This first appeared in The Chicago Tribune under the title of “ Chronicling the strangest of relationships: Period" on April 21, 2004
I was talking to a good friend the other day and she told me that her daughter had just gotten her first period. My friend had been prepared for this momentous occasion and she got out the necessary products and helped her daughter with them. About an hour later her daughter came in the kitchen and said, “OK, Mom, can I take this off? Am I done yet?”
Oh honey, if you only knew. Her daughter is embarking on a very long relationship that lasts from puberty to menopause with her new “friend”. If I were to tell her what I’ve learned about this relationship (which I wouldn’t, there’s no reason to send her screaming back to her childhood) here’s what I’d say.
It will be a strange and dysfunctional relationship but it will follow a fairly predictable chronology. First, you will start out hating and loathing your new friend. No filmstrip or book or talk from mom can convince you that this is “beautiful”. It’s uncomfortable, painful, messy, and embarrassing. It requires the use of mysterious, unwieldy products you have never even seen let alone know how to use. With the help of a best friend shouting directions through the door you will finally figure out how to use the more challenging but effective products. Eventually, say in 5 to 10 years, you will even master said products so that you are not totally uncomfortable with your new friend. But then you will do something to mess up this relationship. You will become sexually active.
Now, instead of loathing her, you look forward to seeing your friend every month. She is a reassuring and visible sign that you have not made the biggest blunder of your life. Even if you are exceedingly careful, you will not know real relief until you see concrete evidence of her return. Cramps are not enough. You need proof of your freedom.
There are times you are less cautious than others. On these occasions you will not be just glad to see her, you will fall on your knees and thank God she has returned. You will reassure her that next time you will take every precaution necessary to ensure her timely return. The relationship will continue along like this for some time.
Then one day you will hear the unmistakable ticking of your biological time clock. Now you will find yourself in an upside-down world in which you will try, very, very hard to achieve a physical state that you have tried very, very hard to avoid for a very, very long time. This will seem very, very strange.
Most of us will be in this phase for what seems like an eternity even if it is in fact only a few months. Each month you will not only hate the mere hint of your friend’s return, you may actually be moved to tears of bitter disappointment at the sight of her. You will resent that the pregnancy tests are placed so closely to the sanitary products at the drugstore.
The longer this phase goes on, the more you will come to hate her. Sadly, because of the vagaries of life, some women will find themselves in this phase for many years without a happy resolution.
If you are fortunate enough to reproduce more or less when you want to, you will finally rejoice at your friend’s absence. If she is even a day late you will run out to the drugstore and purchase your EPT kit and wave that magic wand around in glee.
For the next several months your friend will be replaced by a myriad of bodily changes that are absurdly taxing, but you will not wish for the return of your friend’s relatively gentle presence. One day, quite suddenly, you will remember her for a few nostalgic moments as your labor begins. But your friend is to labor as a chimp is to King Kong and you will soon forget her again.
Nursing will keep her away for a few more months and then one day, she will return and you will be happy to see her again. She will remind you that your body no longer belongs to another tiny being but is in fact returning to you.
Now you will be back to the days of welcoming her every month, glad to know that at least for now your body is your own. Until you decide your child needs a sibling, then you can revert to the days of dreading the sight of her again.
And so it goes. Until one day your house is full of children and you realize you are done. But strangely, your body does not. Though you are mentally and physically past the optimal age to reproduce, your body keeps trying to. You do not want to be like someone in the Old Testament and you return to the days of fearing her presence. Even if your husband has been “fixed” you know that mistakes can happen.
These days stretch into months and years and your old friend will visit with less and less regularity. Sometimes she’ll stop by for a brief unexpected visit and other times she will hunker down for an extended stay. And then one day, without any word of warning, she will disappear for good. Like all old friends, you will not realize that her last visit is her last.
As my friend’s daughter begins this relationship I am fast approaching the end of my relationship. I don’t know how I’ll feel when I realize my friend has left for good but I suppose I’ll be as conflicted about her departure as I’ve always been about her arrival. I’ll be relieved she’s finally gone but no doubt a little regretful to see her leave forever.
By Judy Zimmerman, who is still being visited,albeit erratically, by her friend