On Menopause Day
A line in the sand, as it were. Before that single day, you are either pre-pubescent, a woman who menstruates on a somewhat regular basis, or perimenopausal. After that day you are post-menopausal. It is only during that brief 24 hours that any woman can rightly refer to herself as experiencing menopause. Now, call me crazy, but I plan to mark Menopause Day on my calendar and celebrate it every year from that point forward. And I wonder why other women don't do the same.
I'm going to be frank with you: for myself, I've never been a fan of menstruation. In 1968 I was ten years old and a 5th grade student at North Park Elementary School, having just transfered that year from a private Catholic grade school. One day, very mysteriously, we girls were separated from the boys in our class, and all herded down to the music room to watch a film strip. About puberty. I remember sitting there in the dark (oh WHY did I sit in the front row for this one?) and seeing the big pinkish drawings of disembodied uterii and ovaries on the screen before us: before, during and after a menstrual period. The concept coming across with each successive illustration that one's uterus was slyly storing up blood a little bit at a time for three weeks - sneaking some in when you weren't paying attention - and then suddenly could hold it no longer, and WHOOSH! out it would come in a flood from one's nether regions. There were vague intimations that it had something to do as well with having babies, but we didn't go down that road. It all seemed perfectly reasonable - as though, well, ok, maybe they didn't tell us about all this right from the start and had waited ten years to throw that particular curve-ball at us, but all-in-all it didn't seem too unmanageable.
Our parents, of course, had been informed that we would be seeing this particular form of visual entertainment that day, so in the evening after dinner my parents sat down to have The Talk with me. I should tell you that at ten years old I was already a fierce feminist. I really didn't see why men had the idea that they were smarter than I was, when I knew danged well that the boys in my class and on my street weren't what you would call 'all that bright'. I knew I was more intelligent. I knew I could run faster, and I knew that I won every time my older brother pitted me in an underwater swimming race against the neighborhood boys. Ok, so my brother was the smartest of us all because he accepted dollar bets against me and made a fortune, but that's ok, he's family. So my attitude was one of 'And you're superior how?' I even resented having the door held for me when I was entering a store by a man just walking out, muttering that I was perfectly capable of opening a door for myself, thank you. I intensely disliked that fact that my father made the rules in the house based solely (or so it seemed to me) on the fact of his gender. Had I a bra at the time I would have burned it.
So picture me, fierce little thing with messy hair and owl glasses, sitting there in the kitchen on one stool and facing my parents sitting opposite me on stools of their own. My Mom was a nurse, so we always referred to body parts and functions by their proper names, and my Dad had worked as an x-ray tech when my parents first married and used to quiz us at the dining room table on the names of all the bones, so it wasn't weird for the two of them to sit down and talk to me about all this. However, I do still clearly recall - 38 years later - my Dad saying that having your period was 'the uterus crying because it wasn't going to have a baby.'
Yes, I swear to you, that is what the man said. And I sat there looking at him and thinking to myself, 'You are out of your mind, buddy.'
In junior high I was one of a group of 5 girls who lived near each other and always hung out together. Debbie had her period first, simply because Debbie was developed to a freakish degree and she was just like that. Then came Nancy; well, Nancy was generally perfect and would start her period obediently when she was expected to. Fran was next, and that just left me and Joni at a year younger, still waiting for our periods to start. We were so incredibly jealous of the others, it was a mark of maturity, a badge that teenage girls would wear.
My friend Tammy told me that when she had her first period, her parents took her out for a celebratory dinner, complete with cake and a candle at the end. I thought this was taking it all a bit far, and wondered how her parents explained to the wait-staff about the cake and candle but avoided having them all stand about mistakenly singing Happy Birthday. Were they singing Happy Period to You instead?
When I first got my period at age 14 I admit I did wonder what the fuss was about. First of all, it was pretty danged inconvenient. In those days we still wore the belts around our waists with the hooks hanging down fore and aft that we would hook a pad into, and if you didn't get it fixed on tightly enough, as you walked you could feel it wag behind you with each step like a dog's tail. You had to carry another enormous pad in your purse or keep it in your locker just in case you needed a spare during the day. And God forbid anyone found it and started throwing it up and down the hallways at school, or around the classroom when the teacher was writing on the board.
And let's be honest here, don't we all have our period knickers and our non-period knickers? Don't you hate it when your period starts by surprise (as it likes to do on occasion, just to keep us on our toes) and you are wearing your non-period knickers?
Then there was the pain. I loved it when the Midol and Pamprin commercials referred to 'menstrual discomfort'. Yeah, come on over here, lady, I'll show you what discomfort is. First of all, why are those women always shown sleeping on white sheets? Have you given that message some thought?
I described menstrual pain to an inquisitor years later as feeling as though someone had snagged your uterus with one of those hook and cable things on the back of a tow truck, and was trying to haul it out through your crotch. At the same time, another person was repeatedly punching you in the lower back, the resulting sensations adding up to make you feel like you were going to throw up on your shoes at any moment. I picture getting to heaven and seeing a long line of women all queued up to take a whack at Eve.
