It began in January.
We’d gone out of town shopping for the day, and were on our way home. I don’t remember feeling pain, though I often had stomach upset when we ate in restaurants, so I can’t say for certain that I had no pain. I do remember my underwear feeling sticky, but that wasn’t an unusual occurrence; weird things had been going on in my underpants for a couple of years. But what I found in that gas station bathroom was a shock.
“Mom?” I remember saying. “Come look. There’s something in my underpants.”
I’d started my period. Only it didn’t look like any blood I’d ever seen. It looked more like I’d crapped my pants. Nobody had prepared me for that.
I knew about periods, sure. My mom was open and honest from early childhood about such things. And I’d had that sex ed class the year before, where they separate the boys and girls and show each group a movie about what’s going to happen to their bodies during puberty, and some kids had to sit out because their parents didn’t sign the permission slip. (We filled them in on all the gory details afterwards. C’mon, parents — did you think you could send your kids to public school and still keep them in a bubble?) The movie didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know, though.
I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, however. Case in point: When I got home that January night, I marked a P on the 17th of every month in my planner (yeah, I had a planner at 12; I was that sort of kid) because I knew periods came once a month and I’d seen my mom track them on her calendar with a P. How cool it was, I thought, to know what day your period would start on for the rest of your life? The joke was on me, though; not only did I not fulfill the February P, I didn’t have another P for a full calendar year.
That one looked like blood. Lasted for more than just one day, too.
The subsequent 30 years brought with them a series of Ps. Some light (not many), some gory (lots and lots). Most painful. Some excruciatingly so. For most of those 30 years, I planned my life around my Ps. Waiting for them to come. Waiting for them to pass. Trying this medication, that diet. Yoga and Tai Chi and Pilates, meditation and massage and supplements. Anything to alleviate the pain. Wishing for pregnancy, for menopause, for some relief from the relentless monthly suffering that is endometriosis.
It’s January again. Not the 17th, but close enough. And that door just closed for good. According to my period tracking app (I haven’t carried a paper planner in a couple decades), it’s been a full calendar year since my last cycle, and the doctor says that means I am done menstruating. I’ve gone through young womanhood, and just plain womanhood, and come out the other side.
I’m in uncharted territory now.
I call myself a mothercrone. Not that I feel particularly old; I don’t. But neither am I in the same place as I was a few short years ago, when pregnancy and childbirth were still on my radar. However, I’m still mothering littles — nursing one of them — so I can’t go full-on crone quite yet. Also, I’m only 44. The crones eye me warily yet. I’m on some odd bridge between the two states. Residing in a constant state of change.
As for that change. Not much has changed, I suppose. The hot flashes and sleeplessness may be a bit more intense now than they were last January, but not so distressing that I feel the need for medication. I cry easily. I’ve become a crier since giving birth for the first time, but now a passing thought is all it takes to turn on the waterworks. I have love handles that I’m not sure will ever go away. Without monthly hormone fluctuations, my fibrocystic breasts are less lumpy and painful. (Also smaller — I guess I really was mostly cysts.) I no longer develop sausage feet for no discernible reason. Otherwise…I’m just me. Only me doesn’t bleed anymore.
I look back on adolescent me, young woman me, with a lot more sympathy now. I felt like such a screw-up, when really I was just a lost kid. I wish I could tell that girl that it’s okay to be lost. That everyone is lost. That if you only admit that you are lost, someone might come along and help you get found.
In a similar fashion, I look back on adult me, and while her failures and shortcomings sting more, mostly I wish I could just assure her that things will be okay. The things she worried most about never came to pass. I wish I could tell her to pause, breathe, and be.
I wonder what old me will wish she could tell current me. I also wonder when I will feel that I have earned my crone wings. Not today, not tomorrow, and likely not next week, month, year. But I’m on my way. A little lost. A little nervous. But doing my best to pause, breathe, and be.