As we enter our time of warfare once more, I must speak for everyone else, yet again, in saying that you are the bane of everyone’s existence. What are we going to do with you? If you keep acting like this, we’re kicking you out for real this time. Just because you’re in a bad mood doesn’t mean you have to make our hormones dart around in this body like a roach infestation. We know what you’re trying to do, and there will be no tiny humans in here, so you can stop it now.
No really. I’m not playing this time…we’ve had enough.
C.E.O., The Body
Manager of Emotions
P.S. You’re a cunt.
Because the Uterus is infinitely victorious, it all begins with a battle never to be won by us. Like most epic conflicts, the battle begins with a valiant, yet grisly, puberty and ends with a warm and sweaty monster. Our mothers and grandmothers call it our “period” or our “time,” but I just refer to it as the Vicious Cycle, because that is what it is. I remember when my battle began, and no, I was not happy with it. I recall reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. My mother gave the book to me; I think she wanted me to read it so I would know what to expect. This girl really wanted her period, and couldn’t wait to begin her march into womanhood with her Uterus on her left shoulder. My Uterus sat in its cavernous quarters like Grendel’s mom, patiently awaiting the Vicious Cycle. I only semi-knew what was going to happen because of the honesty of my mother and no thanks to the awkwardness of health class.
Puberty is something that was not discussed in my southern county elementary school. In fact, it came off as shame, in whispers and darting eyes. Before sex education was even considered in school, my mother gave me and my brother a set of thin blue books that supposedly outlined puberty, reproduction and what it was like to experience extreme awkwardness. They had technical illustrations featuring the mysteries of boys and girls and also technical illustrations about the act of sex itself (which made sex look like an extremely boring chore that all grown ups had to go through), pregnancy and the menstrual cycle. My brother and I were both pretty embarrassed about the blue books, and we kept them in our small library that was in a long closet upstairs next to both of our rooms. We called it the Reading Rainbow Room, a place that we were sure Lavar Burton would hang out if it weren’t for those blue books. Meshed with my embarrassment was my curiosity, so I would often slip into the Reading Rainbow Room and grab the blue books that sat between Curious George and Dr. Seuss.
I learned the shape of the Uterus and its general use, and also the shape and function of the penis, a foreign creature with which I had no interest, really. What did it have to do with me, anyway? All I needed to know about was the uterus, and I thought it was pretty awesome by the time I thought I had it all figured out. By the time I reached fifth grade, it was time for the boys and girls to go to separate sex education classes, and boy was I ready! I knew what went where, I knew about menstruation and penises, urethras and fallopian tubes. What a cinch.
I halfway expected something explicit to happen during sex education. I mean we’re talking about education about sex, here, people! Every other class that I took included segments of study, then experiments or videos. Then a test. There had to be at least some videos about sex that we could use, so that we could set them aside for future research; it made sense to me at the time.
Sex education turned out to be a bust. We watched a nature video about the mating rituals of harp seals. Following the mating rituals, the host of the show milked the lactating seals and tasted the milk-an incredibly perverse move, even to a 5th grader. All I remember about that day was the fact that harp seal milk apparently tasted like a rich, slightly fishy, buttery milkshake; pretty interesting information, yet useless according to my uterine research. After that yawn fest, I forgot, relatively, about sex education, abandoned the blue books and continued on normally. However, I always wondered one thing: if any one mammal fed exclusively on fish, would its milk also taste slightly of fish like marine mammals’?
What I didn’t understand about that day was the obvious fear that the adults had about sex and puberty being presented to children, specifically girls. Unbeknownst to me at the time, to many people it seemed as though as little girls, who were not even pre-teens, we were walking around with explosive and erotic time bombs in our pants that would, over the course of only a few years, explode into screaming children that our parents couldn’t afford to be seen with.
That even as pre-pubescent little girls, we were extreme sexual beings, and the objects of little boys’ desires (and everybody knew that little boys were only looking for one thing). I went along my merry way, clueless of these suspicions, but increasingly becoming the victim of family members’ insecurities involving me and the slumbering organ in my pelvis.
Now let’s fast forward to three years later. The Vicious Cycle finally got me like The Nothing took Fantastica, sweeping away my girlhood in one day. It rendered my world of smiling stuffed animals and happy cotton panties to nothing more than overly emotional tears, ibuprofen and mattress-sized maxi pads. It was not a good day. My mother was at work all day, and I had noticed strange panty spotting the previous Friday. I was 14 years old and I had felt very odd all day, a little nauseous and like I had to go to the bathroom all day. I noticed the brown spotting, but for some reason, didn’t think twice about it.
