Changes

For the first time in my adult life, it’s been 36 days since my last period.

Now I did turn 50 this year, so this might be perimenopause. (It also might be that I’ve had both of my Pfizer shots in the past three weeks, and no one thought to study whether there were any impacts on periods until vaccinated people started reporting menstrual irregularities. Period stigma? Seems like.)

But it’s got me thinking about how much silence and shame there is around all phases of bleeding: menarche, bleeding, reproduction, menopause.

(WordPress tags both perimenopause and menarche as misspelled words.)

At least with menarche, there’s some cultural recognition that this is a good thing.

I was eleven. I woke up with a stomachache, but, being the Tracy Enid Flick type I was, dutifully got on the bus anyway. By the time I arrived at school, I had started to bleed. It was before the first bell rang, and a male teacher was on duty, and I was NOT taking this issue to him, so I went to an older female friend who took me to the school office where the secretary called my mom, who picked me up and took me home so I could get myself cleaned up, and then later took me to the mall and lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant. Later that weekend, my dad and I were working on a school project that required some construction, and while we were in his workshop, he awkwardly congratulated me and told me he was very proud of me. Sweet, if mortifying to a preteen.

Over the next several years, I learned how to manage my period. In the beginning, at least for me, it was irregular in arrival time and volume. Which, because my shitty christian school was rigid about everything, including how much time we were allowed between classes for things like getting to the bathroom to manage periods, resulted in breakthrough bleeding more than once. Humiliating, at least in part due to period stigma, which made the blood itself embarrassing and made it too embarrassing to ask for extra time between classes. As a young teen, I couldn’t figure out how to work tampons and was too embarrassed to ask anyone – more period stigma – so I suffered more than my share of these incidents, because pads shift and handle the gush of blood that comes when you’ve been sitting for, say, 45 minutes in class and then stand up way less effectively than tampons do.

Anyway, eventually I figured it all out and things settled down. The first year we were married, I went on the Pill, but me and it did NOT get along, so my spouse, who’d never minded condoms in the first place, was like, “Dump it and let’s use condoms,” and so for the past 30 years, my cycle has continued on its merry way completely unmolested.

I even left bad cramps behind by my late 20s in part because I stopped trying to tough them out. No one is handing out awards for being there all miserable. Starting to hurt? TAKE PAIN MEDS, DOPEY. So since my 20s, my cycle has been like clockwork, and I have to admit, it’s been great.

OK, well, the expense of pads and tampons every month for 30 years, and the cramps, periodic headaches, bloating, breast tenderness, occasional breakthrough bleeding on clothes or sheets (inconvenient at home, mortifying at, say, a business meeting or in a hotel bed – period stigma strikes again!), and every once in a while, the arrival of my period giving me a massive case of the shits hasn’t been “great” exactly.

But knowing almost to the hour exactly when all that was going to hit was.

I never got caught in hour one of a flight to West Coast all: “Shit. I have nothing on me. Which flight attendant looks the nicest?” Or on a business trip all: “I have work to do, but first, where is the nearest goddamn Walgreens?” Nope, I always knew if I needed to pack a box of tampons, make sure I had pain meds in my Dopp kit, and make sure I had black pants to wear on the necessary days.

Likewise, if we wanted to plan a romantic trip, as long as I did the math right, we could plan something 12 or 18 months out and know I’d be in the clear. Sure, plenty of people like to have sex while bleeding, but being crampy and bloated and bleeding to the point that sex would leave the hotel sheets looking like a crime scene has never really put me in the mood.

Well, that certainty may be becoming a thing of the past.

And we don’t talk about it. We prepare the young for the start of all this, but we don’t prepare the middle aged for the ending. After all, who is more invisible, more ignored, considered more insignificant, more ridiculous than the menopausal woman?

I’ll be picking up a copy of the fabulous Dr. Jen Gunter‘s The Menopause Manifesto when it comes out later in May (and if you don’t follow her on Twitter, you really should). My mom is not much help – she was still bleeding, heavily, having suffered from fibroids (another word WordPress doesn’t recognize) for more than a decade, by the time her doc was like, “Lady, you are 56 years old, and you’ve been dealing with anemia and heavy bleeding for ten years. Let’s get this uterus and these ovaries OUT.” So her experience of menopause was…abrupt. And perhaps not terribly applicable.

So what do y’all have for me? Don’t be shy!

Photo by Linda Xu on Unsplash

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter @MrsWhatsit1.

10 responses to “Changes

  1. Well, assuming you’re not preggers, Congratulations! You’re on your way to a life without periods and, trust me, it’s great. I stopped bleeding v early due to chemotherapy for breast cancer. So I went, as my doc described it, from 100 miles an hour to zero in an instant. Hot flashes? OMG. But they stopped (the hot flashes and the periods) and never came back and I have not missed them once. I’ll tell you my favorite period story. I was v regular, but, once a year or so, I’d have a super period. You’ve heard of the super moons? Hah! I mean I’d bleed so fast and so hard that two superplusextra tampons rammed up there barely kept things under control for 45 minutes or so. One Saturday, my white shoe law firm was hosting several other equally prestigious law firms for a big meeting and we’re in a conference room with chippendale (real ones) chairs and they have these lovely beige-on-beige striped silk seats. So I’m not only, of course, the only woman there, but I am bleeding up a monsoon. I keep getting up to go jam a few more superplus tampons up there and, every time I get up, I drop a redwall folder on my chair seat because I’m thinking if I can come back and sit on that, when I do bleed through (and we all know it’s going to happen) I can bleed onto the cardboard and maybe, please Goddess, not stain the law firm’s beige-on-beige striped silk. And every time, every single time that I do this, the nice young man sitting next to me picks the redwall up and puts it on the table for me. Because he’s polite like that and has no idea what’s going on. This goes on all day. Finally, HE gets up to go to the bathroom and I manage a stand, drop, and sit maneuver. Silk saved. I also had my period while taking the bar exam, because of course I did. So every guy there got a good 15 minutes more time for the test than I did because you were allowed to get up and go to the bathroom but you didn’t get the time back. I guess what I’m saying is, yes, we should be telling these stories and, no, we should not be feeling ashamed.

