I’ve talked to many women who’ve had similar experiences to the ones I’m going to share. So many, in fact, that I don’t want to leave out any details because I’m a firm believer sharing is caring. Therefore, I’ve decided to turn my story into a three-part series, not for dramatic effect, but to make it more manageable. As a teacher, I’m forever an advocate of “bite-size pieces,” so here goes Part I…
Part I: When You Get Your First Period at Sea World with the Girl Scouts
I was stacked in fourth grade. Taller than most of the other girls, braces, breast buds like whoa. My Mom gifted me my first training bra and I was all I HAVE ARRIVED. Ahhh, yes. Womanhood. I’d been waiting for you.
Except Womanhood was evidently more involved than a Hanes Her Way soft cotton bra. I learned this the hard way, when Womanhood officially arrived while I was at Sea World with the Girl Scouts.
Believing I had soiled myself, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, so I shoved some two-ply down my pants and rejoined the other girls at Shamu the Killer Whale’s tank. Nothing like being doused with gallons of fish water on an 80-degree day to freshen up. Later that evening, I whispered “I think I pooped myself” through the phone to my Mom. She asked a series of questions, the last being part command: “go into the bathroom and wipe. What do you see?”
And that, ladies (and the lone gentlemen who’s bravely still reading), is how I realized I had begun menstruating. Ironically, weeks before the Sea World trip, I had attended a “What’s Happening to My Body?” presentation with my troop. As soon as the presenter explained some girls’ voices may get deeper, my already-man-voice and I began crying and refused to listen to anything else. Namely, how to recognize signs of our first period.
Always regretted not hearing that part…
So, there I was: a 10-year-old, rocking some Always, a metal mouth, and monthly cramps that nearly crippled me. I would vomit, sweat, freeze, cry. Mom gave me heating pads and Ibuprofen and massaged my lower back. She apologized for her genetics; apparently, my cycle mirrored hers. Couldn’t get her blue eyes or great legs, but THANKS FOR THE EFFED UP UTERUS, MOM.
I was missing at least one day of school every month because of heavy and painful periods, and fugetaboutit if I was supposed to swim or hang out with friends during the beginning of my cycle. I was basically bedridden for 24 – 48-hours. Finally, in the sixth grade, my Mom took me to see her gynecologist. What I remember most about that appointment is the doctor’s arthritic fingers and her raised eyebrows at the mention of birth control. “The pill could help her cramps,” Mom reasoned. I left with a prescription and explicit instructions NOT to mention any of this to my dad.
THE PILL IS MAGIC
Oh, birth control pill, how thee saved me. My cramps were bearable, the heavy cycles were more contained. I was a brand new woman. Or girl. Whatever. Later in life, the pill came in handy if ya know what I’m sayin’, and I learned I was able to skip entire periods which saved my wedding night. I took it faithfully and marveled at its effectiveness.
Then I wanted babies so bye, pill.
Funny how I spent so many years trying to prevent exactly what I now wanted more than anything in life. Blessed with quick conception and easy pregnancies, I adored that time of life. Feeling the tiny kicks from within. Breathing through contractions in the bath tub, high-tailing it to the hospital, the very moment I held my babies for the first time. Those will always be my most treasured memories.
Apparently feeling abandoned, the pill was no longer a pal post-childbirth. We eventually had to part ways because TOO. MANY. HORMONES. I thought it best not to murder my sleeping husband because he never heard the crying baby, but for that kind of restraint, I’d need less estrogen thank you very much. I also wanted to have more babies, so I said things like, “Let’s leave it up to God.”
After baby #3 in 2014, our family was complete (read: I couldn’t talk my husband into any more kids), so I attempted the pill once again. Different pills came with different side-effects; I was either experiencing break-through bleeding three out of four weeks in a month, or I was a raving lunatic. I tried the NuvaRing, but I started gaining weight. More vain than I previously realized, I discontinued use immediately. After almost two years of trial and error, I declared I was done and told my husband he could worry about contraception from now on. My periods came back in full force, though the cramps were more manageable thanks to the comparative labor pains. Silver lining?
While I was bleeding through white shorts at my son’s kindergarten orientation and explaining to my daughters why Mommy wears diapers like they do, my husband was contemplating a vasectomy. I was none too pleased with his decision, as permanent birth control had never crossed my mind. It was, after all, so…permanent. Alas, he went to the consultation and scheduled the procedure.
But a week before the procedure, his doctor had to reschedule it.
My husband rescheduled immediately.
Then my husband got sick, forcing him to reschedule the procedure again!
Despite his best efforts to reschedule a third time, there always seemed to be something interfering. So this third and final attempt at scheduling his vasectomy failed.
HOLY TRINITY WHAT?!
Yes, I absolutely thought it was divine intervention. And I sure did believe my husband would agree. To say that I was stunned when he continued to throw around words like “no more babies” is an understatement. What was wrong with this man?! Did he not understand we were meant to have all the babies?! And why was I suddenly so passionate about this? In my brain, I knew we were at full capacity; but logistics and emotions don’t always coexist in harmony. Sure, we were out of bedrooms and barely had enough time for the three kids currently occupying those bedrooms, but the sweet milky breath of a newborn? WE WILL BUILD A YURT IN THE BACK YARD.
There I was: lobbying hard for more babies I knew we had no business having. And why? Maybe because mortality seems so distant with a baby at your breast. Maybe because, selfishly, I longed for pregnancy, labor, delivery, those first new days. I would never experience that again. The anticipation and excitement that is bringing another life into this world would never be ours again. No more babies rudely indicated I was old. Also, I really like naming things. It was–is–hard. For all my reasons and still others: being done done is HARD.
So as I’m grappling with this closing chapter, my periods were out of control and things just seemed to spiral downward. A year before, I had been training for my first competitive race; a simple 5K, but it felt so good, like it could maybe be something to fill the baby void. But then I got a bad case of pneumonia, had to miss the race, and buried myself beneath a blanket of self-pity. More than a year later, specifically October of 2017 until the New Year, I continued to be an emotional train wreck; nothing was easy, everything was stressful: work was demanding more of me than I could give; I stood by, helplessly, as a friend lost her battle with metastatic breast cancer; my husband and I were at odds about how to handle a few parenting issues; I was having health problems; the general shittiness of the state of the union kept me awake at night. I was angry. I gained weight. I didn’t feel like me. Then, while at the salon for a regular appointment, my stylist asked how I’d been. I could hear the concern in her voice. This wasn’t like our normal banter. This time, she could tell something was wrong.
Fighting back tears, I shrugged and said, “Things could definitely be worse, but I guess I’ve been better.” Without a word, she offered me a hand-held mirror and positioned it so I could see the back of my head. She lifted a layer of hair to reveal a random bald spot. BALD. Like, zero hair in this perfect circle of now smooth skin. She was certain: “this wasn’t there when I saw you last.” Because I’m adept at coping via jokes, I asked if we could draw a smiley face on it and send a picture to my Mom.
Inwardly, though, I was panicking. Am I sick? Am I dying? I told myself not to Web MD it, but we all know how that goes…