19 February 2001

A cycle of life

19 February  2001

I am spending some time truly alone for the first time in months.  I am at the Oregon Coast while my house-mate and dog are at Pandora House and my husband and son are in Eastern Washington visiting family.  On Friday I loaded my computer and overnight bag into the car and, after work, headed down the road.

I forgot one thing.    

Now– what I'm about to discuss isn't generally considered a polite topic for dinner conversation– or for conversation in general. 

I forgot my supply of maxi-pads.

I remember thinking to myself as I was packing that I was due for my period any time now so I’d better pack supplies.  

I got to work and realized I’d forgotten to pack that much needed item– so I told myself to remember to bring my stash from work.

I forgot.  

I realized I’d forgotten at 1100 Saturday when my body said, in unequivocal terms, that Things Were About To Begin.  I searched the house for anything left by a previous occupant.  No luck.  So instead of walking into town and having a leisurely lunch, I drove into town, bought maxi-pads and came home.

I have a hostile relationship to my period.  I often think of my period as thing– no, more a person and I know why it was called a ‘visitor’ in the past.  

It is a disruptive visitor and has been since I had my first cycle.

My relationship with my period began July 4, 1980.  I remember the date exactly because my family was in Oregon visiting some friends of my Dad’s and we were watching the Fourth of July parade from a vantage point in front of the friend's office.  I was 12 years old.  I was very glad we had the spot we did because I kept having to use the toilet– and so kept trekking into the office to use the facilities there.

I was a 12 year old girl in a perpetual state of low-level embarrassment simply because I am twelve.  Add to that the anxiety of being in a strange place and constantly having to use the toilet.  Mix in finding blood in a place I've never seen blood before. And top it off having to go back out into the crowd and get mother's attention– which is hard because I couldn't speak above a whisper because I’d gone way past embarrassment into fear.

The story has a happy ending.  My mother– to my undying gratitude– had apparently been watching for just this event and had come prepared.  It was with a tremendous sense of relief that I donned my first menstrual pad and rejoined society secure in the knowledge that I was not going to bleed to death.

Now, before you think my parents had somehow neglected this aspect of my education– let me reassure you that I knew the theory of a menstrual cycle before mine began– but having no prior experience– I was not able to match the theory with the practice the first time out.

As I grew into a teen-ager my period got more and more disruptive– to the point where I passed out once from the pain.  We finally settled on birth control pills as the remedy– they worked.  My cycle was regular, and I could control the pain with normal doses of over the counter pain-relivers.

When I went off birth control to have my son my cycle had stabilized and things never went back to being a bad as they had been.

I heard a rumor that having children gives some women relief from menstrual pain.  I got 18 months worth– while I was pregnant and breast feeding– that was it.  

I liked not having a menstrual cycle.  I liked being able to have mood swings and not having to wonder if I was truly angry or if I was freaked out on hormones.  I liked not having to carry ‘supplies’ around with me or guess if I was going to need them. 

So now my son is nearly two and I am nearly thirty-two.  I've had twenty years to develop a relationship with my body and it's cycles and I still find my period an intrusion.  

If I were a good little essayist I would wrap this up in some sort of positive message about listening to our bodies and resting when they tell us to rest.  I’d say something about how our industrial society treats all of us– men, women, children– as machine parts rather than as people.   And I’d say something about my cycle reminding that I really have very little control over what happens in my life.

Sometimes, I am not a good little essayist.  Welcoming my period into my life is not going to make it any less messy, painful, or disruptive.  

And I don't have to be happy about it.

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