Thursday, July 12, 2007

28 Days Later

[This post is inspired by some discussion in the comments over at Jade's.]

Once upon a time, I lived in the South. And one of the true hallmarks of living in the South is having extended conversations (sometimes quite personal!) with waitstaff, cashiers, gas station attendants, and other folks you meet in brief, impersonal settings. Such as: The fam went to the Cracker Barrel for some mean biscuits one morning during our recent trip to North Carolina. The waitress of course wanted to know if we were visiting from out of town (yes), if we had flown or driven (flown), if we'd ever been here before (yes, we attended college in the Triangle), which college (Duke), and what we thought of the Lacrosse scandal. Ok, that's going overboard. I don't even want to get into the details of the Nifong situation with my parents, much less the lady at the Cracker Barrel.

But the instance that I will always remember is at a healthy grocery store in Tejas. I was buying a wide variety of healthy fruits and veggies, plus a couple of pints of Ben and Jerry's (like you do.) The cashier complimented my supposed healthy lifestyle, and I mentioned self-deprecatingly that we hadn't gotten to the ice cream yet. "Oh, honey, don't worry about that. Everybody needs it occasionally."

"Yeah, all things in moderation, right?"

"Besides, as long as you've got a regular menstrual cycle, you're doing fine."

All of a sudden, our friendly little repartee had turned into a crisis on my end. I don't have a menstrual cycle. At least, not a regular one. And I wanted to cry, there in the check-out line. What's wrong with me? Why aren't I normal?

My emotions toward my cycle are confusing. I hate the damn thing when it does come. It is evil and I have pretty bad PMS. And yet, there's this belief that I can't shake that its presence represents normality, defines womanhood, shows that my body is functioning. Instead, I can take medications that may or may not restore my "normality" through abnormally supplied hormones. Oh, and to keep my hair from falling out and my blood sugar from doing crazy crap. Is that normal?

Down deep, I know that I'm not defined by my menstrual cycle, any more than I'm defined by my looks, or the size of my breasts, or my (sometimes in-)ability to bear children. And yet... and yet.

Here's more on PCOS if you're interested.

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Blogger K-Lyn said...

And here I came looking for your thoughts on Harry Potter...

Guess I'll go talk to a waitress instead.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

That was kind of a risky, unusual, thoughtless thing for her to say. In a way, it ties in with the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, in that society constantly reinforces ideas about what it means to be a "man" or a "woman" that have everything to do with reproduction but very little to do with our individual identities, and that necessarily create conflicts for a lot of people.

Once in a grocery store in New York when it was raining hard my adieu to the cashier was, "Stay dry!" and the lady in line behind me squealed, "That's a horrible thing to say to a woman!" I just kind of ran away...

3:51 PM  
Blogger KLee said...

I hear you on the irregularity of Aunt Flo. I am the same way myself, but it's totally due to my weight. I can't be sure of when I'll be seeing her, and when I won't.

All the time that I *don't* have a menstrual cycle is great because -- duh! -- I don't have to deal with it. Yet, at the same time, it's reassuring that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, my body is still doing what it's supposed to, even though the docs said it wouldn't.

I wouldn't go so far to say that I long to be "normal" in that respect, but it would make my mind rest more quietly about not being a complete inert lump.

I know how hard it is, though. And I can certainly empathize.

8:21 PM  
Blogger elle said...


10:21 PM  
Blogger Jade said...

I've noticed the same thing about my southern friends, it's like there is no topic that is off limits. (and why don't people from Alabama laugh at sarcasm? It is unnerving to me - I was so perplexed by it until my friend from Florida said "Oh, he's from Alabama, that's just how they are")


I do know what you mean. My cycles were never regular, and in high school I liked it because I didn't have to deal with the cramps etc... every month. Aside from wondering if I was pregnant a few times (a laughing thought now!) I was fine, and always thought it was just because I was a late bloomer & so skinny.

