Before I fell asleep, before I gave myself heartburn by falling asleep when I’d just eaten a bowl of pasta, before the snow started, I’d planned to write a blog post about what a beautiful possibly spring day it was. How it was cold, but a fresh, light-warmed kind of cold, with no bite to it. It was a springtime kind of cold.
And it may still very well be on its way to an early spring despite the groundhog’s pessimism and the icy white outside. If the truth of who we are is not our circumstances, perhaps the same is true of the seasons?
I am waiting for my period, which was supposed to show up on Thursday. If I believed that carnal thoughts about Jon Hamm could get you pregnant or if I weren’t in perimenopause, I’d be worried, so so worried. It’s interesting that as my body is moving from maiden to crone (I seem to have skipped whatever’s in-between) that I wait now not to have my period.
I wonder, is this the start of those 12 months with no period that will land me in full menopause? Or is my period simply on hiatus for a month or two, leading me down the garden path of thinking we have parted forever, only to come flooding back—and yes, from the stories I’ve heard “flooding” is no hyperbole—whenever it feels like it? The 40s can be such a steadying time; I have experienced an influx of wisdom, of calm, of peace about who I am that I never expected to get to. Yet my body is unstable, unsure if it’s ready for my fertility to sputter to a stop, or if it wants to hang out just a bit longer, waiting by the phone for a sperm to call, full of expectation and excitement and already disappointed that the delicious tenterhooks of waiting will end one way or the other. Am I in spring or am I in winter? (And really, I should say “fall” and not “winter” but oh how a poet will lie sometimes just to make the metaphor work.)
I’ve been trying to write to you for months now. Things I should tell you follow behind me place to place like a trail of breadcrumbs, or a swarm of bill collectors. I type and delete, type and delete, type and delete, all the time my mouth so full of all I want to say I can barely swallow. But, here–I’ve made a start.
I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I shouldn’t have fought so hard to keep my uterus, when they found all those fibroids swarming inside me and I looked at the ultrasound and saw none of the usual things–no tiny heart, no nascent fingers, no promise. Just my blotted copybook of a uterus, colonized yet functionally empty. I didn’t know till then how much I wanted a child and though I knew I was running headlong toward the fertility cliff, that desire, that need roared up in me, desperate and hungered. And I’m telling you this not because you know what it’s like to not bear a child, but I suspect you know about hunger and need and how they can pulse inside you, a secret Morse code for which noone’s given you the handbook or answer key. But that was then–which is what we say about everything eventually, isn’t it? And now that I’ve stumbled off the fertility cliff and I find I don’t feel quite as “less than” as I thought I would, I’m wondering why all the fuss? True, I couldn’t quite bring myself to paint an infant onesie at a friend’s baby shower, but I was there and didn’t have to remind myself to smile so that counts as “this too has passed,” doesn’t it? What I’m really asking is how much of what I tell myself is true because it’s grown into fact and how much is true because it has to be, and is it also true that there’s a difference? is it true that that particular hunger has passed, or have I just numbed it by thinking of clever hashtags for perimenopause and by crafting loud comedic groanings about hot flashes? What matters more–what we know is true, what we say is true, what we need to be true? Or am I still asking the wrong question?
Spoiler Alert: This post is all about my period.
Last night my period started, which, after approximately 33 years of fertility, is not exactly news. Still it feels momentous because it may, in fact, be my final period ever. As I have been warned by my doctor, he may not be able to save my uterus when he removes the fibroids, and if my uterus goes so does my period.
I don’t remember if I was 10 or 11 when my period started but I do remember I was in 5th grade. Mrs. McGrath was my homeroom teacher, and she walked me down to the school office where she exclaimed to the secretaries, “One of my little girls just became a young lady.” One of the secretaries—yes, that is what we called them back then—opened up a cache of emergency supplies and out came a sanitary napkin that was pretty much twice the size I was. Not only that but it was the kind that was designed to be worn with a sanitary belt. I made do with two diaper pins instead.
Later that evening, my mom gave me the talk. It went a little something like this.
Mom: Do you know how you get pregnant?
Me: (tentatively) By playing with boys.
Mom: That’s right.
To be fair, my mother remembers the conversation rather differently, with her version having a little more detail. Whatever the actual exchange, I got the gist. Given that I’ve spent most of my adult life either as a virgin or celibate, with only a handful of years of being sexually active, I’ve never really paid that much attention to my period. Sure it’s annoying but I never worried much about tracking as I didn’t have to worry about pregnancy. I figured it would just get here when it got here. It’s actually embarrassing the number of years (and by years I mean decades), it took me to pay enough attention to realize that my body actually gave me plenty of signals when Aunt Flo was arriving to spend a few days on my couch.
I did, however, finally notice a few years ago that the several days a month when lines of poetry presented themselves unprovoked by prompts or any my usual poet’s tricks coincided with the days preceding my period. So while I don’t exactly look forward to the physical mechanics of menstruation, I do look forward to that time when, for whatever reason, I seem to have greater access to my creative spirit. I sometimes think about the Old Testament prohibitions that say women must be separated from the group during their cycles. I’ve come to believe that it’s less about cleanliness and more about giving women a time apart to fully engage with their creativity. Even as the body physically cleans itself of the unused mechanisms of physical creation, the mind itself shakes off and shakes out the lines, the scenes, the characters that have been waiting for fertilization. Some land on the page, some are reabsorbed to gestate a little longer. Yes, I realize I’m willy nilly mixing my metaphors here, but hopefully you get the point.
I wouldn’t say that I’m scared that my creativity will suddenly disappear if I no longer have a uterus and get a period. But I am mindful of the metaphoric implication of giving up that place in myself that was designed to harbor life.
I’m not sure how to write my way out of the end of this post, and I guess that’s where the TBD comes in. The poems will still be there hidden in my body, I will still be capable of creation regardless of which body parts I may or may not possess after surgery, and while something will be lost, I am expectant that out of that loss, something else will be born, some new metaphor for creation that I’ll only be able to hold onto if I’m capable of letting go.