Here’s the story I don’t want to tell. It’s entitled 40, but honestly it should be called 30 to 50. Those were the years that I bled uncontrollably.
I don’t want to talk about this because I feel embarrassed. What is embarrassment? The definition is “a feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness.” I feel all of those. I know everyone else does, too. This is the topic no one wants to talk about.
Bleeding uncontrollably is the condition of womanhood. It defines us more than any other attribute. I have often wondered how a species could actually evolve with this plumbing detail so poorly worked out. Bleeding uncontrollably has caused females to be severely limited in employment, leadership, sports, and career opportunities. Being shorter, weaker, slower, and fatter has not endangered us nearly as much as uncontrollable bleeding. Why? I can’t answer that, in part because no one talks about it.
At age 30, I had born and nursed my last child; my periods were resuming their “normal” pattern. However, in my case, they resumed in the form of unpredictable flooding. I might not have any sign of a period for three months, and then one day I would bleed so profusely that nothing could contain the flow.
It happened once in the front seat of a friend’s car; I had to ask her to abort the outing and drive me home, and by the time we got home, her car seat was covered with blood. After that, I wore pads all the time, never wore dresses, never wore white.
“Normal” periods never returned. By age 40 I had fibroids that disturbed my sleep and were visible under my clothes. All doctors said that they would disappear with menopause. Fibroids caused more and more bleeding until I bled continuously.
Don’t get me wrong; I had a good life between 30 and 50. My kids grew into amazing adults. My husband and I did lots of interesting things. I lived in wonderful places and visited many more. But always with handicapped agency. Unlike my daughter’s prosthetic that all the world can see, mine was hidden and embarrassing. As though it was my fault, that I couldn’t get this condition under control. As though it was my fault that bleeding was a source of joke material, or in Trump’s view, a source for invalidation altogether.
During those years I read about treatments that might stop the menses completely. But they were out of reach. I had already tried the pill with disastrous hormonal reactions and vowed never to that again. I tried the vaginal cup and it was inadequate. I was never passive about accepting this condition, but I never succeeded in overcoming it either. I envied athletes and dancers who drove their bodies so hard that menses stopped. That didn’t appear to be my path, either.
At age 50, with no sign of menopause on the horizon and fibroids the size of a sixth-month pregnancy, a doctor finally agreed to surgically remove them in a total hysterectomy. My self, my personhood returned at 50.
Adrienne Rich wrote in 1976: “I know no woman…for whom her body is not a fundamental problem.” Are we loathe to talk about the “fundamental problem” because there is no solution? Or because admission will be used against us? By stating my truth, am I endangering other women in positions of power and leadership? Someone will say, “Well, you might be worrying about flooding when you’re supposed to be focused on nuclear attack?”
Does my admission set back my daughters who might hesitate to tackle too much? Does my truth sound like self-justification for women who don’t excel? Will my experience be used as a warning against aspiration?
I don’t want any of that. I do want this fact of nature to be owned and shared by all of us human beings, the same as mental health is now owned by all of us, not just the “crazies”. Or amputees are treated as equals AND curb cut-outs are standard. Or “challenged “ children are mainstreamed in public education for the betterment of everyone.
I’m seeing progress: the provision of tampons in employee bathrooms was in the plotline of a popular tv show last year. That counts as progress.