Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Becoming: Female

During the Sixties, most of the girls I knew had absolutely no idea what was coming toward them until it came running down the inside of their thighs. 

Yes, I'm talking about "that time of the month."  "The Curse."  "My Friend."  Your period.  Menstruation.

Uncomfortable to read, huh?  Well, think about how uncomfortable it was for US.

The first time I doubled over with cramps, I was 11 years old.  My mother had "the talk" with me when I was 9.  She told me I would bleed once a month and that it would be my body purging itself of "extra blood" and that the actions my body was taking would prepare me for being a woman and for having children.  I have to admit I had absolutely no idea how getting rid of what made my body tick would actually make it healthier and stronger and more capable of having children, but whatever . . . she was my mother and she had to know, right?  The one thing she hadn't told me was how much it hurt.

Sheeeeeit.  It hurt.  For DAYS.  I wanted to cry, and often, I did.

That first time, the blood that ran down my thighs was a shock.  I distinctly remember where I was and how it felt.  It was fifth grade, Mr. Sansone's class.  That morning, I felt lethargic, but it was something I couldn't really pin down, so I went to school anyway.  By mid-morning, everything changed.  I felt crappy.  Moody.  Headache.  Stomach "not right."  In the middle of a lecture about something inane, my stomach started expanding and contracting as if two sets of large hands had taken control of my innards and were massaging my inner organs so hard they were about to burst.  My body heated up, I began to panic, and trickles of heat and sweat ran between my shoulder blades like heated rivers of lava.  I wanted to melt into the floor under my desk.

Somehow I obtained permission to go to the girls' room (it wasn't difficult; I had an almost unwritten pass to leave the room anytime I wanted because of my epilepsy -- and I have to admit, I used it whenever I was bored, but this time, I needed that permission to scoot out the door as quickly as possible).  And when I got to the bathroom, I realized this wasn't any normal flu bug.  This was debilitating.  I anchored my butt and stayed there for what felt like hours.  Wave after wave after wave of cramps ran through my body like an angry tidal wave.

If you've never had stomach cramps, consider yourself lucky.  Cramps grasp you in meaningful and cruel ways that wreck your sense of time and space.  You find yourself struggling to control groans so animalistic that to release them would make you sound like all the National Geographic nature calls put together and amplified so loud they would reach the furthest corners of the continent of Africa.  All you remember afterward are those brief seconds when the pain lifts, the drenching stops and you can breathe . . . and during those moments you feel like you've been granted access to heaven.  That's how much of a relief it is when the pain stops.

After that first month, my period came with an almost abnormal regularity.  Each 28-30 day cycle seemed more cruel than the last, because with each cycle came cramps, moodiness, and pain so incredible that I realized fainting was not only inevitable but normal.

Through it all, my mother was there.  She stood outside the bathroom door until I finally would let her in.  She drenched facecloth after facecloth with ice cold water, holding them to my forehead, placing them on the back of my neck, folding them around my wrists, anything to fight back the drenching fevers that held my whole body hostage.  She was the one who grabbed me as I slumped to the floor, she lifted me to my bed, fed me Midol, swabbed my forehead, found the heating pad for my stomach, bought the boxes of Kotex that made me walk bowlegged for a week.  She soothed me with her voice, reassured me that it would be over soon, reminded me not to hyperventilate, and cried when the tears ran down my face unabated.  She understood.

I hated being a woman.  I wanted more than anything to go back to being a girl able to climb the monkey bars and swingsets like an untamed wild child, to ride my sled with abandon down the hills at Glendale Park, to go ice-skating in the dead of the frozen New England winter with no worries about falling, to ride a bicycle without the bulkiness of the "sanitary pad" between my legs.  I wanted to be a boy because I truly believed they had absolutely no worries.

By the time I ended my teenage years, I had been told over and over again that the only way the cramps and pains of the monthly curse would end would be if I took the next step in womanhood and entered the motherhood stage.  Though it wasn't the only reason I became pregnant with my one and only child, it definitely was in the back of my mind that it was possible that this monthly agony would end and that I would have something angelic to show for it.  And I did.  But first, I had to deal with the fact that those cramps and that monthly agony would far more than just the pains of becoming a woman:  that agony was the precursor of something much more deadly, something everyone had ignored.  But that's the story for another blog.

All I can say is that I'm so happy someone discovered that birth control pills help to regulate the monthly cycle and to alleviate the pain most teenage girls experience during 'that time of the month' . . . because I think most of us would have been driven to rid ourselves of that trauma in whatever way we could. 

I truly didn't need that kind of misery to move me from girlhood to womanhood.  A simple Hallmark card marking the occasion would have sufficed, thank you very much!

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