Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Biography of a Period

The trouble with the arrival of my monthly visitor is that she’s such a freaking drama queen. It’s not enough, anymore, to tap politely on the door with a few vague back-cramps – she’s got to send telegrams two weeks ahead of time announcing her imminent arrival, advising me to stock up on sundries and reinforce the barricades. Maybe I’m just spoiled after my three-and-a-half-year hiatus (broken by only one brief visit between the weaning of Bub and the conception of Pie). I can’t quite get used to it, the gushes and splashes that defy even the most scientifically designed winged barriers.

I always send out an apology to my eleven-year-old self when I experience this kind of base ingratitude. It’s so easy to forget those years of poring over diagrams of ovaries and fallopian tubes, eagerly inspecting my underwear for signs of the yellowish discharge that would herald the approach of menarche. Exactly 365 days before my first period, I copied most of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret into my diary, colour-coding the quotes by topic, green ink for breast development and pink for menstruation. In those days, I eagerly welcomed these signs of my transformation from child to adult, pitying boys because they lacked so clear an initiation rite. I had read Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (Judy Blume’s guide to puberty for boys), so I knew about nocturnal emissions, but I wasn’t favourably impressed. The whole business seemed clumsy and embarrassing, not like the dignified crimson flow that would mark forever my departure from little-girlhood and make it at least theoretically possible to ask for a training bra.

I never thought of my monthly friend as "the curse" or "the witch" – I read about the differing cycles and fervently hoped that I would spend as much time as possible on the rag – 7 days out of every 21 would be ideal, I thought. Womanhood would be my constant companion, tangible proof of my mysterious body and its arcane powers of fertility.

I was part of what I’m sure must have been the very last generation of girls whose mothers bought them a belt for nighttime use. My mother initiated me into the mysteries of giant inch-thick Kotex pads with long strips of fabric on either end that could be threaded through the belt’s loops and whorls. During the day, I experimented with innovations like tabs, wings, dri-weave and sphagnum. When the new, discreet purse-paks came on the market, I hid the pink plastic squares in my gym bag and pretended not to feel embarrassed when I dragged it into the girls’ washroom with me at lunch-time. (I welcomed my period, but not the thought of the boys in my class cracking jokes about it with their newly unreliable voices.) There was only one reason for taking a gym bag into the washroom in those days before we were old enough to carry purses. And there was only one disposal box at my school, located not in an individual stall but rather out in the open, posted on a wall between the stalls and the paper towels.

As an obnoxious grade-six student, I used to spy on the senior girls’ washroom, hoping to catch someone in the act of putting something in that mysterious receptacle. When a friend was finally lucky enough to glimpse a pair of blue Tretorns heading toward the disposal as she peered out from under a closed stall-door, our attempts to play detective resulted in several months of bullying from the embarrassed girl and her posse of grade-eight friends.

I was never subject to severe cramps during my teenage years, though my best friend was. Once a month she would arrive at school dazed by her pain medication, unable to do more than grunt occasionally in response to my attempts at conversation. My cramps were never worse than a few twinges in my lower-back, a nice, friendly warning of a visit that was otherwise wholly unpredictable. I never settled into a regular cycle, never took for granted that the inner machinery was working properly. My monthly friend was more friendly than monthly, capricious, reassuring, welcome.

When I got pregnant only two months after going off the pill, I was amazed that my ovaries could do it – and when I miscarried a few days later, it seemed that maybe they couldn’t. She became my enemy for awhile, that old monthly friend – she and her cohorts, the negative pregnancy tests with their resolutely blank windows refusing to show even the shadow of a second line, no matter how many minutes I sat on the toilet, waiting. In the months between my miscarriage and the conception of Bub, she flirted with me, that witchy lady, arriving when least wanted then staying away for months at a time. She signified all that was possible and yet discouragingly out of reach.

