№8 Period Piece

My Mom Gave Me a Pad the Size of a Submarine Sandwich

The other day, one of my best friends called. We’ve known each other since we were 22. Now we’re both 50. She said, “I’m freaking out. I need your support. I haven’t gotten my period in two months.”

I said, “Oh no, you’re pregnant.”

She said, “No, I’m starting menopause.”

I said, “NO! I’m starting menopause!”

And then I listed my symptoms:

I can’t sleep.
I’m an anxious mess.
I have no sex drive or I’m totally sexed up.
I stink.
I’m moody.
I can’t remember shit!

She said, “We’ll handle this.” And then I was embarrassed because I remembered she was the one who called me for support. But she talked me down. “We’ll get through this,” she said. “What else can we do?”

I remember the first time. I was 13. I got this vague, crampy feeling. Like maybe I had to poo. I went to the bathroom and there was brown on my underwear. I thought I did poo. But then I couldn’t figure out where the poo was coming from.

I showed my mom and she said, “That’s your period.” And then she gave me a pad the size of a submarine sandwich. For five days, I walked around like a cowboy.

I’ve had my period for 37 years and it’s been a pretty good run. I’ve had some cramping, but nothing debilitating, though I have had some humiliating bleed-throughs.

The Centers for Disease Control says the average woman loses three teaspoons of blood every period. Or maybe it’s tablespoons? Either way, it’s spoons. For me, it’s buckets. Three buckets. I have a period to be proud of. My flow is so heavy, I can bleed through a tampon and a pad. More than once it happened in high school. One of my friends would say, “Um…” and I would want to die.

You needed a pass to get out of school, but I learned that if you walked to the parking lot with purpose, you could go home and change without anyone suspecting you of skipping. As I got older, I learned never to leave the house without a sweatshirt to wrap around in case of emergency.

What’s cool is attitudes around periods have changed. The other day, I was sneaker shopping with my 14-year-old. She leaned over to show me her butt and said, “Do I have my period?” She didn’t, but she was wearing white shorts so I suggested a pad just in case. She said, “Nah, you’ll tell me if you see blood.”

So why do I love this bloody mess and why am I afraid to lose it? Because women are at our best when we’re on our periods. I read that Chris Evert won Wimbledon when she was on her period. I bet every winner of Wimbledon is on her period.

I’m not worried about not winning Wimbledon, but I am worried that without estrogen and progesterone coursing through my brain, I won’t be as smart.

I know this is a dangerous thing to suggest, that older women don’t think as well as younger women, a notion that could send women back to the kitchen. And I know this is NOT true for some of our greatest thinkers. There’s Maya Angelou, Madeline Albright, Marie Curie, Margaret Mead, Toni Morrison, Jane Goodall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton. There’s my mom. I just don’t think I’m one of those women.

A few years ago, when my daughter was 12, on the verge of her own hormonal upheaval, she came into my room all red-eyed. She said, “You forgot the name of the movie we saw last weekend.” That was true. “And today, twice, you forgot the word for figurative language.” That was also true. Then she cried. She tried to hold it back, I could tell. She was no longer the little girl who cried freely. She said, “I’m scared you have Alzheimer’s.”

I said, “Baby, I don’t think I have Alzheimer’s. But I do think my hormones are changing and maybe affecting my memory.”

So what do I do? How do I age without freaking out that I’m losing my mind? I don’t know.

Last night, while my family was having dinner, I got this vague, crampy feeling. Like maybe I had to poo. So I went to the bathroom. I ran out of the bathroom with my hands held high. I said, “I got my period. I’m young again.”

This is №8 of a #weeklyessaychallenge I gave myself when I turned 50. The author Ray Bradbury said, “It’s not possible to write 52 bad stories in a row.” I hope he’s right. #weeklyessay