Source: Flckr Commons
Disclaimer: This is neither a medical endorsement nor a recommendation. It is merely my personal account of why I am grateful to have discarded the center of my wombiverse.
We are expected to speak about it in hushed tones, especially among mixed company. Uttering the simple statement of “I’m menstruating”–or the detailed, “I am currently shedding the bloody lining of my womb through my vagina”–may summon the full wrath of the curse. All females are conditioned from prepubescence to speak in code when talking about the monthly sloughing of excess uterine baggage. My favorites include:
Bitchy Witchy Week
On the rag
Red badge of courage
Taking Carrie to the prom
To appease the sensitivities of readers who have a hard time discussing such delicate feminine matters, I will use the vernacular adopted by my friends and I when we joined the hematic sisterhood: Aunt Flo. The following are the 10 reasons I chose to renounce my membership in the menstrual sorority:
- Barren economics: No supply = no demand: Aunt Flo insisted on luxurious accouterments when she visited: super cotton plushness delivered in a pearl case plus a scented, winged pillow on which to rest her head. Not to mention the numerous pharmaceuticals required to keep her from descending into a hysterical rage. Estimated yearly savings: $1200.
- Embracing the whiter shade of pale: It is now possible to don white attire without apprehension. No more incidents of “exploding ketchup bottles” or “leaky pens.” The peace of mind of sitting on pallid furniture without a prior crotch check is exhilarating.
- Be gone you tipsy temptress! My uterus preferred a more relaxed or “tipped” posture – directly resting upon my spine. Perhaps she fancied herself as Cleopatra seductively reclining on her chaise. Succumbing to her allure always came with a price. Any visit to her lair, be it for pleasure or medical exam, felt like a blunt sword repeatedly ramming my vertebrae.
- Less is more: I can now carry petite evening bags without lamenting the fact they are unsuitable for concealing bulky cotton sausages.
- I love N.A.! I am free from the perplexity of trying to remember the exact date of my last period when completing medical paperwork.
- Back to our regularly scheduled program: Aunt Flo was a huge fan of frequent surprise visits. She couldn’t wait to see me each month and often didn’t wait more than three weeks. I felt so appreciated! (And bitchy and bloated and sore.)
- More room in my closet: When my womb was engorged, the rest of my lady parts followed suit. The girls inflated like buoys as if to keep me afloat during the tsunami that was to come. My wardrobe consisted of looking-fine apparel, lay-off-the-cheesecake clothes, and period frocks. (Afterthought: My period pieces just moved in with my chubby garments. Maybe I don’t have as much room as I thought.)
- Endometrial deprogramming: At seemingly random intervals, chunks of endometrial tissue would venture out of the uterine temple in their quest to evangelize the rest of my abdominal cavity. Pelvic ligaments, my bladder, and bowel were targeted converts. Each month, the devoted cult followers shared in the monthly elixir offered to their provocative leader. As they intensified in their drunken fervor, they distended and twisted, causing me to writhe in torment.
- Ending of nocturnal terrors: The inability to accurately predict Aunt Flo’s timing often subjected me to the horror of waking up in blood-soaked sheets. Godfather – sans the equine.
- It’s not a tumor – Oh, wait! Yes it was: The final straw was the invasion of the uterus snatchers, aka fibroid tumors. For years, I was subjugated to their aggressive infiltration. Some would make camp for a while, then steal away as fast as they came. Others burrowed in and voraciously guzzled my monthly hormonal surge.
According to my pathology report, the largest had begun to rot from the inside. Like a piece of fruit that has been left on a tree too long, it most likely would have soon burst from the heat of decay. I threw up a little in my mouth when I heard that.
Source: Flckr Commons
For decades, I bowed to the assumption that I was less of a woman because of my faulty reproductive organs. Yes, I have been blessed with two wonderful children, but getting pregnant was clinical and far from romantic. Months of testing were initiated by the humiliating post-coital exam to determine if my vaginal canal was a “hostile environment.” (It was quite welcoming, actually.) Music and candles were replaced by the whir of a sperm washer and the glow of a lighted speculum. My husband joked frequently that he would like to be in the room when I conceived. (He wasn’t.) Eventually, fifteen months of carting his dutiful contributions to the doctor for repeated artificial insemination treatments produced our first pregnancy.
Even after our family was complete, I bought into the stigma that I would abandon my femininity if I had a hysterectomy. Why do we feel pressured to continue to harbor an organ that has betrayed us? Much like an inflamed appendix that served no purpose except to produce debilitating pain, it had to go.
It only took me 17 years to accept the notion that I was more than the sum of my procreative parts.
