Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Flashback...Wednesday: Cycling

Rachel's been asking a lot of questions about human biology lately, specifically about female human biology. With any luck she has a few (to several) more years to go before her menarche, but we've begun talking about it openly anyway so that by the time it arises she'll (hopefully) be comfortable

Perhaps not comfortable because of it, but comfortable with the idea of it.

WARNING: Much discussion of blood/menstruation've been warned.

I got my first period when I was thirteen. My brother and I had flown to Vancouver to visit with friends over our Christmas break. I walked off the plane feeling icky, but went off to play volleyball that night anyway. I woke up in the morning still feeling ill and I wasn't sure why until the reason made itself pointedly clear.

Being the super-duper prepare-o-matic that I am, I had packed some pads in my suitcase, but I think I packed, like, three. I had no idea how many I'd need (not that they sell them in packages for a reason or anything). I mean, I knew that periods lasted for about a week but I had no idea how much I'd actually bleed. I can't even remember how much I bled, necessarily, but obviously I had to change my pad more than three times, which meant I had to procure more pads elsewhere.

I remember my brother and I went to spend some time with the Stelnickis and I kept having to ask my friend Sarah for new pads every couple of hours. Eventually she just showed me where they kept them in the bathroom and told me to have at them.

Later when my mom called to see how we were doing I cried to her that I had started my period and I didn't know what to do, so she told me to ask my friend's mom for some pads. That thought mortified me so she said to hand the phone to my friend's mom and she'd ask for me, which she did.

Thank goodness for mothers because talking about my very first period wasn't exactly something I wanted to do while I was experiencing my very first period.

I think the first person I told was my brother, actually (and then Sarah (and then my mom (and then I never wanted to say the words "I started my period," ever again))). We were playing a board game and I left to use the washroom and came back and whimpered, "I think I started my period."

"How do you know?" he asked.

I remember staring at him in amazement. How did he think I'd know?! Didn't he know?! I have no idea what they covered in puberty-themed health lessons for boys since we'd always been divided by gender for such lectures.

"I'm bleeding," I said, half disgusted at his naïveté, half embarrassed that I'd been forced to utter those words.

"Oh," he shrugged.

My brother was not the first person I pictured turning to about my menarche, but what else was there to do in an age before cellphones or email and when long-distance phone calls were reserved for the weekends? There were a few other less than ideal aspects regarding this occasion in my life that you've probably discerned by now (ie. being hundreds of miles away from home), but obviously I survived the experience.

I've always been a little iffy on the whole process, though—the whys and the whats and the hows:

Why does it hurt so much?!
What is happening to me?!
How is there even this much blood?!
Why wasn't I born a cow so I could reabsorb this mess?!
Why meeeeeeeeee?! WHY?!?!?!*

You know, questions of that nature. I've set out to answer these questions, hoping that I can be a little more comfortable with everything myself by the time I really have to help someone else learn to be comfortable with everything herself.

I picked up Laura Szumowski's book Cycling recently, which was cute and insightful. I'm going to pass it to Rachel to let her peruse. Inside there's a timeline showing a history of feminine hygiene products beginning in ancient times (sea sponges and other plant material), to the invention of disposable pads in the late 1800s, to tampons in the 1930s, and so on. Somehow it feels good to know this is an issue women have been dealing with for a long time. It makes me feel less alone.

Anyway, today a friend posted an article today on facebook linking a vegan diet to amenorrhea and how this person felt that living without periods is really how women are supposed to live—after all, other animals don't menstruate (they reabsorb)! She reasoned that it must be our modern, unhealthy diet full of animal fats and sugar that is causing modern women to menstruate. And at the end of the article she sited her sources. There were three and the first source listed was "my own body." That raised a huge red flag (and a little eye-roll) for me.

It didn't take long to find other articles refuting this idea (which I assumed it wouldn't since women have been having periods for a long, long time). This isn't to say that diet plays no role on a woman's cycle (because obviously eating well is important (but also I'm pretty sure diet-induced amenorrhea doesn't fall under the umbrella of eating well)). It just means that, yes, periods are normal and natural.

But still, I wanted to know why. Like, really, why do we have periods?

Then I stumbled upon an article called Why do women have their period when most animals don't? By Shreya Dasgupta (a legit biologist) and it was a fabulous read that answered so many questions. I highly recommend it (really, go read it). So while I almost dismissed that post with a quick eye-roll and finger-scroll, I'm glad that I decided to look into it a little more in depth so that I could find this (actually informative) article.

* It's really not that bad. Maybe.


  1. Great article! I am glad you found that. And this is why some of us (like you and me) nurse for as long as possible: to be like our ancestral women, and have fewer instances of menarche.

  2. I thought this was gong to be about bicycles...ha!

    Hope Rachel has a great birthday!

  3. Personally I hate periods...this is why I nurse for two years. Go figure. I remember the day the kids asked me how the sperm and egg actually meet. I kept giving them tiny bits of info and they kept asking more and then they finally got to the final question and I told them and their faces, oh their faces were the best. They all know about periods. I told them about it when I was having my miscarriage. So they are all pretty in the know, that being said I have zero idea how the actual reality will square up with what I told them. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there.

  4. Another excellent book is Taking Charge of Your Fertility. The first half of the book explains what is happening in the body and kind of why menstration is necessary. I learned a ton and read it after I had been to nursing school. I think I will have all my girls read it when they are a little bit older (it is quite technical). I didn't reach menarche until I was 16 and I hope my daughters follow suit. :)

  5. I finally read the article you recommended. So interesting! I wonder if those other menstruating animals have cramps and icky feelings like some/most women do.

    Thanks for sharing that.