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!
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