These days, my reproductive system is becoming obsolete. I don’t plan to use it again, and the additional fanfare accompanying each period seems like over-compensation. Aunt Flo has become a histrionic gal in her old age, joining the Red Hat Society and throwing bridge parties for all her friends. "Look at me!" my uterus hollers out every five weeks. "I can still do it! I’m not ready to be put out to pasture – just imagine the nice healthy placenta I could build if you gave me the chance!" And I shake my head, trying to get used to the fact that I’m here, on the other side, with the promise of womanhood more than kept in these wee ones of mine, my little Bub and little Pie.

A Perfect Post – May 2007


Luisa Perkins said...

Aunt Flo as a member of the Red Hat Society--snicker!

I was the girl who hoped that she wouldn't get her period until she was eighteen. Sadly, my hopes were dashed when I was exactly 12.5 years old.

Though I was reluctant to step over that threshold of womanhood, I was as fascinated as you were by the mysteries surrounding the transition. My mom got me this whole flowered kit that had a fat, illustrated booklet in it. I would get it out and read it over and over again once my sisters were asleep at night.

An excellent post, as always. If I were a pagan, I'd worship you.

Off topic and re your Library Thing: I've met very few people who are D.E. Stevenson fans. But I've never met anyone other than myself who has read both DES and George R.R. Martin. Interesting.

Mad Hatter said...

Yup. WAAAAYYY too much information.

You know, being a tad venerable in comparison to you, I can state that I used the belt for both day and night use. That's not quite right. I had the option of using the belt but the women in my family prefered using safety pins to keep those kotex behemoths in place. Oh ya, safety pins in the land down under. And people get notalgic for simpler times. Sheesh.

One of the reasons why I likely won't have another is that, for me, Aunt Flo has changed a lot over the last year. She's more like Great Aunt Flow. You know, it's like it is with rivers: "the gushes and splashes" of youth are giving way to a slower, wider muddier stream with a broader river valley...and lots of clots.

Ha! How's that for TMI? Oh and ya, I had sex three years ago!!!

Gwen said...

Seriously, the propensity of the hormones to get just so annoying is the one part of aging no one warned me about. These days, I feel like every single hour I am aware that I am in a different phase of my cycle. It's highly irritating. And I, too, was far too excited about it all beginning--but then I had three older sisters and I wanted to be grown up just like them.

slouching mom said...

This could have been my period to which you were referring. (Gross, though, the thought that you'd know that much about someone ELSE'S period...)

My OB/GYN has called it...


No, I'm not kidding. It can last several years before the big 'pause.


Beck said...

"The belt"? What the heck? I think I'm older than you, too.
My period. Ah ha. Well, my mother is sturdy and never had a cramp in her life. Mentsrual pain, she believed, was pscyholigical. The second I got my period, I would be in so much pain that I would vomit for THREE DAYS A MONTH. And once I fainted and fell down a flight of stairs at school.
But it's been much better since I've had children.

Beck said...

Spelling is hard.

cinnamon gurl said...

I was fascinated and repeleld at the same time. Really didn't like it when the time came.

An aside: I saw a girl I used to go to public school with on facebook, and the first thing I thought of was the time in grade six when she over-aunt-flowed and her chair was covered in blood. I seem to recall that I was very sympathetic even though I hadn't gotten my period yet, but still. How awful!! Almost as bad as the girl who was a year ahead of me bleeding onto her mauve satin grade six graduation dress.

bubandpie said...

Cin - Whoa. At one point I was thinking of including those horror stories in this post, but dismissing them as urban legends - the things we worried about but that never happened in real life. Harsh.

Mary-LUE said...

I am awash with relief when Aunt Flo comes to visit. Not because I'm glad I'm not pregnant but because I am so thrilled that the premenstrual symptoms will stop. All in all, my reproductive system has thoroughly disappointed me the last few years!

Becky said...

wow. okay, first off, no more talk of gushes and splashes, k? Those of us who may relate don't need to be reminded... Ick!

secondly, wow Bub&Pie - we came from different worlds. At my elementary school, it was tres uncool to develop. Bras? Horrid. Hair in strange places? Tragic. First period? no, not me... certainly not. I remember halfway through grade 8 at a sleepover I was accused (ACCUSED!) of having my period. Having had it for over 2 years, and refusing to admit that it was a big deal, I shrugged and admitted it freely.

