Stories of menstruation
Welcome to a brand new contest from the Reno News & Review. In part, we devised “Stories, period.” as a means to further normalize menstruation as a topic of discussion. It’s something 51 percent of the population will experience throughout the majority of their lives.
And what an experience it is. When things go well, your period arrives on a fairly regular schedule every month, give or take, and lasts a predictable number of days. But when things with your period go wrong, it can be really, really scary—whether it’s missing in action or appearing at random. Despite some universal themes, the journey from when each woman’s period first arrives to when it departs is an individual one. For women who are encountering female hormones for the first time after making their transitions, the experience is an even more singular one, shared only by a brave few.
As any woman will tell you, a menstrual cycle is way more than just a few days of bleeding and hormonal flux. It’s a weeks-long span of time during which three key hormones—estrogen, testosterone and progesterone—rise and fall in a pattern. And the balance of those hormones can affect you in a variety of ways—your sleep quality, appetite, energy levels, mood and love life, to name a few.
And this, of course, spawns stories. In our promo for this contest, we joked about the “Red Badge of Courage sort” and the ones “that are funny—now.” But we also invited you to share your poignant stories about menstruation. I’m very pleased to say we got all of that and more in the entries. Give them a read, and, if you’re interested, come to the Holland Project on Nov. 4, from 7 to 10 p.m. for an event we’re calling “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” People will have a chance to read their period stories in front of an audience and listen to music by Reno bands, including Pink Awful, Fine Motor, Our Small Talk and Caitlin Thomas. We’re hosting the event in conjunction with Planned Parenthood and, obviously, the Holland Project. Also, there’s a question on this year’s ballot—Question 2—and if it passes, feminine hygiene products in Nevada would be exempted from local and state sales taxes. We’re not taking a position on this question yet, but if you want to read about it, we recommend you go here: https://bit.ly/2LJWhGV.
Enjoy these stories. I hope we’ll see you Nov. 4 at the Holland Project. And, please, don’t forget to get out on Nov. 6 and VOTE!
I don’t miss it at first. Being ghosted by my period feels like the start of summer. It is freedom from disruption, from reevaluating outfits, activities and appropriate underwear. Freedom from supply rationing and strategy—the art of tampon smuggling from purse, to sleeve or pocket, to bathroom. It is the luxury of sleep. It is the relief of leaving my designated “period” blanket and the anxiety of soiled nightwear and sheets in the closet.
I am used to these vacations. My period is Beyonce. Since I was 11, it has always done what it wants, when it wants. I could worry that I’m pregnant but trust my body enough to believe I am not.
All the tests are negative. Within four weeks, I have peed on three different sticks, two different brands. Still, I am barren of babies and blood. I binge-read articles about false negatives, crazy stories about women dropping surprise babies in taxis or toilets, and scarier stories about miscarriage and infertility.
I gain weight, but don’t know if it is from pregnancy or cheeseburgers. The stress of a phantom period, of three years of teaching, of 180 students, of balancing a career, a relationship, and parents who can’t let go is making me over eat and under sleep.
I look for hope. Other than tighter clothes, nothing else about me feels pregnant, but I still imagine the possibility. I eat French fries and start planning for a nursery and how I’ll tell my boyfriend once I know.
I miss buying tampons. There is a sale at CVS for Tampax Pearls, but I have no use for them or the box of Huggies beside them.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me and am too afraid to ask a doctor, or Google or my boyfriend. I learn the shame of getting your period is nothing like the shame of losing it. I imagine blood tests, cancer and never getting to name a daughter after my grandmother.
At the checkout line, Snickers are also on sale.
My body is no longer mine.
Before a party, I cry in the bathroom because nothing fits me. My hair blankets the bathtub and my brush. I start getting migraines.
I miss the cycle, the rhythm of knowing what and when. I miss my blood and what it meant.
I pull down my pants and stare at spots of red seeping through new underwear. I am disappointed.
Almost a year before, at month thirteen, a friend tells me she couldn’t get pregnant until she lost weight.
“I hit 135 and bam!”
I try not to focus on numbers but on actions. A new school, a new home, and a kickboxing studio helps. I learn about hormones, contraception and self-care. Slowly, my body becomes familiar.
Last week, I took two pregnancy tests. They were negative, but I am fine. In my blood, I have all the hope I need.
A Day to Remember
Friday, 1:17pm, 11/22/1963, Williamsville, N.Y.
Gina Rhodes, the usually even-keeled seventh grader, is in an unexplainably foul mood. “It’s Friday! Why am I not happy, and why do I feel so much like punching Eddie Rizzo in the face?” she ponders.
Eddie, really cute, but really disgusting with his preoccupation with farting, belching and staring at boobies is her chosen target to loathe today.
“OK, only one more class to go! I can do this!” she thinks. “Yes, I can do this!”
Math teacher Mr. Brinkerhoff drones on and on about the likes of equations, decimals and integers, as the little voice in Gina’s head shrieks, “Oh God, please make him stop! I’m slipping into a coma! Let this afternoon end right now, Lord! Pleeeeaaassseee!” A light sweat covers her forehead as she closes her eyes, and firmly presses both hands against her lower abdomen. A steady, dull ache emanates from the area. “Something is wrong!” she fears. “Something is very wrong!” Mr. Brinkerhoff’s monotonal voice is faintly heard coming from the front of the classroom. “Miss Rhodes, would you be so kind to tell us what a negative integer is?”
Sobbing as she runs down the long hallway towards the restroom, Gina feels the slightest trickle of moisture running down her inner thigh. In the bathroom stall, it is realized what just occurred as she awkwardly takes care of the matter with the pad her mother put in her bookbag nearly two months earlier.
