Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Period Post

Warning: This is a rare personal post, in which I describe the intimate details of my intimate details, i.e. my period. Why? Because Aunt B instigated Unofficial Blog Your Period Day, and I think more people should be more frank and open about something most of us women experience every single month. If you are squeamish, stop reading now. If you know me in real life, read the post, then have trouble watching me eat red sauce, that's your problem - you were warned. I can see how some of my librarian readers might be uncomfortable, but this thing is all about sharing information on a ubiquitous but little-discussed topic. Now, on with the festivities.

A Brief History of my Period (with apologies to B for lifting her category)
I started late - the summer that I was 13. Now, I have a late birthday, so this means I didn't get my period until the summer just before I started high school. For a long time, I thought I was the only girl in middle school who didn't get it then. I really have no recollection of my first period. I don't remember where I was when I got it, how I reacted, how I told my mom, whether my mom told my dad - nothing. I have an odd inability to remember intimate firsts, so period-starting is not the only black hole in my memory.

What I do remember are pads for the first few months, and how I hated them with every fiber of my being. WTF is up with pads? Glorified diapers. Uncomfortable. Bulky. General ugh. I finally told my mom that I was not, in fact, going to take it anymore. I also remember one morning my mom was driving me to high school, and remarked upon how I hadn't gotten my period in a while. I explained to her, "Mom, most girls aren't regular when they first start. It takes a while." And that was pretty much the last I heard of that.

I also remember the irritation of trying to manage a period when you have a 3-story, long, crowded high school, lines in every bathroom, and 6 minutes to get from class to class. What a colossal pain in my a**. Things were considerably worse during the 3 months in which I had to navigate this scenario on crutches, with the only elevator on one end of the building. The painkillers for the knee worked magic for the cramps, though.

For a while post-college, I was exactly synched to the full moon.

A Brief History of Other People's Periods
You might imagine from the conversation with my mom above that we didn't talk much about periods. I distinctly remember one time when I was, oh maybe 6 or 7, and my parents and I were on a road trip. Mom and I stopped at some horrendous gas station bathroom (the outside kind), where we found a toilet filled with blood and toilet paper. I asked mom, "What is that?" and she said, "I'll tell you when you're older." I still remember this extremely vividly. Here I was, a little kid in a women's bathroom with a toilet full of blood, and nobody would explain it. It was clear that the blood came out of a woman's body, and that there was a lot of it. I seriously doubt I would still be able to picture that bathroom if Mom had just explained why at the time.

On another occasion in middle school, Mom was supervising a field trip, and the girl (and her mom) we shared a room with started her period. All-over-the-hotel-bed, looked-like-somebody-was-killed-with-knives started. You would think this would present another golden opportunity to talk about this stuff. Nope.

Around the same time, my younger cousin explained to me in a Mr. Gatti's pizza some of the changes to expect that meant you'd probably start soon. My telling isn't dramatic enough, but you have to imagine this kind of information being imparted from one pre-teen to another at a pizza place birthday party, surrounded by balloons, and all very secretively.

I don't want to seem like I'm criticizing my mom too harshly. She has never been comfortable talking about anything to do with sex or the body. She has a particular face she makes when she knows she has to say something but really doesn't want to. I don't think her mom was comfortable with it either. Grandma once told me that her mom told her that she would get pregnant if she even looked at a naked man, so you see where they're coming from. However, not getting open discussion of the whats and hows and whys is probably a big reason I'm interested in, and blogging about, women's health today. There are plenty of women and girls out there who get no, bad, or little information, and I hope I can help with that somewhat.

Now, one last thing. Sometime in high school, I heard a rumor about a girl I knew who had gone to the emergency room over the weekend. The story goes that she tried to remove a tampon, the string broke, and she went to the ER because she couldn't figure any other way to remove the thing. Uh, yeah. Around that time, I was becoming more aware of the stupidity that affects women's lives in general. I'm not saying the girl was stupid. However, whatever forces (parents, church, culture, etc.) led her to go to the ER because nobody ever explained how a vagina works or how far it goes, or let her know not to be ashamed if she had to touch herself to remove an old tampon, those things are stupid.

