Are You There, Perimenopause? It's Me, Una
When a period becomes an ellipsis...
In my memoir, Unabrow, which I wrote when I was (stifles laughter) 33 years old, I devote an entire chapter to the changes that have happened to my body since I was a little girl. At the time, I felt confident that having gone through both puberty and childbirth, I knew pretty much everything there was to know about the mysteries of the uterus-owning human experience. Dear reader, try not to judge me: I was, to be fair, the oldest I had ever been when I blithely opined on the aging process with sentences like “Imagine a flipbook of John McCain’s cheeks as he shoots through a wind tunnel. Beginning at age thirty-five, each page represents one year of your life.”
I am now nearly 43, so I still admittedly don’t know shit in the grand scheme of things. However, in recent months strange things have been afoot at the Circle K that is my body, leading me to suspect that I may be on the precipice of the exciting, enigmatic Change of Life that I personally think should be rebranded Fuck Yeah, Perimenopause! Because throughout my life, my period has given me nothing but grief and angst.
Before I got my period, I was obsessed with when it would happen. It seemed impossibly grown-up and important. Like most 80s girls, I read and re-read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and deeply identified with the Pre-Teen Sensations Club and its fixation on bleeding and growing tits. My own best friends and I came up with a code word so that when we finally started menstruating we could tell each other without blowing our cover. “Did you get that red jacket you wanted yet?” we’d ask, wink wink, nudge nudge. The picture of stealth. I was the last to get mine, at thirteen. It was the Fourth of July and my family was on a weekend trip to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where we went swimming in a lake. When I got home, I noticed a brown splotch in my bathing suit and assumed I had shit myself. “Welcome to womanhood!” my mother beamed when I showed her.
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I was irregular from the jump. I don’t think I got another period for months (I was, it should be noted, only about 90 pounds). In the interim, I devoted myself to figuring out how to insert a tampon, which is more difficult than it sounds when you’re a newbie, especially without the internet for guidance. Prepping for insertion felt like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones tries to replace the golden idol with a bag of sand, if he were also bending over naked and trying to look up his own ass. After a very unfortunate mishap with some scented body lotion used as lubricant, I finally emerged victorious in the summer of 1994 and recorded the event in my diary with the sort of breathless excitement usually reserved for Beyonce secret album drops.
The novelty wore off quickly, of course. When you have a uterus, it feels inconvenient at best and hostile at worst to have to bleed every month for decades of your life, regardless of your desire to bear children. I now think of my uterus as a passive-aggressive, slightly unhinged friend, someone who prepares an elaborate dinner you did not RSVP for and then flips the table and throws plates out the window when you fail to appear. And the timing was never predictable; sometimes my cycles were 28 days, but more often they were 35 or even 40. I wasted so much money on pregnancy tests, and could not keep a nice pair of underwear in my twenties to save my life.
Until I turned 30 I was not at all interested in becoming pregnant, and while, sure, my period was a nice reminder that I wasn’t, it also seemed like a lot of pomp and circumstance, the very apex of “this could have been an email.” To add insult to injury, when I did try to get pregnant, I couldn’t fucking stop bleeding! I had one miscarriage, tried for a year to get pregnant again, had my first son, had two more miscarriages (I’m a “habitual aborter,” medically speaking, which is an essay for another day), and then finally had my second son in 2017. As soon as his giant bowling ball head came out, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief; I knew that I was done, never interested in getting pregnant or giving birth ever again. But, of course, my body didn’t get the memo. Eventually my uterus started prepping her psycho dinner parties once more, despite my having secretly blocked her number. I got an IUD eight weeks after I had my second kid.
I know it could have been so much worse. Unlike many people with uteruses, I never had terrible cramping or pain that came with my period. It was just a drag. I can only imagine how much more pointless it would have felt to endure a menstrual cycle had I not chosen to have children. I’m also lucky that I was able to have two babies, without expensive and invasive fertility treatments, and that my miscarriages, while sad and unpleasant, were not traumatic surprises, all having been identified early in the first trimester by ultrasound before they began. But now that I suspect I might almost be done? I’m ready to tap dance on a stage of plastic applicators, do tequila shots out of a Diva Cup. Don’t let the cervix hit ya on the way out, uterine lining! This storefront is closing permanently and Everything Must Go.
Not that you asked, but here’s why I think I might be getting close 🤞:
I’m hot and sweaty. This might not sound weird but I have always been a person who runs ice cold. I do not sweat at the gym no matter how hard I’m working out. I joke with Jeff that when we have sex we should do Frozen role play and pretend I am Elsa. That’s how bad it is. I need to clutch a HotHands before I touch him or he will recoil with a gasp. So the fact that at night I wake up drenched and have to turn the fan on is suspicious to say the least.
My boobs are growing! I am thrilled with this development, although it did cause me to take a number of pregnancy tests when I first observed the change. Having breastfed two bitey, thrashing children for a total of 7 years, my girls (barely B cup fraternal twins to begin with) had started to look like the shrunken balloons you find in the corner two weeks after a birthday party. The fact that they are now regaining their buoyancy makes me feel like Wilford Brimley swimming in that pool in Cocoon.
I don’t really get a period anymore. This may seem like the smoking gun but, to be fair, I have a hormonal IUD so I really don’t know what the fuck is going on up in there. I thought it was only good for 5 years but when I went to Planned Parenthood last year they were like, nope, you have until 2025 (for obvious reasons I will be getting it replaced before the 2024 election). All I know is I haven’t needed to use a tampon in forever, and unlike my unpredictable cycles in my youth, my underwear is no longer full of stains. Win-win!
The real mindfuck of periods--and the early signs of perimenopause--is that all the symptoms are all also symptoms of pregnancy. So if you have a uterus, you never know if you’re about to bleed, have an unplanned change of life baby, or grab a burlap sack, get in line, and jump on the twisty slide into procreative obsolescence. Seems like a pretty serious design flaw imo. If I made the rules we’d all be able to download an app, hit “Skip this month” like I do with all the recurring e-commerce orders I place late at night while stoned, and go back to using our hormonal shifts for more interesting pursuits, like witchcraft.
A possibly perimenopausal girl can dream…