Ask Jess N-C. About Her Uterus

Got a uterus? Had a uterus? Want a uterus? We love talking about them. Ask Abby Norman if you want to get involved, either through submitting essays to the collection, becoming a writer for us or sharing your answers to The Interview!

This time, we’re interviewing Jess N-C. about her uterus.

You can follow Jess on Twitter at @noltecerchio and on Instagram at @noltecerchio and @cincinnumbers.

  1. What is your first memory of being female?

The first thing that comes to mind is from when I was very young — young enough that my mom was still giving me baths. I remember standing naked by the tub, pointing at my crotch and asking my mom, “What is this?” She didn’t deflect. So from that young age, I knew that females had vaginas.

2. Describe your sexual / menstrual education (ex. were you told that “cramps were normal” or things like, “you can’t swim if you’re on your period” — ?)

Stages 3–5 of breast development (apparently)

There was one book that was very important to me (many of my friends have confirmed that they also had this book). It was called The Care and Keeping of You. It was chock full of illustrations including the stages of breast development, types of bras, personal hygiene tips, and how to insert a tampon. I think I received this book from my mom when I was around 9 or 10, and I was pumped for all of this stuff to happen to me. I’m not being sarcastic. This book made it all look so fun! As fate would have it, I didn’t start my period until I was 14 and my breasts never made it past stage 3 of development.

My sexual education was disjointed. I grew up going to catholic school and was therefore taught abstinence only sex education at school. Every year from ages 12–18, we were told not to have sex before our heterosexual marriages and that hell was waiting for us if we even thought about becoming aroused before then. At home, though, my mom was a bit more realistic (luckily). She told me she didn’t save sex for marriage and that if I was considering having sex that I should tell her so we could discuss birth control options. I trusted her more than the random people that came to our school and told us that the birth control pill was an abortifacient.

3. How old were you when you started menstruating? How did you feel about it?

At 14, I felt like the only girl I knew without a period, so when the day finally arrived, I was thrilled. I was eating lunch at the dining hall of an overnight camp with my friends. I went to pee and made the discovery I had been waiting for. I asked my friend Abbie for a pad, then proceeded to eat a ton of potato chips because #periodcravings (I don’t think I actually had cravings — I just wanted to participate fully in my first period with activities I had been told were par for the course).

4. Describe your menstrual experience (including premenstrual symptoms, ovulation symptoms, how many days you bleed, if you have “regular, predictable” periods or not, if you are taking birth control or have in the past and it has impacted your cycle, your experience with tampons/menstrual cups/pads, etc.)

My periods (sans any kind of birth control) have always been regular and generally tolerable. I do, however, experience painful mittelschmerz that lasts up to 48 hours. I went to the doctor once thinking I had appendicitis as the pain was on the right side. Turns out my right ovary was just doing its thing.

I took a very low dose birth control pill for about 6 years, during which my period was basically non-existent — just a bit a spotting. I loved using the pill and had zero negative side effects. But when I was 22, following the sudden death of my mother from pulmonary embolism, I found out I had 2 blood clotting disorders (Prothrombin 20210 Mutation and MTHFR Mutation). These gene mutations make my blood more prone to form clots when it shouldn’t… as does the estrogen in combination (containing both estrogen and a progestin) birth control pills. These things combined were deemed unsafe by my doctor and I was advised to cease hormonal birth control pill usage.

I took a few years off from prescribed birth control and used this weird contraption called a Pearly to track my ovulation. It required me to take my oral temperature every morning within a 2 hour interval. If I was sick or had drank alcohol the night before, I had to skip the next morning’s temperature reading. It would then give me a green light (not fertile), red light (super fertile), or yellow ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). I still have the thing (it cost a pretty penny) and plan on using it when my husband and I decide to try for a kid as I did feel that the red lights (YOU’RE OVULATING!) were pretty accurate.

During my Pearly years, I decided to venture into the realm of menstrual cups. The main reason I decided upon this was because my period was scheduled to arrive the day of my wedding and the underwear I was going to wear were hardly underwear at all, and therefore incapable of keeping a panty liner in place. Since it’s not safe to insert a tampon as a preventative measure (hello TSS), I figured I’d give the DivaCup a try. I’m not going to go into extreme detail here, but I will say this: you might think you know your vagina pretty well until you have to go digging around in it for a silicone cup that is suctioned to its walls and absurdly close to your cervix. That being said, once I got the hang of it, I really liked it and used it exclusively.