Did I mention the most embarrassing day of my life? (Right next to the time my favorite underwear fell out of my shorts and landed on my feet as I stood by the side of the street along with the entire rest of the town, watching the 4th of July parade go by.) That would be the day in high school when I snuck into English class a few minutes late and made my way to my seat at the back (I had learned my lesson after that uterine slide show), only to have the girl behind me tap me on the shoulder to let me know that I had a big spot of blood on the back of my white jeans. I had to borrow her jacket, tie it around my waist, and raise my hand to ask permission to leave the room again. Couldn't get any worse, you think? Then picture this one-sided phone conversation in the school nurse's office that followed just a few minutes later:
'Hi, Mrs. Michaluk, this is the nurse at Roosevelt, and I have your daughter Lynda in my office. She has had an accident with her period, and she needs you to bring her some clean clothes to change into.
Aren't you Mrs. Michaluk, Lynda Michaluk's mother?
Didn't I dial 555-1234?'
Great, now why don't you phone the rest of the town and tell them, too? Or set up a round-robin so that no one is left out?
Of course, there is always the time Joni's mother shouted at her from the other side of the crowded grocery store, 'Joni? Do you need more pads?'
Or my friend Susan who stopped into a grocery store to pick up a box of Tampax, and got to the front only to have the cashier realize the box wasn't priced. The cashier then picked up the microphone for the loudspeaker and asked in clear, ringing tones for someone to do a price check on a package of 24 count Tampax. Whence the person on the other end thought she asked for thumbtacks and came back on the intercom system to inquire loudly if that was the kind you push in with your thumb, or drive in with a hammer? Susan walked out of the store at that point.
So we have talked about the pain, the mess, the embarrassment, but we haven't talked about hormones. Heh, heh, heh. If we are ever having a conversation and my head starts spinning around on my neck and I begin speaking in odd tongues? Don't worry, I'm not possessed. It's my pms. In my twenties and thirties my Utopian idea of the perfect way to spend the first day of my period would go like this: I would get in my car, go rent a couple of chick-flicks at Blockbuster, get the BIG bag of Reese's miniature peanut butter cups and have them well-chilled with maybe a big bag of Cheetos or cheddar Goldfish just for good measure. Then drive home - preferably running someone down with my car on the way, just to relieve a little tension - and spend the afternoon on the couch crying and eating bad things. Perhaps with a nice cup of tea and a nap afterwards.
In my early twenties I worked in a state psychiatric hospital, on the women's geriatric ward. It was during the time that they were starting to deinstitutionalize the system and thereby, the patients. They began including the original admitting notes in their charts of these women who had been legally committed to the institution for decades. Decades. And every single solitary one had been admitted either during puberty, or during peri-menopause. Sit and think about THAT for a minute.
I'm not maternal. I've never celebrated the sacred feminine and the thought that I can create life. Sod that. I was never going down that road. I made up my mind on that score the minute they taught us about episiotomies in school. Nobody is taking big scissors to MY crotch and then whipping a person out of it. Any time I was feeling maternal in my younger days I would go visit my sister and her two kids for the weekend. Much as my other, gay sister observed that there was something really ironic in the thought that God gave her a uterus AND made her a lesbian. If there was something such as an organ donation network for uterii, I would sign myself right up. If I woke up all dozy in a strange hotel bathtub and discovered my uterus was missing, I wouldn't report it to the authorities.
My menstrual cycle is on average 24 days. That means that every three and a half weeks brings my period. (Debbie liked to refer to it all those years ago as her 'visitor'. Most of the time we had no idea what the heck she was talking about until she would finally say in exasperation, 'You know, my period!' Really, if I had a regular visitor that showed up on my doorstep every three weeks, stayed a week, made a mess and was this much of a PITA, I'd greet them at the door with a shotgun!) By my calculations that works out to roughly 512 periods in my lifetime so far. In the past 34 and a half years I have had 512 weeks of pms, 512 weeks of my period, and 512 weeks of blissful, hormonally-balanced sanity.
So yes, when I have had my last period, have experienced my last cramp, grumped my last grump, I will count 364 days out on my calendar, ticking them off one by one. And on the 365th day I am going to throw one hell of a big party and buy myself lots of lovely presents. Maybe go out for a massage and a pedicure. I am going to celebrate Menopause Day every year from then on. I invite you to do the same.
PS- On reading this, my husband tells me it ends too soon. He was really enjoying it and he wanted more. But I have nothing more to say on the subject, I tell him. I should perhaps tell you that my husband opens doors for me, carries packages and library books for me and just generally treats me like a queen, and I love it. I have come to realize that it isn't about my capabilities, but about cherishing me enough to want to do things for me. He tells me that I could include how he has learned in marriage that there are two weeks out of every month where he doesn't say a harsh or critical word. How he has learned the danger at those times of the honesty I otherwise treasure in the sane moments of my half of our marriage. While I appreciate that about him, I think this is for him to write about, not for me. It is about his experience of the thing, not mine. So I will leave it here.
But years ago I had a friend who always told me that I needed to go into stand-up comedy. If I had ever had the courage to stand up in front of a bunch of rowdy drunks, I would have started my routine something like this: 'How many of you here tonite have a uterus? Hmmm... Looks like most of the women, but only a few of you men...'