The next day was a Saturday, and I felt horrible. It was a mix of lightheadedness, like I had to go to the bathroom and had gas. My mother was at work and my father was at the grocery store, but before he left was in a noticeably bad mood. I watched some cartoons with my brother and sisters and then went to take a nap, neglecting my chores for the day. When I woke up after a fitful sleep, my father had come home with a large pumpkin he had intended to make into pies. He saw that I did not do my chores and instead of the punishment of no television or dessert, he gave me the pumpkin and told me to peel, chop and boil it down for the pies. He handed me a potato peeler and left me to work.
Now, who has ever peeled a pumpkin? A preposterous notion, still, I believe. Had I the knowledge of pumpkin peeling previously, I would have known that I should have sliced it up first, then peeled the smaller pieces, making it easier to handle. But alas, I laid down cut up brown paper bags on the kitchen table and considered calling child services. I then began to peel the pumpkin. Peel after peel I felt worse, and the agony in my abdomen made my arms weak. I felt heat rising to my face and I had to suppress the lump in my throat as sticky pumpkin juice oozed out of the gourd’s wounds and coated and dried on my hands. My brother came down to the kitchen once or twice and said snarky things with a sympathetic look, and my little sisters looked on with round, interested gazes.
After about an hour and a half of peeling and oozing, I chopped open the pumpkin and pulled out its insides, conserving the seeds and cubing the meat to boil for the pies. When I finished, I went to the bathroom to relieve myself and saw a small petal of burgundy on my underwear, imposing and life changing. I’m sure my face had a look of disbelief, and I had an embarrassing feeling in the pit of my tummy because I forgot everything I learned when I was a self-proclaimed Sex Education Superstar. I rolled up some toilet paper and stuffed it into my panties and tried to pretend that it wasn’t happening. I continued to monitor boiling pumpkin cubes and started toasting pumpkin seeds while my sisters, who were supposed to be cleaning up the mess, played with the pumpkin’s guts.
My mother came home seemingly just in time. She was exhausted, and went straight to her bedroom to sit down. I inched in, focusing on the browness of the carpet. She looked at me and asked me what was wrong, and then, without warning, tears streamed down my face like coming floodwaters. I’m sure she thought something bad happened because I was crying hard for my lost girlhood. I would have to change my life. Unfortunately, I had joined the sucky Puberty Girls’ Club where we hid our panties, wore diaper-like contraptions, had boobs and our bodies supposedly emanated suspicious odors at any given moment. I didn’t feel ready.
Of course my mother told me that everything would be okay and that it was just part of life, as we discussed (and that my father didn’t understand why I didn’t feel well, and the pumpkin-peeling was just silly). But it took me aback, and I had to sit down and analyze the situation, over homemade pumpkin pie. I had to come up with a way to live with this unfortunate womanly lifestyle without losing what I felt to be my identity at the time. In most cases, the Vicious Cycle is pretty well planned out anyway. I had to come up with a plan in accordance to the plan of the Vicious Cycle, which would be happening anyways, whether I liked it or not. Over the next twelve years, after being coached back to reality by my mother and accepting the fact that this is just what would happen, I passively anticipated a beginning and end of the Cycle and how to deal with it with Defense Mechanisms, A Set Plan for Action and the Drugs Involved, Rations, Warning the Innocents and Reconstruction.
After an exceptionally brief biblical study of Adam and Eve, I decided that it was entirely Eve’s fault to begin with. As I am infamous of noting, it was she who gave the Uterus its infinite power over me and enabled this pre-meditated pain and suffering. To deal with this issue, and to prevent walking around like I had a murder victim in my pants, I had to come up with a workable system-a defense mechanism, if you will-to prevent any embarrassing public accidents. I decided to be heavily clad with a line of defense: feminine hygiene products. Hygiene is very important when dealing with the Vicious Cycle because you can lose a battle when ill-equipped.
I was told to keep my cycle secret to men, (again, thanks Eve…) and hygiene was the key to keeping that secret. Being secretively hygienic like this was, at first, like being in an all-inclusive girls-only club that sucked. I grew up wanting to BE a boy, initially, rolling around in the dirt and playing tag and football with the boys at recess. Being just as good as or better than them was super important to me. So the illusion that my period was a shame that our friend Eve bestowed, as opposed to a well-known truth to us all, was really annoying to me.
This idea was totally against my tomboy mentality because I never wanted to be secretive or ashamed of anything about my body. Those silly notions came later, and continued, until I realized, as everyone should, to be unashamed. But my mother, grandmother and aunts always told me to hold hygiene to high standards and to also keep “Sally” clean because dirty girls smell like fish. So, despite my love of tomboyish behavior, I was unquestionably obedient with this information because, seriously, who wants to walk around smelling like seal’s milk?
