where they squeezed all the sixth-grade girls into the teacher’s lounge (which smelled like smoke) to share that information with us.
The following summer at sleep away camp it happened. I got my first period. Except that it wasn’t quite what I expected. It wasn’t like my mom’s explanation or the teachers. It wasn’t even like anything from Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. Instead of the shock of red that my terrified mother saw her first time (my grandmother never told her, shame on her) I found a rusty colored streak of goo in my panties. I wasn’t quite sure what to do or who to tell. Eventually I told my counselor, which was SO embarrassing, and she got me fixed up with the proper supplies.
Ah yes, supplies. My mother was old school. She wore Kotex sanitary napkins with a belt.
Many of you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, and that’s a good thing. When I was an adolescent, pads that stuck in your panties were new on the market. Before that, pads had long ends that hooked into fasteners that dangled from an elastic belt you wore around your waist. Sort of like garters, only not sexy. Not sexy at all.
Then there were tampons. My mother didn’t like the idea of them. She didn’t trust them. This was shortly before Toxic Shock Syndrome was discovered, but her instincts were good. Still, in my estimation tampons are infinitely preferable to pads. Especially those old-fashioned pads, that closely resembled diapers. Who wants to sit around in their own bodily fluids? Nobody, that’s who. I begged my mom to buy me tampons. I certainly wasn’t going to buy them myself. Eventually I wore her down, but she maintained some reservations, not the least of which was for her aged plumbing.
Struggling through my period each month was agony. First of all, I never quite knew when it was coming. I envied those “every 28 days” girls who could plan ahead. Not me. All of a sudden it would just be there, and with a vengeance. I lived in constant fear of bleeding through my clothing and dying of the embarrassment that would follow. I was never without “supplies” and I worried about it often. I ruined pair after pair of panties during those years. I kept a spare pair in my backpack.
The mysterious timing of it wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was the cramping. I was miserable every month. I would writhe on the couch, curling into a ball trying to get comfortable. I just couldn’t find a position that would ease the discomfort. I couldn’t eat, I was sure I would puke up anything that passed my lips. This happened month after month. It was agony.
The only thing that eventually helped were birth-control pills. They regulated my cycle and eased my symptoms. They also provided that nice little benefit of birth-control, but really, that was secondary to improving my quality of life.
I stayed on the pill until I was in my thirties, married, and ready to start a family. For my thirty-second birthday my (now ex-) husband told me that his gift to me was that we could at last try to conceive. I know. That’s a whole separate post. Anyway, I stopped taking the pill and let nature take its course. Bleeding in July. Damn. Bleeding in August. Damn. Bleeding in September. Damn. Bleeding in October. Damn. Bleeding in November. Damn.
On December 23 I had an ob/gyn appointment at a new clinic through my insurance. I told them I’d been trying to conceive. They gave me a pregnancy test and put me on the table in stirrups. Hmmm, first try didn’t manage to get a sample for the PAP. Try again. Try another speculum. Try another doctor. “Are you sure you haven’t had your cervix removed?”
Yes, this all really happened. FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER I quit. Trust me, if this happened today I would have walked out after five minutes, but I was young and stressed and scared. I sat in the waiting room for the pregnancy test results and received the most joyful news of my life from a sour-faced lab attendant who said, “You’re pregnant. Congratulations, if that’s what you wanted.” Wow. Thanks.
I got my due date from the receptionist. She was the only one to talk to at that point. She fished around in her desk drawer and pulled out a little cardboard wheel give-away from some drug company. She fiddled with it and proclaimed that my baby was due August 17. I got NO prenatal counseling, literature, or vitamins. I was told all that would come at the next appointment, four weeks away. Couldn’t I do a lot of harm in those four weeks if I didn’t know better? Shouldn’t someone have at least talked to me about alcohol and tobacco? Nothing? Really?
I made my appointment, but for a different office. I would never set foot in that place again. Four weeks later a nurse practitioner thought I looked fine. At my next appointment I would finally see a doctor.
Fast forward to February 28. Finally I was set to see a real, live ob/gyn. He walked in, introduced himself, and asked me how many weeks along I was. I told him what I believed to be the correct answer, and he did a double take. “I don’t think so,” were his exact words. He measured me, and sent me to the other side of the office to get an ultrasound immediately. I was alone. It was late Friday afternoon, and there was no time for my husband or my mother to get there for this ultrasound. I was worried.
The technician was silent as he examined my baby. There was such a mix of emotions as this was happening. I knew the tech was too quiet, but I was awed at the images I saw. Eventually he left me to get the doctor, who confirmed that there were some concerns. He declared that I was MUCH further along than I thought, and that my baby was due April 17, not August 17. He told me that I had fibroids and they would likely grow along with my developing baby. He was concerned that space might become an issue.
April 17, huh? So I conceived in July, the month we started trying. So what was the deal with the bleeding each month? Spotting? On a schedule? And how could I have been FIVE months pregnant before I even knew it? Granted I’m a big girl, and I can hide a lot, but FIVE months? True story, I swear.
Well, the race was on, and a follow up ultrasound convinced my doctor that waiting until April 17 would be risky. I’ll spare you the whole birth story for now (it’s a doozy) but long story short, my boy’s birthday is April 1, April Fool’s Day. How perfect for him.
Now how did I get here? Oh yes, the good old menstrual cycle. I’m nearly fifty years old. I’ve been dealing with this nonsense since I was twelve. I’m over it. I’m over bearing children. That one experience was enough for me. I’m over not knowing when it will strike (yes, we’re back to that, and yes, I keep spare panties around just in case). I’m over the copious amounts of body fluids that I have to contend with (much more at this stage of the game, go figure). I’m just plain done with it. I’m ready to move on. C’mon, Mother Nature, cut me some slack. I feel as though I’ve earned it.