Health

A History of Periods – P.S. I Love You

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And why I’ll maybe miss them when they’re gone.

Shaunta Grimes

When my mother was forty, she had a hysterectomy.

Her periods were so heavy, she couldn’t leave the house for days at a time. Menstruation kept her from working. Kept her from life. Made her sick and miserable.

When I was forty, I completely understood.

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I’ve never had easy periods.

Not since the first time I pulled down my shorts and saw blood in my panties — when I was nearly fifteen.

I was in Costa Rica that summer with my best friend. She was born there and we were visiting her mother. The two of us were the only people I knew who spoke English and I was far too embarrassed to tell anyone (including my friend) that I’d had my first period.

It would have been embarrassing regardless. But my first period at that age? Since no one else spoke English and I didn’t Spanish, the whole ordeal would have been extra public. I was mortified.

I spent most of a week stuffing my underwear with toilet paper and praying that I didn’t bleed through my clothes.

I was on the most beautiful beaches in the world, but I wouldn’t put on a swimsuit, because I only had a rudimentary understanding of what a tampon was and if I wasn’t going to tell anyone I’d started my period, I sure wasn’t going to tell anyone I wanted to try to shove something into my vagina.

I was a late bloomer who came by her shyness naturally.

My mother never talked to me about things like periods or sex — not because she thought they were bad or dirty, but because she was happier in a world where she didn’t have to say words like that.

She signed the papers so I could take sex ed at school and called it good. It wasn’t exactly her fault that her older daughter didn’t start her period until after her younger daughter did. I’m quite sure that she thought I’d had my period well before that summer.

She put pads under the bathroom sink and never thought another thing about it, I’m sure.

From that first incredibly awkward menstrual cycle in Costa Rica until right now, nearly exactly thirty-two years later, I’ve had what feels like a two-day flu every single before my period starts.

Period flu is just what it sounds like. Body aches. Nausea. Head ache. Exhaustion. Ibuprofen helps. So does a hot shower and going to bed early.

The period flu is no fun.

But it’s a whole lot more fun than bleeding half to death every month, which is what started happening to me every month when I was in my late 30s. The same as it did to my mother.

It was medival. Buckets of blood leaving my body in rivers and great clots over two weeks every month that left me anemic, depleted, deficient. I’d wear two pads at a time that were never quite enough, put those hospital sheets on my bed to save my mattress, and cry when it started again every month.

For two years, I never felt good.

My doctor offered me a hysterectomy when I was forty.

I told her that I wouldn’t have one.

My mother had, when she was forty. It gave her back her life. She could work again. She felt good again. It was amazing.

God had saved her. That’s what she said. God had saved her.

And then when she was 47 she got breast cancer.

The hysterectomy didn’t cause it. But the hormone replacement therapy made it grow so fast, between one annual mammogram and the next, that by the time it was caught it had metastasized.

She died one year later. I was twenty-four. My little brother had just graduated high school.

No. I gritted my teeth and told my doctor that I’d just live with my outrageous periods until menopause. I could do it.

I’d managed to get through my childbearing years without going on hormonal birth control for the same reason.

I’d do this, too.

She literally patted my shoulder and told me to take a breath.

This isn’t 1985. You have options.

I’ll never forget those words.

She offered me a uterine ablation instead.

A uterine ablation is an outpatient procedure that involves insertion of a mesh that burns away the lining of the uterus. Because all of my parts stay where they belong, no hormone therapy is involved.

I’d have to be sure I didn’t want any more children. A uterine lining is required to maintain a pregnancy.

At 40, told her I was sure.

Maybe if I was feeling healthier and I wasn’t bleeding half to death every month, I’d have considered the idea of one more baby a little harder — but I didn’t give it much thought, to be honest.

I already had three kids. I’d been bleeding half-to-death out of my vag for two years.

Take the lining of my uterus, doctor, please.

The lining of my uterus is trying to kill me.

So one afternoon, she did. And just like that, I went back to regular periods. Actually, lighter than regular.

For the last seven years, I’ve had nice, tame periods.

I’m not anemic anymore. I still get the period flu every month, like I have since I was almost fifteen in Costa Rica, but I’m used to that by now.

I used to pray for menopause.

My mother-in-law lives with me. She’s in her mid-70s, she has Alzheimer’s disease, and she has boundary issues.

She’s about polar opposite of my own mother, who could barely mention the word ‘period.’ Or me, for that matter, who free bled all over Costa Rica instead of telling someone I needed some pads, please.

Carole asks me at least once a month if I still get my period and tells me in great detail about how glad she was when her ‘change’ came and how glad she is that she doesn’t bleed anymore.

When I was laid up with periods so bad they felt like I might need infusions, I used to daydream about menopause.

One of these days, I’d think, my period will just stop and then I’ll be free. And I can’t wait.

I won’t even care that I’ll be old. It’ll be worth it.

But now I’m 47 — the same age my mother was when she got sick. And in October I’ll be 48, the same age she was when she died.

The October after that, I’ll be older than she ever got to be.

And I’m not so anxious for for menopause anymore.

It’s not that I’m worried about being old. I don’t mind that so much.

It just seems like maybe I’ll miss the rhythm that’s regulated my body for more than 30 years, that’s been the mechanism that’s led to pregnancy and my babies.

And I feel a little weird about getting to a milestone that my mother didn’t get the chance to live to.

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