Monthly Archives: November 2015
I have menstruated almost 1,680 days in my life. That is four years, seven months, and one week.
I was newly twelve years old when I experienced menarche (the beginning of menstruation). I had already been experiencing the throes of puberty in other ways: I had been unable to sleep on my stomach for almost two years due to the painful budding of breasts on my chest, my bony and childish hips were softening into an hourglass, I was growing taller, and I had finally started shaving under my arms, where I had needed to apply deodorant for at least a year.
I had devoured the booklets we were given in health class, the way that bookworms often do, and I had expected a flood of bright red liquid. I remember being confused at the thick reddish brown stains in my underwear, changing them quickly, and approaching my mom with ashamed tears threatening to spill. She hugged me close and explained that I was experiencing my first period. I was provided with menstrual pads that reminded me of my little brother’s diapers. I was acutely aware of the crinkle of plastic in my pants as I walked through the halls of my new middle school.
I learned to palm the pads from my purse to my pocket as though I’d studied legerdemain, always terrified that a boy would see the plastic packaging and suddenly know that I was on my period. It was a secret to be guarded at all costs, and I felt a vague sense of shame about such a natural bodily function.
It wasn’t until a year or so later that I first started experiencing menstrual cramps. These pangs would radiate from my pelvis around to my lower back and shoot down my legs. I learned that if I took ibuprofen as soon as I saw the telltale blood, I could stave off the worst of the pain. Once I entered high school, I no longer felt shame around menstruation, and it became an annoyance. I had a textbook 28 day cycle, and my periods would generally last for seven days. Sometimes they were longer, sometimes shorter, but the average was seven days.
Once I became sexually active, each month’s menstruation was greeted with jubilation. I was very lucky during this time that I never became pregnant, especially as we were relying solely on condoms at the time. A few months before I married my ex husband, I bought my first and only set of pregnancy tests. I had been using hormonal birth control, in addition to condoms, but for the first time in my life, my period did not visit like clockwork.
My sweaty hands fumbled with the plastic wrappers in the public bathroom of the store in which we had purchased them, and I tried to cry quietly as I turned the purple stick face down on the tile floor while I waited the two minutes for the results. The tests were negative. One week later, my period visited again, though this time it seemed heavier and more painful than previously. I rejoiced through the pain.
At this point in time, I was adamant that I never wanted to have children, and I convinced my gynecologist to give me an IUD. The insertion was painful, and I had perpetual cramps for three consecutive months, but I never wanted to sob alone in a bathroom stall ever again.
Throughout my early to mid-twenties, my period was again a mild annoyance. A fact of life to be endured, and nothing more. I stopped keeping track of the dates I expected to menstruate, knowing that my chosen method of birth control was practically as good as getting a hysterectomy.
Somewhere around age twenty-six, my attitude towards being a mother shifted. It no longer seemed like such a terrifying prospect. By the age of twenty-seven, my criteria for long-term dating partners had changed significantly: I was looking for someone that was interested in marriage and children. I still have my IUD, and have no intention of changing that until I and my boyfriend are fully ready: mentally, emotionally, and financially.
My social media is filled with friends who are pregnant, friends who have infants, and friends who have gorgeous and precocious toddlers and preschoolers. Each photo, each ultrasound, each announcement fills me with joy for my friends’ happiness, and I feel ashamed of my brief twinges of envy.
I am no longer ambivalent or annoyed about my menstruation. I worry each month that I am losing something precious, a finite resource within me. I am scared that when I and my boyfriend are finally ready, I will have bled too often, I will have lost my chance. I have a tiny moment of mourning, a tiny moment of terror, a tiny moment of wondering what might have been, each month.
I am almost thirty-two now.
I have been menstruating for nearly twenty years.
I started my period today.