How it Goes
It goes regular like clockwork, because of the oral contraceptives. Every 4th Tuesday, for years. I wake up on Tuesday, insert Keeper, and pretty much forget about the cleanup aspects. Sore boobs a couple of days before and bad skin are pretty much normal for me. However, the cramps are really variable. Sometimes, it's hot/cold flashes, nausea, and general misery. There have been times when I really thought it would be better to have my uterus removed in a dark basement by a drunk high school dropout with a rusty knife than to suffer through the cramps. Other times - hey, what period? It was worst in my late teens/early twenties, when I could bleed through a super-absorbent tampon in an hour on day 2. Now, I'm just usually pretty tired, and have to empty the Keeper once or twice during the whole 4-day affair. Like B, I can feel stuff slide out at times, and it tickles me. It's a bit like the feeling of peeing yourself a little, only in a different spot.

How it Gets Taken Care Of
I already mentioned my aversion to pads. I switched to tampons in my teens, and thought the Multipack was the most brilliant invention ever. I still think it's extraordinarily clever, but I don't use tampons anymore, either. I took a short 1-credit course in college called, "Menstrual Health and Politics," wherein I learned about lots of things related to women's health, including alternative menstrual products. I wasn't interested in the cloth rag pads that you can make and wash. I tried the Instead SoftCup, but one time I sneezed while on the toilet and the thing shot out of my vagina. Like a rocket. Then I had to fish it out of the toilet without flushing first (b/c it would have clogged), and my interest in Instead seriously waned. I finally got a Keeper, which the college's Sexual Health Center sold at wholesale price. My friend and I picked ours up together, and took turns at her house doing a dry run on insertion and removal. The first time I removed it, it made a huge suction noise, and I giggled like crazy.

That's all for now - I may add on later with more, but I have to get back from lunch.

Other period posts thus far:
Aunt B
Bad Bad Ivy
Katherine, who has the best title so far with "The Smell of Copper, the Taste of Pain"
Heather at Moncks Corner Moments
Kristina at Red Spiral

Technorati Tags:
MeSH Tags: Menarche; Menstruation

5 Comments:

Blogger Ivy, the Great and Powerful said...

What a great post. :) I liked Kat's title immensely, too.

Tell me about the Keeper. Is there anywhere I can buy one locally? One of the biggest reasons I haven't bought one yet is because I thought you had to buy them online, and I'm not too keen on buying things like that online.

I've tried Instead, and it never shot out of my vagina like a rocket, but I didn't like it because it seemed like too much work, and my flow was so heavy, it leaked. And when I say it leaked, I mean, IT LEAKED. All at once. Bad, bad.

Do you ever have problems with it leaking like that? What do you wash it with?

1:34 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Ivy,
I'm going to check into whether there are any local places you can go and buy one. I know The Keeper website says you can order by phone if you're more comfortable that way, but maybe it's that you want to see one in person first?

I love mine. I've had it for about 6 years now. It has leaked, but that was after willful neglect on my part - like not emptying it at all during the first 3 days. Even so, I think it has only leaked 2-3 times in those 6 years, and it was overflow, not all at once. I just wash it out with some soap and water, and let it air dry. One important thing is trimming the stem so that it's comfortable. I cut my stem almost completely off, b/c it's really not needed for removal. Let me know if you have other questions - I'm happy to answer them!

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rachel,
I agree with everything you said and my mother was equally, um, restrained in my education about such stuff. I never heard of a Keeper or anything like it before, so thanks for the information!

Jen P

8:13 PM  
Blogger Kristina said...

I was just going to write a post on my blog about menstrual mishaps but I think I might use your post and then add a 'mishaps' section. ;)

I have a page on my site all about alternative menstrual products:
http://www.dynamicdoula.com/menst.html

Lovely post!

10:41 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

"There have been times when I really thought it would be better to have my uterus removed in a dark basement by a drunk high school dropout with a rusty knife than to suffer through the cramps."

Ditto - even at the age of 47.

Oh, and I've never heard of the Keeper either but I do still remember those stupid sanitary belts ;~)

10:38 AM  

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