The pain that the Vicious Cycle and the Uterus unleash on my entire body and psyche can be debilitating. When I first started to bleed, it seemed like I had to go to the bathroom all day, and I was confused. I soon learned that they were menstrual cramps, or the medical term Dysmenorrhea (ew), which occur when the uterus sheds it’s inner endometrial lining. I concluded that in order to function like a normal human being, instead of wading through a swamp of immobility, one must have a stealthy supply of drugs. I always keep a nice, well-stocked medicine cabinet. I am not tolerant of pain, and I am the first person to admit that fact. When I’m in an exceptional amount of pain and I take something to relieve it, I can literally feel my uterus slow down like it fell into a vat of cement that is drying.
After years of learning how to be prepared, I started carrying my defense mechanisms with me at all times. I call it The Rag Bag, and it is full of things that are needed in the case of a surprise attack from the Vicious Cycle. It is a pretty brown leather clutch with colorful flowers on it. I suggest every girl obtain and supply their own Rag Bag. It is kind of like a bomb shelter; you keep everything you need inside just in case there is an emergency.
Rag Bag Check List:
Super Plus Tampons
Large Overnight Maxi Pads
A few dollars (just in case anything is missing)
The Uterus seems to develop tastes for things during the Vicious Cycle. Things that will ultimately hurt me in the long run by increasing the amount of water gain with salty snacks and upping the fatty food cravings by at least fifty percent. Chocolates, potato chips, cream cheese, cakes and ice cream are only a few on my list of things-that-should-not-be-eaten-at-the-same-time-but-I-do-anyways. In my years of observations on the Vicious Cycle, I admittedly find no way around this, and sometimes do not realize that I am succumbing to it. I will “unconsciously” pick up these things pre-Cycle and mysteriously have it in my hands during the run. I am normally paralyzed by want of sticky fingers, crunchy textures and chocolate milk mustaches—it’s dangerous self-medication. However, it seems that consumption of these things seriously avert the attention of the Uterus, thus alleviating major pain.
Backing up the junk food beast that takes over my mind, I also tend to exercise more. A swift, one hour kickboxing class or a brisk run seem to make the Uterus tired and lulls it. Not to mention it helps get rid of all of those ridiculous calories.
Many people assume that when women are moody, lashing out or screaming that we are being affected by the Vicious Cycle. So when we get angry about someone not flushing the toilet or when someone writes a bad review or when we “don’t feel like it,” whatever “it” may be, it is assumed, “Oh, she’s on the rag.” When that is true, others suffer on the Vicious Cycle’s behalf. When that is not true, it’s condescending (and others also suffer). It is a good idea to think about the innocents that do not know what is going on: the men, the children, friends, and the dog, but not the cat (they never care what you say to them, you just have to feed them).
At fourteen, I never understood people’s negative reactions to my negative Uterus-influenced attitude. As I grew older, my bad attitude was no longer justifiable because everyone I knew was going through it in some form, and I couldn’t go around being constantly insupportable for a week. I had to find a way to let people, especially men, know that I was not in the market to be irritated. Instead of apologizing and hiding my condition, I decided to open up about it. For one, I stopped being embarrassed about getting feminine hygiene products at the store. In fact, I openly admit my condition by what I buy and no longer ask the clerk to double-bag my purchases. For example, while on a heated and urgent expedition for relief, I went to Le Petite Casino, a small and irritatingly more expensive version of a huge chain of French grocery stores up the street from my apartment. I was in no mood for shenanigans en Français, and I trudged into the grocery store. I picked up a variety of items: tampons, junk food, maxi pads and wine, and went up to the cashier. By what I purchased, I am admitting the following:
“I’m on my period. That being said, I just want you guys to know that it’s okay. This is what happens to me every month. Whether you think it’s God’s punishment for what Eve got into in that garden, or whether you think the more logical, “Hey its reproduction, not snakes and apples,” it’s seriously something that cannot and will not stop until menopause. You see, as a woman, I am highly fertile. My body wants to make tiny humans so badly that it gives me hell every month. My body is an angry machine and it causes everything in my appearance to look disheveled. At least smile and say have a nice day without staring at me, my junk food or my tampons in utter fear and disgust. I hope you learned something from my reproductive genius, and have a nice, dry “I’m a guy” kind of day.”
From my long analysis of these things, I think that complete openness will help the innocents in their understanding of the situation.
The day that the Vicious Cycle and the Uterus move back into a dormant state is a day for celebration. There is a feeling of relief and comfort, comparable to getting a new puppy: it’s nice to just hug the day and embrace the freedom. To recover from the damage done to body (the variety of medication, all the junk food, possible inebriation, and the mental strain), walking is nice, a pleasant, healthy dinner and making up with the innocents is in order. But no apologies.
By: Anisa Lewis, Contributor
*This is a personal account of the beginning years of the author’s menstrual cycle from her upcoming book, “Dear Uterus: Love/Hate Letters, Art and Essays Dedicated to the Bane of My Existence.” It in no way is portraying all of the Vicious Cycles and puberty experiences because we are all different and hold various menstrual adventures. More essays, letters and art can be found here at Anisa’s blog. You can also like her Facebook page here.