Gentlemen avert your eyes, if you get squeamish when words like “maxi”, “flow”, and “cramps” are used in the same sentence. This post is all about going with the flow or, in my case, going against it. It’s basically an all out bitch session about the curse and catch-22 of being a woman.
Somewhere between the age of 11 and 14 (probably more like 9 and 14 now), all girls wake up to a “surprise”, a little present lining their underwear or marking their toilet paper. Some are prepared and just tell their mother they need something by Always, Kotex or Playtex, whatever commercial had the catchiest slogan. Others remember learning about menstruation during science class, but completely forgot about it; their lack of memory making them worry that they’re dying. At least that’s the way it was for me. I was writing my own eulogy in my head from my parent’s downstairs bathroom, the day mine struck.
I called my mother in, ready to announce that my sister would soon be an only child; she smiled and said the word I would grow to both curse and pray for over the years, “period”. She handed me a maxi pad larger than a 2-year-old’s pull-up and told me to put it on. There were no wings back then. There was no ultra thin, either. There was just a giant, absorbent strip that was thicker than our sofa cushion. My first thought, “Just great. I won’t be able to go on any of the upside down rides at the amusement park on Saturday. Why couldn’t this thing have waited until Sunday?”
I come from a reserved family, so I immediately felt embarrassed at the thought that my dad or grandfather would find out about this “new development”. Of course, my mother didn’t have any reservations, as with my first bout of PMS I was grumpy at the pizza parlor that night. Rather than hide my hormonal temperament, she announced to the family that I got my period. It was worse than watching kissing on TV with my dad. I can remember the exact emotion. I can remember holding back the tears and feeling stupid that my mother decided to share this, so loudly, with not only my family but also the other patrons. It was my Sixteen Candles moment.
Older women gush that this one “gush” is a sudden transformation into being a “woman”. They smile widely and tear up at the thought. Their daughter, granddaughter or friend will forever be changed.
Forever changed is damn right! No one ever says the real deal. No one ever tells the truth. This is what I will WISH I could tell my daughter (Okay, maybe I will add a tiny, little, silver lining):
Your life will forever be changed. You’ll have to lug around tampons and maxi pads everywhere you go, just in case Aunt Flow comes to town early. Sometimes you may have an accident and be nowhere near home or a store. You’ll have to tie a shirt or jacket around your waist or put on your gym shorts and everyone will know why. And, of course, the teacher will make you answer a question on the chalkboard or dry erase board that day. You’ll be forced to improvise with Kleenex, paper towels or toilet paper, just to have it fall down your pant leg at the most inopportune moment, like when you’re talking to your major crush.
You may spend years trying to avoid pregnancy by popping a daily pill or using some other form of prevention. You’ll worry, when you have a “slip up”. You’ll pray that Aunt Flow makes an appearance then. It will consume your every thought. You’ll picture yourself with a big belly. You’ll picture yourself carrying a crying baby in a sling with no help or support. Then when your “monthly present” appears, you’ll celebrate like it’s 1999. Maybe even drink yourself into a stupor of relief.
You may feel incapacitated for days each month, popping Midol or Advil, just to keep the pain at bay. Your back will hurt. Your abdomen will throb. You’ll be subjected to migraines and still have to rock your baby to sleep through the pounding. There will be days where your hormones are so heightened that you’ll cry for no reason. You’ll lash out at your boyfriend, spouse, kid, friend or parent and just know that you’re being unreasonable. It will take control of you and you will have no choice but to let it.
You may be careful for years, only to find out that it was unnecessary, that your eggs aren’t viable or your uterus inhospitable. You’ll wonder why you wasted time trying to control it. You’ll pump yourself up with more hormones, just in the hope that you can someday share your story of “waking up to womanhood” with a daughter of your own.
You may use it to keep your spouse from driving you crazy on a given day. You’ll use it as an excuse. They’ll eat it up and follow your cue, because they’ll know the alternative, an upfront meet-and-greet with Linda Blair’s doppelganger. It’s one of the few things we get for our long-term suffering. It is a right and a privilege.
When you get older, you’ll hope it comes around often. You’ll pray for the cramps. You’ll pray for the pain. You’ll pray that the PMS isn’t perimenopause. You’ll start to get hot flashes because her visits are scarcer. You’ll become more moody (if that’s even possible). You’ll start to perspire, when you didn’t even need deodorant before. Your skin will change and you won’t recognize the person you see in the mirror. You’ll start to look like you spent too many days at the tanning salon, when in reality you tried to avoid the sun altogether.
You will share your stories and pain with your girlfriends, a bond that no group of men can come close to. It will bring you together, as women, sometimes being the best of friends, at other times a dark coven. But, regardless, it will be something that you all know well, soul sisters to the core.
One day you’ll realize it’s the most natural thing we know as women, next to pregnancy. And, it allows us to feel our passions in a way that no man could ever fathom. It allows us to carry a baby, something no man will ever understand. Well, I guess there’s that woman who had a sex change and then got pregnant, right?