Turns out I have a love-hate relationship with my ovaries. I love that I was able to get pregnant and bring two amazing, smart and beautiful daughters into the world. There have been times, though, that I haven’t felt the hormonal love.
***My heart goes out to those of you who have had fertility problems. My apologies if this triggers anyone. I am writing from my own experience which doesn’t in any way deny or invalidate yours. Any and all decisions about treatment have been mine as well. I’m not recommending anything for anyone else. It’s a personal decision and deserves respect.***
Back in the 60’s, no one talked about Sacred Blood Mysteries. Fifth grade health education did not prepare me for life with my ovaries. No one ever mentioned their vajayjays. Eve Ensler hadn’t written The Vagina Monologues. The Red Tent movement hadn’t begun. The birth control pill was available but was still considered controversial.
From ages 14 to 51, my ovaries took me on a roller coaster ride ruled by hormonal mood shifts and drama. I didn’t start menstruating until I was almost 15. I was embarrassed about my delayed development. Once I got my period, the pristine fantasy of becoming a woman was over. Cramps, massive amounts of bleeding and those disgusting belts and pads were agonizing. I just knew everyone else knew what was happening. It was so uncomfortable sitting on that brick of padding. Thank heavens my best friend told me about tampons. It took awhile to figure out how to use them. Women who menstruate know the embarrassment of unexpected bleeding on clothes and bedsheets. It’s just triple mortifying as a teen.
Eventually I adjusted. It wasn’t too complicated until I started having major mood swings as I approached 30. I went to a male doctor who informed me that I had a disease they’d been treating for ten years called Pre-Menstrual Syndrome. I don’t know what women did during the eons before doctors figured it out. Insulted for being diagnosed with the disease of being born female, I never went back.
I became pregnant and delivered our first daughter at age 35 and our second daughter at age 38. There are good reasons to have children younger when you have more energy. As an older mother, I was diagnosed with “advanced maternal age.” I was lucky I didn’t have fertility problems, but going without a solid night’s sleep for five years just about did me in. I went in to see someone about my depression when I could not. stop. crying. The female Physician’s Assistant regarded me kindly and prescribed something. I stayed on antidepressants for the next five years. I was concerned about the long term side effects that had not been thoroughly studied.
When I entered perimenopause, my mood shifts became extreme. The first two weeks of my cycle weren’t bad but then as soon as I ovulated, the rest of the cycle was miserable. I felt like black blood was running through my veins. Everyone and everything challenged my patience. I lurched through my cycle every month. I felt batshit crazy for days on end. My cycles became increasingly erratic.
On the day of my oldest daughter’s 15th birthday, I got my first hot flash. It started at my knees and slowly traveled up my body until my head felt like it was on fire. With three hormonal females in the family, my poor husband was drowning in an estrogen tsunami.
After an entire year of waking at 2 a.m. nightly, and sleeping in layers (throw covers off, throw them back on), I started Hormone Replacement Therapy. This is not a good solution for some women but it worked for me. For the first time since forever, my moods were stable. I felt almost blissful. But, after five years, due to the possibility of negative side effects, I went off them. By then, I was done with it all, not having had any bleeding during those five years and thankfully, not starting up again either. What a relief.
Puberty was a difficult, awkward time in my life. My body was changing, and I didn’t really understand what was happening. Like every girl, I was anxious to grow up. And, like every woman, I realized it was more complicated and challenging than I expected. Going through menopause felt like going through puberty backwards. So many weird physical changes occurred. I became as sensitive to smells as I was when I was pregnant. I started getting car sick even though I had never gotten sick before. I discovered I was lactose intolerant. The mood swings were hard to bear.
The medical community has neglected to study women’s bodies for decades because female hormones complicate the studies. They study men because their hormones don’t fluctuate. This bias leads doctors to study and test drugs only in men. As recently as June 2014, the Huffington Post reported on a study that found research failed to consider both genders. The researchers concluded that women are at risk for “missed opportunities for prevention, incorrect diagnoses, misinformed treatments, sickness and even death.” Current mainstream reproductive treatments put us at risk for breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots.
There are alternative methods. Unfortunately, I didn’t have ready access to them. Susan Weed promotes the Wise Woman tradition, speaking openly about blood mysteries. These mysteries teach us to remember that women bleed and do not die. She says that, “The blood of birth and death, and the blood of nourishment, these are the natural knowledge of women, these are the things that make us wise.” We are sorely lacking in Wise Woman wisdom and traditions. The how and why these traditions are lost is a long, heart-breaking story for another day.
There is a terrible discrepancy between Western medicine and women’s mysteries. The battle for reproductive freedom wages on. My story only scratches the surface. It’s my hope that by telling our stories and sharing our wisdom that we can restore honor to our mysteries.
Please comment below if you’d like to share your story or join us in Skin Deepest.