  2. Vicki Abousamra

    As a 70 yr old, whose periods stopped on 9/9/2009…count yourself fortunate that you stopped Having periods at 50. As per my gyno & gastroenterologist …the longer one bleeds the longer Estrogen/progesterone course through your entire body, the greater the long term damage to vital organs, uterus, ovaries, intestines, pancreas….as in CANCER. Count your blessings..if your not bleeding by next couple of months…it’s full on men-oh-pause. Haven’t missed my period for ONE DAY since 9/9/2009!

    Peace & blessings, Vicki

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. Menopause is lovely. Even though it started when I was finally old enough to handle menstruation with rather more grace than my youthful red faced shame, still, it was lovely to end it. No more tampons tucked away here and there for an emergency, no more boxes in the supermarket cart, no more acne, no more cramps, no more scrubbing stains, no more “but they’ve been cleaning the women’s restroom for the last hour!” All that nonsense about how some womanhood thing is over at menopause is ridiculous. It’s so freeing. There are hot flashes, of course, but you can medicate those with a cold drink or a slurpee. A nice brain freeze beats cramps any day.

  4. I’m so glad to hear that Jen Gunter is publishing a book on menopause. There is so little out there! I went through menopause several years ago. I figured that it would be like puberty in reverse — irregular, sparse periods, and diminishing hormones over a period of years. The hot flashes weren’t bad, and when I woke in the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, I didn’t stress about it; I just thought about things that were on my mind, or meditated. What came as a big surprise was when my hormones quit. My libido pretty much disappeared, and my vagina atrophied, so no more PIV sex, and no interest in sex with anybody. (I tried estrogen cream, but it didn’t help the atrophy and made my face break out!) Sex feels like a country where I used to live and felt at home, once upon a time. On the other hand, I really appreciate not being jerked around by my hormones every month, and I like the detached perspective that (for me) comes with being asexual.

  5. My periods were fairly normal until the first time I died at 22. After that, it was tampons in addition to the extra long overnight pads that I still bled through, passing clots the size of dollar bills, and periods that could last 20 days. I had my first endometrial ablation at 35, which stopped my periods for 6 years. Then I had a repeat of heavy bleeding for weeks for 2 years before a second ablation that stopped things for 7 months. Finally convinced my OBGYN to schedule a “ simple vaginal hysterectomy”. When I came out of surgery, it seems my simple procedure took 2 surgeons almost 4 hours; I had too much scar tissue, so they had to go through the abdomen, only to discover that at some point over the years I had managed to spew blood into the abdominal cavity, and it took that long to remove all the blood-filled cysts that were attached to everything—abdominal wall, intestines, appendix, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, and uterus. Everything that could be removed was.

    Doc: I never want to operate on you again. At least we know why you were in so much pain.
    Me: I didn’t have any pain.
    Doc: You should have. I don’t know how you stood upright.
    Me: Four and a half million years of evolution; just kind of came naturally.

    I am now 65. I’ve had exactly 2 hot flashes. I haven’t had a bleeding episode due to lack of platelets (the reason I died the first time) since then. I’ve had my Fauci Ouchies.

  6. I, for one, was delighted when I started perimenopause, though it took about ten years before the periods completely ceased and the hot flashes lessened, though they still show up occasionally. If you do facebook, Jude Lally has a private group called Creating a Meaningful Menopause. I wish there had been a group like this while I was going through it. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/643918522814733

  7. I was fortunate to have lived in a secluded semi-rural area at the time, so during one of what I knew to be my last cycles I honored the compulsion I felt to give my menstrual blood back to the earth.

    Wise blood is power, and I am grateful to have attained the status of she who holds the wise blood inside.

  8. OH! Also taking suggestions about what to call hot flashes, bc when they start, I plan to be totally open about what’s happening no matter where they take place. “Power surge” is of course, classic, but I’m looking for something a little funnier. Leading candidate right now? “Disco inferno” (burn, baby, burn) Other ideas?

  9. Angela (they/them)

    I was supposed to be getting my ovaries out April 15 but a covid surge here means it’s now postponed indefinitely. I’m 47 and have had period-related issues in both physical and mental realms since 7th grade when I started bleeding. I was very much looking forward to being in sudden menopause and I’m kinda bummed about now having to wait. I have been reading an advance reader copy of “What Fresh Hell?” by Heather Corrina ahead of it’s release later this year. If someone is a non-binary person or trans-man who experiences menstruation and all of the other glorious parts of being a uterus-having person, this is the book to read. So much of my menstruation (and therefore perimenopause etc.) experience has left me feeling super duper misgendered (also not seen as a word, apparently), which just makes the whole thing harder (in my experience).
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/51766181-what-fresh-hell-is-this-perimenopause-menopause-other-indignities-an

  10. I stopped bleeding a few years back now, and the prospect of NEVER having to shove another tampon up my vagina EVER again, is orgasmic all by itself. Hot tip – get yourself some water-based lube and practice, practice, practice. 😀

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