I am by no means a physician or medically trained. I am an ordinary woman who chose to pull the plug on the malfunctioning menses dispenser that shackled me with agony. Gone are warily counting the days until the next gut-wrenching onslaught. My body, my calendar, my life has been emancipated from the commands of an estrogen-fueled, traitorous goddess. At long last, I am free.
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“A lot of adolescents get these ‘blow out’ periods, and they have no idea that they’re too heavy — or that there are things they can do to help control them,” said McGuire. “They just assume that everyone’s [period] is this way.”
While having a heavy flow is relatively common (and most women tend to bleed more in the first few days), if you find yourself needing to change your pad or tampon more than every two to three hours, or if your period lasts longer than seven days, it’s likely time to talk to a health care provider about your options. Hormonal birth control can help decrease the amount of flow a woman experiences, as can certain pain relievers. There’s also a small chance that heavy flow is a sign of menorrhagia, a term used to define periods that are so intense, they keep a woman from doing her usual activities. The bottom line — if you think your flow is abnormally heavy, ask!
For women who have painful periods (and evidence suggests there’s a lot of us out there), getting relief from cramping and other common physical symptoms often requires taking over-the-counter pain relievers before any bleeding even starts. “If you take [medication] when the symptoms are already bad, you’re behind the ball,” said McGuire. “If your periods are pretty regular, and if you know you start on a Wednesday or Thursday, for example, I might start dosing on a Tuesday.” Research also suggests that certain lifestyle changes — like getting plenty of exercise and sleep, eating healthy foods and finding ways to relax — can help provide some women with some relief.
“In most instances, your period should not keep you from your normal activities,” said Dr. Mary Rosser, an assistant professor and attending physician in obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “Studies have shown that 90 percent of women will experience some symptoms, [but] mostly mild. And 10 to 20 percent will have symptoms that interfere with normal activities.” Those symptoms can crop up when you’re actively bleeding, or as a part of PMS, which occurs because of hormonal changes in the week or two prior to your period. See your doctor if you have you have cramps that keep you from doing your normal, daily activities, or PMS symptoms that interfere with your day-to-day.
It’s highly unlikely, but it is possible for you to become pregnant during your period. As Health.com explains, some women have long periods that overlap with the beginning of ovulation — even though they’re still menstruating. Or, as Dr. Michele Hakakha, an OBGYN and author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy, told Parents.com: “A woman with a shorter menstrual cycle (24 days, for example), could have seven days of bleeding, have intercourse on her final day of bleeding and ovulate three days later. Since sperm live for three to five days, she could definitely get pregnant.”
When it comes to the complete menstrual cycle, every woman has a slightly different pattern. However, most women bleed, then are dry for a few days, then experience a light, mucus-like discharge (pre-ovulation) that becomes increasingly cloudy and thick (a sign that ovulation has likely ended). “What’s different from one woman to another is the quantity of discharge,” McGuire said. “It’s just like how some people have oily skin, and others have dry skin.” Clueing into your own pattern is just good practice, namely so you have a sense of what is happening in your body and can watch out for any changes.
First thing’s first: there is no one typical cycle — cycles can range from 21 to 35 days, said Rosser. Teen girls’ cycles can last anywhere from 21 to 45 days. And “most women do not get their period on the exact same day of the month,” Rosser added. “That is normal!” Think about it — most months have 30 or 31 days in them, so even if your cycle is 100-percent precise, your period won’t start on exactly the same day or date every month.
In addition, it is not necessarily uncommon to have one or two abnormal periods per year, Rosser said, adding that irregular or missed periods can come from a variety of causes, including illness, stress, significant weight loss or gain, or pregnancy. If you’re feeling totally fine otherwise, but your period is irregular, it’s typically OK to just wait until your next period, she said. But if that irregularity becomes persistent, or if you have any concerns, you should see your health care provider.
Sure, movies and TV shows tend to portray women’s periods as somehow “gross,” but menstruation is a perfectly normal biological process and women shouldn’t go overboard in the hygiene department, McGuire says. “Most patients are too aggressive with cleaning,” she said. “It’s good to use a soap that has a pH that’s similar to your own body’s … no douches, no powders, no talcs, no perfume sprays, none of the wipes that are so popular now, because they can cause irritation.” In fact, McGuire said she frequently encounters women who think they’re having problems with vaginitis or other bacterial infections, but really, they’re just being overzealous in cleaning themselves with harsh soaps.
“In many cases, our moms never talked to us about when they went through menopause,” said Dr. Shannon Laughlin-Tommaso, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology with the Mayo Clinic — but it has implications for when you might stop getting your period. In fact, the age at which your mother went through menopause is one of the biggest predictors for when you will, Laughlin-Tommaso said. And that’s extremely useful information to have, because there’s significant range — the average age at which a woman has her last period is 51, but anything between age 40 and 56 is within the normal range, she said.