(In which I address the daughter I never had, with the advice I always wanted to give.)
Dear Imaginary Daughter,
Let’s just get this out there: having your period sucks. It does. I’m not going to sugar coat it. While it is an important thing to have because it tells you that your insides are working properly, and you are biologically eligible to catch a baby, it is messy, aggravating, and can lead to some of life’s most embarrassing moments.
People will tell you that you shouldn’t talk about your period publicly. I’ll tell you that you shouldn’t go into graphic detail about it*, but mentioning you’re surfing the crimson wave shouldn’t send people running to the hills out of squeamishness and sensitivity–half the population is, at any given time, wearing the red badge of courage in her pants.
The worst is when you realize you are wearing the red badge of courage ON your pants. It’s going to happen, Imaginary Daughter. It happens to everyone.
Here’s a story. You know I have some inappropriate laughter issues, and that once I get started on a laughing jag, it’s hard to stop. There was this time I got a stuffed Stimpy toy at a church Christmas party, and if you squeezed it, it farted. I laughed so hard, I went into bat squeaks and could not stop laughing the whole night. People thought I was insane. No. It was just one of those laughing jags.
I went into one of those laughing jags in 10th grade. Something struck me funny in an art class, and I got the giggles and couldn’t stop laughing. My teacher asked what was so funny, and all I could do was shrug and shake my head, and try to keep quiet. When she turned around, there was a dark red patch on the back of her light blue trousers, slowly spreading. The horror was enough to kill the giggles, and then the realization that she was going to go to the restroom, and she was going to see she’d bled through her clothes, and she was going to think that was what I’d been laughing at. I sat there staring.
I was 15, so not the woman I am today. Today, I would have found a way to take her aside and tell her that her fecundity was showing, and also be sure she understood that I wasn’t laughing at how shark week had taken her by surprise. At 15, I just quit laughing, put my head down and never spoke to her again for the rest of the school year. She returned the favor. I’m sure she still thinks I was an awful, immature, evil twit-child.
This is important: We don’t laugh when we see that people are bleeding through their clothes. We are gentle with them, and we help them if we can. If you see something, say something. Preferably, close up to the ear, where you and your Sister are the only ones alerted to the fact that Little Red Riding hood is making her way through the forest.
Never be afraid to ask for a tampon, or a pad. That’s something else that is bound to happen. One day, you’re going to be out and about, and you’re going to need a layer of something between Aunt Flo and your good jeans. There is no shame in needing a feminine hygiene product.
You know, Imaginary Daughter, with all the advertising for tampons and pads, and the knowledge that once a month les anglais sont arrivés for all us girls, you’d think people would be less mincing about them, but before you can get the second syllable out of Playtex, you’ve got women AND men picking up their skirts like they’ve seen a mouse. Don’t be those people. If you need one, ask for one. If you see a lady scrabbling at the tampon dispenser in the bathroom, offer her one.
Along with the mess and mortification of your period will come the possibility of pain and emotional suffering. You will probably have cramps. Most women do. They vary from mildly uncomfortable to dear-god-why-won’t-someone-just-rip-this-murderous-organ-out-of-me?
Make a fist. Let it out. Make a fist. Let it out. Concentrate on your palm and insides of your fingers, and make a fist. Let it out. Cramps feel like someone has put your uterus on like a glove, and is making a fist and letting it out. Now and then, when they will take a punch at your ovaries, or your abdomen, or your colon from inside. Cramps are like your uterus has gone Hulk and is smashing your lower innards. Bad cramps are like Iron Man has put on the Hulkbuster suit and gone to war with your Hulk Uterus. In any case, cramps hurt.
The word “cramps” is nothing like the feeling of “cramps”.
While you are fighting through actual physical pain, you may think back to a few days prior, when you saw that commercial with puppies and you started to cry. Or, when I said your hair looked nice, and you wanted to know why I hated you. Or, when that boy you like asked out Suvaynah instead, and you thought you would die. That’s called premenstrual syndrome.
Some people like to use PMS as a reason to keep women out of the White House. I like to explain that at least women can chart a cycle to see when they are more likely to want to send drones in to carpet bomb countries, thus preparing themselves for preventing those eventualities, whereas men have no such built-in mechanism to explain their sudden, violent mood swings. (Yes, Sweetie. Men have emotional mood swings too. They just can’t see it in their pants once a month, so they like to pretend they aren’t also jerked around by their hormones. They are very “pics, or it didn’t happen” about their own levels of estrogen and testosterone.)
Here are some of the things you can look forward to with PMS:
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Feeling tired
- Trouble sleeping
- Upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, and/or bloating
- Headache or backache
- Appetite changes or food cravings
- Joint or muscle pain
- Trouble with concentration or memory
- Tension, irritability, mood swings, or crying spells
- Anxiety or depression
Doctors say, “Take ibuprofin.” I say, “If men had PMS, we’d have a cure.”
What I want you to know is that PMS and cramps are real. They aren’t pretend, or made up. Some people may try to tell you that you are imagining things, or that you are blowing your pain out of proportion, or try to make you feel like a wuss, or say that’s why you are the “weaker sex”. Those people are wrong, and should be forced to fight your Uterus to the death–while your Uterus is wearing the Hulkbuster suit.
If you hurt, we’ll go to the doctor and make sure everything is normal–too much pain can be an indication that something is wrong, and we’ll get it fixed. If you are sad, we’ll have some chocolate ice cream because chocolate really does help. It does. I don’t even like chocolate, and it helps.
Imaginary Daughter, having your period is going to be the worst part of being a woman. Once a month, you are going to be tethered to the ladies room. If you’re trying to have a baby, then your period can break your heart. At best, it’s an unholy bat signal that your body is in good shape. At worst, it is a physically painful, emotionally draining, exhausting few days out of your life.
But here’s the thing: There are eleven-thousand and seventy really great things about being a woman, and probably the biggest, best thing is 100% related to the worst.
Now, stop scowling at me and rolling your eyes. I’m finished talking. I’ll just shout these euphemisms at you as you slink out of the room, cringing away at how embarrassing and gross your mother is.
I love you!
CSI: My Pants
On the Rag
The Red Fairy
Flying Your Colors
In the House of the Moon
What? I still love you! Come back! I have ice cream!
*Here’s a graphic detail for you: Your period is not like cutting your finger. You don’t get a tidy liquid pouring into your maxi pad, like you see on the commercials. You might also get clotting. Don’t let that scare you–you are normal. That’s normal. Don’t think you are dying–I promise you aren’t dying. Yes, I thought I was dying. It was the 80s. We didn’t have an internet. You have an internet. We’ll read this WebMD article together, so you can learn more.