A year and a half ago, after literally years of consideration, I got a Skyla IUD inserted. I wanted birth control that was super low maintenance and sans estrogen, since, as I mentioned above, I can not use combination birth control. I thought I was super prepared for this experience. I researched the hell out of modern IUDs, talked to other women who had them, and watched animations of the insertion process. I was READY! I went to my gynecologist’s office alone the morning of the insertion and planned on heading to work right after. I must note that I did not eat anything or take any pain killers that morning. I should have done both because the insertion was honestly the most physically painful experience of my life (I know this makes me very lucky to have had very little physical pain up until this experience). I also must note that I was NOT on my period during the insertion, which is recommended as your cervix is more open during that time. Needless to say, I got physically ill directly following the insertion and was not allowed to leave the doctor’s office for an hour because I was shaking uncontrollably and they didn’t want me to drive. They fed me this weird orange drink that tasted like extra sugary orange Gatorade and a cup of peanuts and popcorn. After eating, I felt way better. When I finally left the office, I went directly to Steak ‘n Shake for some fries and a milkshake and then proceeded to lay on the couch all day with my cat on my belly as an adorable heating pad.

All of this is not to dissuade any ladies from getting an IUD, though I know I made it sound terrible. I will admit that the first few months were uncomfortable, but after my body got used to it, everything was fine. It’s so nice to not have to worry about taking a pill or keep track of when I’m ovulating. The particular IUD I got lasts for 3 years (and is smaller for us nulliparous ladies), whereas the Mirena lasts for 5 and the Paragard lasts for 10. But please, if you do decide to get an IUD, eat something that morning and take some preliminary Ibuprofen.

5. How is your day to day life impacted by menstruation? Do you miss school/work/social activities? Do you feel the need to justify yourself by saying things like, “Oh, I’m just PMSing” etc?

I do get some righteous PMS cramping and cravings. It mainly involves wanting to eat tons of salt. One of my good friends and I have periods that are synced up, so we often enjoy going out to eat things that are bad for us right before our periods start. Camaraderie!

6. How has your sex life / dating life been impacted by menstruation?

I’ve always had a little voice in my head that says “No one will be interested in touching you if you’re on your period.” Probably because I dated a guy who thought periods were gross and told me so. But for the most part, I haven’t encountered many men or women who feel this way (in my personal experience and based on conversations I’ve had with female friends of mine about how their period has impacted their sex life).

7. Have you ever been resentful of your period/uterus/womanhood? How do you cope with these feelings?

The answer is yes and for length’s sake I will focus on one source of resentment. Being female is expensive, and I’m not referring to cosmetics. I am referring to things that women need to do to remain healthy. Currently, I’m livid that people are trying to prevent women from getting affordable care by shutting down Planned Parenthood. Many women I know, myself included, have gotten pap smears and birth control from Planned Parenthood for free or close to free when we didn’t have the resources to cover the cost ourselves (i.e. health insurance that covers preventative care). I learned this the hard way when I paid $500 out of pocket for a pap smear while I was in college. I just assumed that my insurance would cover it. HOW SILLY OF ME.

And I get frustrated with people who refer to periods (or any part of womanhood) with the word “disgusting” or a synonym of the word “disgusting.” Do better.

8. Have you ever suspected you have, or been diagnosed with, any reproductive health condition such as: endometriosis, ovarian cysts, PMDD, fibroids, infertility, etc? If so, describe the process of being diagnosed, how long you had symptoms, what treatment was offered, etc.

I haven’t been diagnosed with any reproductive health issues aside from the blood clotting disorders I mentioned above (which I believe are classified as blood disorders). Since getting the Skyla IUD, I’ve had a few months where the mittelschmerz has been way more painful than usual. I asked my gynecologist about it and was told it was “most likely” ovarian cysts, since having and IUD makes their presentation more probable. I’ve never had complications from them, though.

9. Tell me about your most recent period — how was it?

I had night sweats and stabbing pains for nearly a week leading up to it. The actual period was extremely light but crampy. I drank a glass of red wine every night to remedy the cramps. Don’t knock it til you try it, readers.

10. If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing about what to expect when she started menstruation, what would you say?

This isn’t specifically about menstruation, but I would love to go back and stress to my younger self how important it is to have supportive female friends. I have a great group of girl friends that I can talk to about literally anything. Nothing is #tmi with them and we can always openly discuss all of the weird and wonderful things that go along with being female. Girl power. Blessed. Ovaries before brovaries. All of that. ❤

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