I have the same love/hate relationship with my cycle. My PMS is awful - I feel psychotic when it comes around. Getting a period does not make me feel normal though, because even as I go through a cycle I wonder if I'm going to get another one anytime soon.

It seems the more I talk about this, the more I feel like we are actually in the majority. It's rare that I meet women who have regular cycles and get pregnant whenever they please. Most women I know today have either been diagnosed with PCOS, or have gone through some sort of ovulation monitoring to help them get pregnant.

I know I'm not defined by my ability to have kids, and I think it helps me that two of my closest friends have opted not to "breed" (as they put it) so I have their child-free lives in close proximity, which reminds me that you don't have bear children to have a meaningful life.

I'm currently frustrated because my cycles stopped even though I'm apparently doing everything I'm supposed to be doing to keep them going, and I'm otherwise in "perfect health". Aside from this snafu, the only other time I feel that sadness is when I get the "Oh, you only have one kid?" question. Only one - as if one miracle that took 4 plus years of doctors and drugs and patience and 48 hours of labor wasn't enough. As if having "only one" child is automatically a choice we've made, not a situation thrust upon us. The surprise in their voices when they say "only one?"... as if you're supposed to have a litter, and buy a mini-van, because that's the norm and having "only one" is somehow wrong.

And what is it that made us decide to have "only one" child?

I used to be polite, nowadays I'm blunt.

"Oh... I have PCOS and was originally told we might not have kids at all." (adding in my head, so shut your pie hole!)

I hate feeling like I need to give an excuse for our family being so compact.

10:14 AM  
Blogger The Law Fairy said...


I agree, I hate the notion that we're defined by how much our vaginas bleed. Really kind of a fucked up way to define womanhood, far as I'm concerned.

I actually have no idea if I have a regular cycle or not. I've been on birth control for a few years now, I guess my cycle before then was *fairly* regular, but no idea what it would be like now. The periods you get on birth control are fake periods anyway (they're there to appease the Catholic church -- yay Catholicism for always making sure that womanhood is as uncomfortable as it can possibly be) so I started skipping the placebo pills and going straight to the next set of actives. Every now and then I have a bit of breakthrough bleeding so I let myself have a fake period (which can actually be quite painful, so I'm thinking of switching brands).

Anyway, one of my "friends" once criticized my choices about my own damn body by offering her (completely unsupported by any sort of actual medical knowledge) opinion that messing with your hormones could permanently damage your reproductive system, and that it was "wrong" of me to do this because my future husband (!) might want kids, so I shouldn't do this to HIM. Sooo many things wrong with what she said (and she and I no longer talk, for many reasons including this in small part). First off, if I damage my reproductive system, that's MY business and MY problem (should I deem it to be a problem) and no one else's. I also resent the notion that women should have to endure pregnancy, which is unpleasant, painful, annoying, inconvenient, and causes permanent damage to your body, in order to be "real" mothers. I'm totally content with adopting when it comes time to be a mom, if that's what I want and that's how I still feel whenever the time comes.

That woman's comment sounds like something a troglodyte would say. When I was about 11, our next-door neighbor's nanny once asked if I had started menstruating. It COMPLETELY weirded me out and I thought it was totally inappropriate, plus I felt awful because I hadn't (and you remember what it's like as a prepubescent kid, wondering when it's gonna happen and if you'll be normal and wishing you'd get your period so you could stop worrying, etc.) She had an accent so I pretended I couldn't understand what she was saying, then quickly found an excuse to run home and hide in my room from embarrassment.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Quinn said...

Yeah, LF, there seems to STILL be a great deal of assumption that a woman's fertility belongs to her (future) husband. Um, no.

Pregnancy is a BIG EFFING DEAL. Not to be entered lightly. While I'm glad I had my children, I would NOT want to go through that agai, nor would I assume other women would want to do it.

Thanks for stopping by! Hope to hear from you again.

6:49 AM  

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