Dear Betty and Carlin,
This September 27th will mark the twentieth year since my mom died. She was 44; I was 13. I’ve just recently come across your Web site. All I’ve been able to think for the past few weeks was that I wish this site had been around when my mom was younger.
My mom was the last of the silent generations, the women that didn’t talk about their bodies and their periods. In the 1960s, she had received “the talk” from her Army Captain father in the most vague of terms. Her mother refused to engage her on the subject. She had no sisters to talk to and, to my knowledge, periods were never discussed amongst her friends. In her words, my mother was "naive, confused and unprepared” about menstruation and about sex in general. I think that was the reason why she read, with zeal and a highlighter, the book “The Silent Passage” when it came out in the early 90s—she didn’t want to be ignorant about the future of her own body.
Between health class and the little bits that my parents told me, I was somewhat prepared for my period and also somewhat not. When my mother talked to me about my period she would describe it in flowery terms and few specifics: a “gift from God” or "internal warning system.” My “monthly friend” was more uncomfortable than my mother’s right off the bat, but she thought that I was exaggerating the discomfort (as I liked to call them, “the stabbies”). Her advice? Pamprin and hot tea.
She would send me to school on days when I couldn’t eat or drink because of the nausea, when I was alternately sweating and shivering every 2 minutes, when I could barely stand up because I was so dehydrated and the cramps were so bad. She would give what she thought were enough “supplies” to get me through the day, but because my flow was so heavy, it would barely last the morning. I would bleed through my clothing and run to the nurse crying and embarrassed. She would refuse to pick me up from school or bring me alternate clothing.
After my mom passed away, I found more sympathy from my father (who would offer to get me “supplies" every other week) and my brother (who would hold my hair back as I was throwing up). Even still, my father never took me to a doctor because, perhaps believing that what I was experiencing was within the spectrum of “normal." It wasn’t until my college roommates suggested that my periods weren’t “normal" that I sought medical care (I believe my words to the doctor were “cure me or kill me”). At 18 of age I had my first gynecological visit (with 3-4 interns staring up my lady bits), my first diagnosis—dysmenorrhea. A few years and a few hospital visits later, I had more specific names for the discomfort: hemorrhagic ovarian cysts and endometriosis.
Flash forward to this past Friday, a little more than 20 years after my first period, I found myself home from work and in bed with very bad menstrual cramps, thinking about my mother’s dismissal of my pain. I had woken up at 4 am the night before with the stabbies and an overwhelming need to vomit every last bit that was in my stomach. I crawled back into bed and searched the internet for solace and validation. I found that—and more—on your site.
Finding your site was bittersweet: In it, I found not only the advice and anecdotes that I needed to hear at the present moment, but also read things that I think my mom needed to know and hear not just to be a better mother but to be validated as a woman herself. The shame my mother felt about her body was given to her by her own mother, and in turn, my mother passed it on to me. I believe your site would have helped my mother become more empowered to know and love her own body and, in turn, invite me to claim my body, my feelings, and my experiences as my own.
Even at 33, I am still searching for the definitions of my own womanhood, especially as it relates to being a motherless daughter (i.e, somewhat floundering and unguided by maternal experience and wisdom). I was robbed of my mother’s guidance on many topics. I never got to know her woman-to-woman, adult-to-adult. I never got to experience the camaraderie that blooms after puberty. I will feel this pang for as long as I live.
It is my hope that the words on your site become the maternal voice that I’ve been searching for these past 20 years, and in that process, I hope to find my own voice.
PS: I don’t want you to think my mother was without any good advice, so I will leave you with a quote from my mother’s last letter to me (written only a few months before she passed away):
"Keep in mind: Women are NOT the 'weaker sex'....as in unable to cope with life. If you take apart the word FEMALE into two parts, you get ‘FE-' (the abbreviation for IRON) and ‘MALE.' Hmmm...Interesting concept: It seems to me, that composition would make us pretty darn strong...not necessarily physically stronger than a male...but, able to deal with most of the things that come our way in life. Perhaps, it is a very special inner strength we possess."
What a heart felt email. D&R would be honored to represent a maternal voice for you. I'm perfectly delighted to be your Grandmother. Native Americans honored Grandmother Wisdom while we too often throw our elders onto the scrap heap of social embarrassment.
You are a beautiful woman, inside and out. I can identify with your period pain and embarrassment. I too had to go to bed with a heating pad while my Mom made me a whiskey sour. The alcohol did help the pain. Later on I leaned how to masturbate to orgasm, the best solution of all. Turned out I too was diagnosed with endometriosis. At the time I was unhappily married so when the doctor recommended I go on the pill to mimic a pregnancy or have a baby, I decided to get a divorce instead. Once I began having orgasmic sex consistently with my post marital lover my period problem was solved. Regular orgasms alone and with a partner are major healers we rarely talk about.
Welcome to D&R.
Dr. Betty aka; Your BAD granny.