Sunday, April 10, 2016

An Impromptu Conversation While Reaching for a Package of Always Infinity: A Reflection on Womanhood and Our Periods

How lucky are we to be born women.... We uniquely have the ability to carry forth life, a blessing that begins that first time we bleed.  Our life revolves around that cycle and yet most of our discussions are in private and hushed.  Women endure humiliation, shame, teasing, ridicule because of our cycle.  Proof of my own embarrassment is in how often as a young woman I tried to covertly place my tampons on the conveyor at a grocery store or made a split second decision in the feminine product aisle just to get the hell out as quickly as possible.  No one wants to have an impromptu conversation with an acquaintance while reaching for a package of Always Infinity.

I remember when I first got my period.  It was the fall of 6th grade and I was at the Collette's house sitting with Gramps while the rest of his family milked the cows.  When they came in, I rushed across the road to my house in the dark and promptly told my mother.  If I close my eyes and breath deeply, I can remember the warm September night air pressing in around me and the sound of crickets.  The starry night and the open field. I was altogether embarrassed and wanted to keep it a top secret.  My mother had other plans and announced that she needed to go to the store to get me pads.  She came home with Always extra longs as well as ice cream from Greg and Molly's store.  To celebrate, she said.

 Looking back, many memorable moments are because of my period.  We've all been there.  White pants and our period.  Enough said, right?  I even remember the first time my grandmother suggested I wear a tampon.  She tried explaining how to insert it, and I was sick thinking about how I would put that "thing" in where I peed. I didn't realize I had more parts "down there." 

I never understood why my Mom wanted to celebrate that moment.  I couldn't--until I lost the privilege of having a period long before I expected it would happen to me.

It's peculiar to me that I have held onto my feelings about going through premature menopause for so long.  I guess by writing about it, it makes it real.  When I was 35 years old, I began working out and eating healthy.  I stopped having my period about the same time, and my gynecologist attributed my new active lifestyle to the loss of my monthly "friend."  Although I had no intention of having any more children, I didn't realize how heartbroken I would be when the choice was taken away from me. I learned that I was definitely perimenopausal at 36 when my endocrinologist was doing bloodwork after my thyroid cancer.  She was very matter of fact and said that my FSH levels indicated that I was in the early stages of menopause.  My brain was still processing the effects of having cancer and I had to set the fact that I was entering this last stage of womanhood aside. 

But I had indicators before that day in which I guessed I would never again conceive.  When I felt my gynecologist of many years was not taking me seriously, I switched doctors.  He felt that what I needed to do was "freeze" my uterus.  In fact, the question he asked me was, "Do you think you want to have more children?"  I replied, "I don't, but I certainly don't want the option taken from me."  He told me with the pain that I was having (which he felt was most likely endemetriosis) it would be my best option.  It was the fall and school was in full swing and I was enduring Common Core (and not very gracefully) so I set aside the idea to come back to it later, which I tend to do with all important decisions in my life.

I came back to it before I anticipated when my ex-husband told me he and his wife were pregnant. I watched as my daughters' excitement spilled out as the babbled about their new baby brother or sister.  I pasted the smiles each time they spoke of the new little one.  When they found out it was a girl, we went out together and bought her some small gifts. When she was born and they wanted me to see the photos of her, I oohed and ahhhed on cue.  And all the time I couldn't help but think, "I'll never be able to give them this joy."  Inside, I was wilting.  What did it mean that my body could no longer carry a child?

After I found myself in a relationship with a man whom I adore and want to spend my life, the feelings came up again.  He has three children younger than my own (together we have a 3,5,7,10 and 11 year old).  His ex-wife also became pregnant and I couldn't help but wondering if Brock and I could have a child (despite being blessed with five) would we?  Part of me thinks yes.  I would like to have a child that is ours, one that would be a bond between the two families.  I have tried to stop imagining what that would be like because it's futile thinking, but I can't.  My brain processes information slowly and I come to a place of acceptance only by embracing the feelings that come with each new stage, struggle or success.

 I find myself longing to go back.  I'm no longer the girl and young woman I was once and never will be again.  My body has begun a decline and although I fervently attempt to prolong the inevitable by eating clean and working out, when I begin to think about menopause, I think about the cycle of life, which includes death.  I see my fresh faced daughter who has her cycle and think of the years ahead of her, the pain and joy of being a woman.  Not just the physiology of it, but the exploration and the discovery of her own self, her sexuality and her identity.  I think of the moment in Willa Cather's novel, O Pioneers when Cather describes the "V" formation of the geese.  The ones flying at the helm, eventually get tired, and must go to the back of the flock.  I project myself into the future, knowing that my body will altogether fail, as it has proven many times, and I will make way for the next generation as they take their place where I once was.

And ultimately, I reflect.  I reflect on my own journey, my unaware self falling in and out of love a few times, not understanding who I was and having no idea of what expectations I should have from my relationships.  I think of how as a woman in my 20s, I didn't give myself much of a chance, instead looking for someone to edge me toward happiness... or some material thing to give me a sense of value.  Knowing now that what my Mom said to me as a child was so very true- you have to love yourself before you can really love someone else.  I am working on embracing this new stage of life, the stage where I can pass on the wisdom of age and experience to not only the two daughters that came from my womb, but also to Brock's two daughters, who have become part of my story as well.

  And it is now, as I begin to take the helm from my own mother, that I understand the beauty of the day I began to bleed, and can rejoice in it.

Peace and Blessings,

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