At that point, another friend chimed in that she'd gotten hers in grade 4. (!) When the smoke had cleared, it was only the 3 "cool girls" out of the 10 of us who hadn't gotten their periods yet. Suddenly, the playing field changed, and the cool became odd. A banner day, let me tell you. :)

And re: cramps - yes yes yes... me and my Anaprox (aka Aleve) are joined at the hip monthly. Just this morning was the worst of it. The only thing I can add to this lovely conversation is that since childbirth, my period has gone from normal to somewhat normal with a lag in the middle, coming back with a vengeance on day 4. (?)

Mouse said...

The lovely thing about a two-woman household... double the PMS! Trillian and I were just complaining that we're in the midst of that time just before important things (exam for me, job decision for her). And I was thinking about how this is something men don't have to think about--I have actually calculated that I should be on day 3 or 4 when I take my big exam and am concerned because there's a huge difference between the two!

bubandpie said...

You guys are cracking me up.

And Luisa - the George R.R. Martin is thanks to hubby's influence (he put me onto The Song of Ice and Fire as well as Robin Hobb's books).

NotSoSage said...

Beck and I could be the same person (although I read over at Mad's that she's busty, so I guess that clears that up).

When I was 13 my family doctor told me that I wouldn't get my period until I weighed over 100 pounds. I was anxiously to enter into the world of womanhood (ha!) and so I stepped on the scale EVERY SINGLE DAY. I remember one day realising that I finally weighed 100 pounds and thinking, "Oh, it's today! Today's the day!" Little did I know...it would be a few months, still.

I was so pleased to go without mhy period for that year and a half of pregnancy/breastfeeding that I was seriously considering (today, strangely enough) that that might make me more inclined to have more than two kids. Good reason, eh?

Mary G said...

Yep, belt and huge pad. Most of my friends thought you would, erm, spoil your wedding night if you used tampons. I was a swimmer. I figured my (putative) husband could just learn to live with it and talked my very nervous mother into letting me try them.
Do you all remember the early tampons? Okay, I'm sorry I asked.
B&P, you are inspiring. And so damn funny.
You may have inspired me to do a post on menopause - forget the peri, had that too.
Or not. Um. It would probably be WaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayTMI.

Kyla said...

The belt? What? Now, I've learned two things today. I learned about black flies at Beck's and now this belt contraption here. :)

I used to miss the first school on the first day of my period every month when I was younger. The cramps were so awful, they (how do I put this nicely) affected my intestines...intensely. Childbirth helped, but Aunt Flo is still no picnic. I get intense pain for about 12 hours on ovulation day, too. The joys of womanhood.

Bon said...

colour coded copying of Judy Blume books impresses the crap outta me, i must say. i was more fascinated by the external manifestations and affectations of impending womanhood, i must admit - i would've picked smoking over bleeding every time - but secretly inside i marvelled at Margaret's capacity for honesty and her excitement about her body.

my period says hello to yours. perhaps all of us are on the same cycle due to reading each others' blogs daily...nearly like living together. :)

TrudyJ said...

That's exactly how I feel about my period now ... it's so pointless and superfluous now that I've had all the kids I want. What? This again? EVERY FREAKIN' MONTH? What's the POINT??!?!?

Oh and yes, I used the belt. Those were the days. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when they invented the peel-n-stick pads.

kgirl said...

I cannot believe that you just wrote about your period. ok, yes I can.

I am one of those girls that never cared to become a woman, and my bod accomodated by not giving me much grief in the boobs or blood arenas. And I don't know - the whole Rosie the Riveter kind of thing makes me not able to treat the flow like some kind of hinderance.

(of course, I've only had mine 6 months out of the last 3 years, and it probably won't be back for another 2 years now - that's a-ok with me.)

karen said...

