A hormonal roller coaster through red seas to dry desert.
I remember anxiously waiting for my period. I heard the whispers on the school playground and in the locker room during gym period. What was wrong with me? Why have I not yet started?
Be careful what you wish for, so they say. And were they ever right. I was so excited to see the first drops of bright red blood staining my white underpants. My mom took me to Lillich’s Pharmacy to buy a box of thick Kotex pads and a napkin belt. She showed me how to wind the long narrow piece at each end of the mattress-sized sanitary napkin through the clips on the belt—obviously designed by men since the discomfort and embarrassment of the pad bunched up and slid to the back or front and created a weird bulge under your clothes.
40 days and 40 nights, I bled. I no longer was thrilled. Mom walked me to our doctor, a potbellied man with graying hair and a stern face that softened when he knew you were in distress. He said all was okay and it would normalize. It did, but the cramps were monthly punches to my pelvis, and I held back tears.
After a few years, our family doctor had me see the OB/GYN who was in the office on Thursdays, and I had my first internal pelvic exam. I recall he was gentle. He gave me a prescription for birth control pills and told Mom and me it would ease my cramping nightmare of pain.
(Or could he tell I was no virgin and wanted to help me keep my secret from my parents?)
As the years ticked by and I continued to track my periods with Xs on my calendars, the changes were interesting, and I took note over the decades. One of the best books to come out was Our Bodies, Ourselves which was first published in 1970 and I devoured every word.
My birth control would change with the times and after five years on the pill, I tried a natural method from yet another book whose title escapes me. I would track my vaginal secretions and learn all about the consistency of secretions from fluid, viscous, and sticky to note if I was in fertile territory—a dangerous zone for me since I decided at age thirteen that there would be no human children for me.
This was a learning experience and one women should try to get to know their unique and awesome bodies. First-morning basal temperature check without moving from the bed, daily, except during the menstrual period. Then place a finger into the vaginal canal and bring out any fluid to roll between fingers to examine its texture and appearance. Recording it on your calendar and perhaps in a journal as well.
Well, that was fun while it lasted. Then onto a Copper-7 IUD for two years. The first one was okay, that I recall, although removal and insertion of another were painful. That one was a different story, cramping, pain, difficult periods, and finally a decision to get that horrid foreign object out of me.
Dolly diaphragm was next and oh, what a hoot that was! I had so many hilarious times trying to insert her without it flying across the bed that I actually made a Sunday newspaper cartoon of the Adventures of Dolly Diaphragm.
Only one strip, but I really should have entered it into the Baltimore Sun and asked for a daily comic strip gig. I saved it a long time, but in all things Jann, non-attachment meant she would eventually get tossed in the paper recycle bin.
The sponge would follow and yes, thinking if a guy was sponge-worthy was key. The sponge was taken off the market with reports of toxic shock syndrome and yet we still have tampons on shelves. That’s an idea for another piece in case anyone wants to write it.
Condoms followed and then the first day of my last menstrual period was July 4, 2001. Yes, I still put Xs on my calendar, and then August 2001 through June 2002 followed with zero Xs and I knew I had gone through menopause and started my final journey in the land of post-menopausal.
But I digress. Let’s take a step back to the mystery phase of peri-menopausal and the mind and body games she plays.
Peri-menopause is that strange time that may last a few years to perhaps ten or more. The effects are different among women, with some experiencing little, and some experiencing several changes.
If men only knew the real story…I will leave it to you to fill in the blanks.
I do not know the exact age my changes started, and in retrospect, some things, such as weight gain, could be attributed to clothing styles. Yep, clothes. Around 1987-1988 Hanes and Jockey decided to move into women’s undies and created the “for her” line. White granny panties and sports-style bras. Comfy, boring, and sexless.
Yes, I made the switch. No more matching Victoria’s Secret (aka Vickies to me), sensual lacy bikini underwear, or pushup underwire bras.
To add insult, a woman created a line of comfortable, elastic waist, wide and flowy pants, and tops. I decided a two-year period of black and white was my new statement of fashion. Do you realize the disaster that happens to your waistline with no more side zip A-line skirts and slacks? No more sexy undergarments that have you smiling all day?
It was not pretty. My always same weight range had snuck up, adding pound by pound until I was 20-25 pounds over my comfort level. Elastic stretches when we eat—hello out there.
I had no idea of the weight gain. I worked all day, and during that time, some of the work was standing and moving, some seated, and lots of driving since I was working for an agency. I covered 20 different hospitals, doctors’ offices, and imaging centers over a 22-month period. I covered Baltimore City (where I lived), Baltimore, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, and Frederick counties as well as Washington, D.C. Whether by car, bus, metro, or train, I was sedentary…and expanding.
Luckily, I had a wake-up call one Sunday while in line to pick up a cocktail dress for my sister that she had on hold. The line was long. I glanced to my right and thought that lady looks so sloppy. I suddenly realized it was me in a long mirror.
I made changes and made it back to normal-for-me weight.
My hair had also started to go through some changes so the clothing was not the only issue. My neck and my hair started to dry out. I read Dr. Perricone’s book and started eating 15 almonds per day and added some wild-caught salmon a few times per week and saw positive skin and hair changes.
Life seemed back on track, then slowly little ups and downs occurred. My hair started drying out again and then later went from straight to curly! My neck was a turkey neck. A few times I would feel a flaming hot sensation from head to toe and the sweat poured out of me.
I actually liked those hot flashes; they were a quick tingle, and I felt a surge of feel-good down-yonder sensations.
My gynecologist tried to persuade me to do hormone replacement treatment (HRT) and I vehemently disagreed. This was a rite of passage for me, and I was going to embrace her with love and grace.
Then, as I mentioned above, the periods stopped. After a year or so of dry kinky curls, my hair came back to fine and soft. My dry neck softened.
My libido surged and I purchased two sexy thongs for nighttime wear only since a little cloth can be sexier than a birthday suit. It will get discarded in the heat of passion.
Now the good and not-as-good news.
Vaginal dryness came—although a number of years later. My skin is starting to dry again, but I am working on that with an Ayurvedic lifestyle.
Well, it will greatly improve once I stop drinking the poison called pinot grigio.
This may be too much information, but surprisingly, something is still working, and I can have spontaneous, how-did-that-happen orgasms. That’s good news for you younger ones.
The other good news is that I have mellowed even more in many ways—anxiety-provoking stuff has eased as I let go of stuff.
I have kept you all too long and taken a few forks in the path of sharing this journey of mine to date. Final message: embrace the changes through all those precious decades, love yourself, and keep her nourished physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Be kind to others, and Momma Earth, and hug your friends and family, too.
Author’s note: photo is of me in March 2003, nine months after my last period. My hair has started to change back slowly, and as of this writing, it is straight, fine, and soft.