In early December of 1988 my family had just relocated to Wellington, New Zealand. It was summertime down there and one day we made plans to go to the pool with our new friend and neighbor Kylie. A few minutes before heading out I got my period for the first time. Bummer city for an almost 12 year old. After a few years I was getting cramps so severe that I was missing a day or two of school a month. My mom took me to see her midwife and that very kind lady put me on the pill. I wasn’t sexually active at the time, but it turns out that the pill was developed to help ease symptoms of menstruation and the whole controlling birth thing was a happy side effect. I know the pill doesn’t work for a lot of women because the side effects are too severe, but I loved it. My period was regular and so light I only needed a panty liner. And after I did become sexually active the controlling birth thing was pretty awesome. I was on it for 15 years, long enough for my risk of ovarian cancer to be significantly reduced.
In December of 08, 20 years after my first period, I found out I was pregnant with T. I’d stopped taking the pill two months earlier because Z and I were talking about trying to maybe have a kid down the line. I’d had a conversation with my GP about it. She told me it would be 6 months before I’d start ovulating again. So I didn’t worry about birth control. When I told my midwife what the doctor had said during our first pregnancy appointment she was appalled. She said my body hadn’t released an egg in a decade and a half, that it was immediately ready to start shooting them out, that my risk for pregnancy was majorly increased.
T was about 8 or 9 months when my period showed up again. But I was pregnant within another 2 months. After the miscarriage early that September I got pregnant again in late November. Charlie will be 9 months old in a few days and my period still hasn’t come back. My time of the month hasn’t been my time much over the last 3 1/2 years. I’ve gotten very used to not dealing with the inconvenience.
Why the rather boring rundown of my menstrual history? I’m starting to think mine is going to be reappearing any day now, and I’ve been dreading it. The thing is I’m pretty damn terrified. This annoying, but rather benign regular part of my existence suddenly feels very menacing. After T’s birth there were the huge clots that were the result of a piece of left behind placenta. After the miscarriage and D&C there was the trip to the ER because of more clots. And a few hours after C’s birth there was the hemorrhage. My body is not very good at no longer being pregnant. And my recent history with bleeding has been pretty horrific.
Until I stopped bleeding weeks after C’s birth I was scared every time I went to the bathroom. Actually, I was scared all the time. Just waiting for that terrifying sensation of passing a clot. After the hemorrhage was under control I confided to my doc that the thought of having my period again made me lightheaded with fear. He explained I absolutely wouldn’t hemorrhage with my period, that they were two different kinds of bleeding. But knowing that hasn’t really quelled the queazy feeling I get every time I remember what happened 6 hours postpartum.
I’ve written about the hemorrhage a few times before. Probably because I really haven’t come to terms with what happened. Not because of my care, like with the left behind placenta. Even when you receive excellent care a health “event” is hard to move past emotionally. One of the worst parts, and there were a lot of worst parts, was how scared Z was. He doesn’t show he fear in the moment and he always lets me know that I’m being a huge baby. Which is legitimate, I’m almost always being a huge baby. But when the clots started he was the one that insisted there was a problem. And when the hemorrhaging began in ernest he couldn’t hide the terror on his face. The pain as they reached into my uterus was as bad, if not worse, as the contractions before the epidural took. It hurt so much I wondered why I didn’t pass out, frankly I wanted to pass out. And seeing the fear on his face when I looked at him to reassure me everything would be OK made my terror so acute I couldn’t catch my breath. And now I’m scared every time I bleed I’ll be transported to those awful memories.
The return of my period also is my body’s way of telling me I’m ready to have another one. My sweet little baby is starting to grow up. He’s gotten so long lately. I can’t really say big, dude it a skinny-minnie. But he isn’t going to be a baby for much longer. And he might be my last. We haven’t decided if we are going to try for a third. If we do try and have another, what then? Is it safe to put my body through childbirth again? My doc says we’ll just do all the drugs that stop hemorrhaging right after delivery if I have another, but based on my previous experiences I suspect it won’t be that simple.
It is crushing when your body does not behave properly, complications surrounding childbirth make you feel like a failure. Facing either alternative is frightening. Do we accept we are a family of four and mourn the lost possibility of a third child? Or do we risk further complications by bringing another child into our family? My looming period feels like a monthly reminder of a difficult decision we have to make soon. I’m not getting any younger.
I thought some of this stuff would get easier with time. What 35 year old is scared of her period? I suddenly feel like I have a lot in common with the 11 year old who couldn’t go to the pool in December of ’88.