To all of you out there, I have but one word: SEASONALE. I got spoilt by three years of no fuss (two kids, nursing...) as well and then endured nearly three years of monthly horror (made worse by my longing for the days of no periods) before I discovered Seasonale. It's a birth control pill that has a 3-month cycle! Periods only four times a year! And they're light, manageable little things...not the overflowing, painful, nauseating traumas I used to have. Magic, I tell you. Magic! Ask your doctor. I hope they're available up there but, if not, Buffalo makes a lovely day-trip. :)

flutter said...

oh the very bane of my existence. In my house she is called Martha Stewart because she is such a b**tch

Karen said...

Okay, I'm sort of retrospectively envious of your early found awe and wonder at your female body's capabilities. I adopted a more cynical stance well before my time (learned no doubt from my very excellent mother) and came late to the party of the wonder and joy of what it all meant. You rock.

The Mad Momma said...

umm.. they still have the belted ones in India, and i have used them... and the ultra slim ones too.. how old does that make me?!

and i've always heard of being aunt flo-free while breastfeeding but it didnt happen to me during the one year i fed my son... and now i'm feeding my daughter so lets see whether it returns or not.

Kelly said...

What an eloquent way of stating how goddam messy the post-partum period is. Aside from the first year or two of my period, marked by excruciating pelvic pain, my periods pre-children were generally unremarkable: low cramps, not-so-bad flow, little emotional upheaval.

Now? Oh Christ, the first few days I can fill a pad in an hour, my uterus balls up a week in advance, and I feel as knocked-out tired as I did the first trimester.

Makes me long for lactation amenorrhea.

Blog Antagonist said...

I'm drying up too. I thought it would be a pinnacle of sadness for me...to say goodbye to my fruitfullness....but it's not. I'm glad to see it go.

But it was a very special thing once upon a time. I'll always look on that girl who was so excited to see that little crimson bloom on her underpants, fondly.

wordgirl said...

I wasn't a crampy gal either, but I had a friend who sat at home with a heating pad...as though the pain was too great to bear. I didn't get it

Aliki2006 said...

What a great post. I, too, have lost complete interect in my cycle. I used to chart and obsess and really focus on every twinge and feeling. Now I'm quite bored and fed-up with it all.

kittenpie said...


Four short months after Pumpkinpie arrived, I was back on my regular (and I mean VERY regular) schedule, no messing around. the only difference is that now I cramp when I ovulate as well as with my period. Whee.

Susanne said...

Lovely post.

I too haven't had any symptoms as a teenager and now I live between cramps when ovulating, PMS-induced mood swings and cramps cum mood swings when I have my period. That means that I have about a week each month when I don't feel controlled by my raging hormones.

I'm really looking forward to menopause sometimes. (Oh, wait, somebody said this was perimenopause. Drat.)

V-Grrrl said...

Oh sure, two weeks ago my uterus, which I thought was finished with that month's period, belched a big blood stain onto my Dockers--in church. And then, while I was pondering how to make a graceful exit from my spot in the SECOND PEW IN FRONT, my new front-hook bra popped a clasp and sent the cups heading for my armpits while the Grrrls stood their ground. Oy.

bubandpie said...

Kittenpie - I didn't get my cycle back until after I weaned (at nine months) both times. So that's two pregnancies and two ten-month periods of lactation amenorrhea (thanks, Kelly, for the term), with one period in between.

Her Bad Mother said...

'Comes in like a Drama Queen!'

Once upon a time, 'twere that way for me. For some reason, now, post-partum, it limps on-stage, almost apologetically. I can't blame it, really - we have a complicated relationship wherein I keep trying to send it offstage and it keeps coming back and sometimes I clap and sometimes I boo.

I don't know if I'm on the other side yet. Neither does Flo. We're still working that out.

PunditMom said...

Ah, the dreaded belt. Unfortunately, I, too, remember that. Perhaps we can share other stories from that era when we're sitting in the rocking chairs at the retirement home! ;)

Rae said...

What a great post, hilarious. I love it. I remember that our friends had cliques based on which girls were "women" and who weren't. And congrats on the Perfect Post award.

Lida said...

Thanks for writing this.