Suddenly, just outside the lavatory door, there is yelling, screaming and certain pandemonium. Something about President Kennedy. Something bad has happened to President Kennedy. “The President was what?” she queries among the commotion, but no clear answer is given.
“The President was what?”
Still no answer. The little voice in her head abruptly returns to its loathing mode. “I am so going to punch Eddie Rizzo in the face today!”
To Celebrate the Blood
(for my daughter)
For two days after you were born,
a bit of blood stained your diaper—
a mini-period, the midwife said.
My hormones still coursed through
your new body, making your breasts hard,
filled with milk, making you bleed
like a woman.
My baby woman, when your own hormones
ask you to bleed, I want to share the moment with you—
light a candle, howl at the moon,
celebrate your always perfect, always changing, body—
I, who hid my blood from my own mother for two years,
scared of being a woman like her,
I, who fed quarters to the machine at school to put safety-pinned pillows between my legs,
I, who stuffed wads of Kleenex in my underpants at home
to avoid the evidence of a box of pads under the sink,
I, who flushed those wads down the toilet, once stopping up the pipes,
clogging our house with my bloody lies,
I want us to celebrate the blood together,
our wild, creative, female bodies
blooming rose red velvet plush power.
WHAT’S A HYMEN? WHAT’S A VIRGINITY?
In 7th grade gym class, I asked the teacher if I could try jumping the hurdles set up on the outdoor track. She said, “No. That’s only for the boys. Jumping hurdles will break your hymen!” At home that night, I had to look up “hymen” in the encyclopedia, but the definition was unclear.
When I was in high school, my mother said, “You’ll only use Kotex pads for your period, because Tampax will ruin your virginity.” Among other embarrassments, my mother’s rule meant that when I was invited to a pool party at the wrong time of month, I had to wear a shirt, shorts, thigh-high nylon stockings, garter belt, and pretend that I didn’t know how to swim. I never dared ask my mother what “virginity” was.
In 1964, my freshman year at UCLA, I went to Mexico with three men from the university’s mountaineering club, to climb the southern volcanoes. I knew that my period would come near the end of the expedition. I couldn’t face packing a big package of Kotex into the van for my teammates to see. Disposing of used pads in a strange country could be a nightmare. I brought a box of Tampax. We climbed Iztaccihuatl (17,342’) and Popocatepetl (17,802’). The guys got very altitude-sick. I didn’t.
On the way back north, it arrived. I said that I needed to use a bathroom, so the guy driving pulled over to the left and stopped at a lonely gas station. The bathroom was in a rickety dark shed behind the building. The toilet consisted of one hole dug into a dirt floor. No seat. A brown burro was tied up next to the hole. I pulled down my pants, squatted, studied the directions at great length, and after a long battle inserted the tampon. The burro watched it all with his huge brown eyes.
—Valerie P. Cohen
She had always been elusive. I never complained. The pain was just a reminder that I was now a Woman.
The date escapes me, but I remember—my first shot. I hoped that She wouldn’t return for final goodbyes.
Since I was 11 we had always been fighting over the same body. Visiting time was over.
My yearning of family stayed. A bittersweet goodbye to the children I never loved.
She was now a reminder of a life I could have survived in. I did not want to survive—I chose life.
Though she had begun my life as a Woman, her death sprung a new beginning as a Man.
—Aiden Michael Nunez Maldonado
Out for Blood
My Mom likes to relay this story from her early teen years. She had arrived home from a family outing to discover unfurled tissue and the pads they had concealed, strewn all over the house. The dog had gotten into the trash and scattered the napkins. Everyone else saw it too. She was mortified.
—name withheld by request
I started my periods at the age of 11, and they were awful, heavy and nightmares! I would have such heavy flows—sometimes I would receive them twice a month, and they would never have a specific time to come. I would go through packages and packages of Kotex, and one time—I had run out of money—and using socks would not do the job, so I had no other choice than to sell a ring that meant the world to me so I could buy more Kotex. I did not receive the value of the ring—however, that didn’t matter. I had to let it go, and that is what hurt the most. My doctor wanted to schedule me a hysterectomy since my periods were so hard and heavy, and I had it all scheduled until one night I dreamed of my aunt, who passed away, and she warned me not to do this operation. I canceled my operation and bared through a few more years of my heavy periods. Every period would last at least eight days, and I would 90 percent be living in my shower because as soon as I would exit the shower and try to get dressed, there would be so much blood on the floor, I had to jump back in the shower. One night, I was awakened as usual to get out of bed and shower, and this one night it went on for hours. I was getting weak, and I forced myself some soup to get some strength back, and I just prayed. That following birthday, I received the most appreciated gift, on my 50th birthday it was my last visit from the period world. For four years, I have not had my periods, and I know at my age it is gone forever.
Immediate Contingency Planning
“Take off your pants. Take ’em off now and don’t look down.” I was 15 years old when I barked that order, all clear, blue-eyed seriousness, to my boyfriend at the time. And, at that moment, I became a leader. That split second decision when, while sitting on my boyfriend Pete’s lap watching TV at his house, I looked down and noticed a bright red ooze all over his white jeans. Pete looked me in the eyes, smiled at my demand, and complied. He scurried upstairs and, presto chango, put on some clean pants. I had the white jeans cleaned and returned the next day. If it is true, as F. Scott Fitzgerald pondered in The Great Gatsby, that “personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures,” then, that split second decision was a defining moment of my life. Also, I learned the difference between boys and girls. Boys can just sit and watch TV when they are sitting and watching TV. Girls, on the other hand, while watching TV, must always, always have a contingency plan.