I was ten years old when I got my first period. My mother never talked to me directly about menstruation, or about much of anything. There was never a time my mother sat me down for any sort of heart-to-heart, or a talk about life, girlhood, womanhood, the world, the importance of education, the weather. Nothing. So, I learned everything I needed to know from books.
I was always a ferocious reader, even as young as five. I was already reading on a third grade level and planned on being a writer when I grew up. In fact, that was the year my grandfather told me about the New York Times bestsellers list, and I had it in my head that I needed to be on it. Well, twenty years later, I made it and I made it time-and-time again.
Since I was a child, books have been a huge part of my life.
So, when I got my period one afternoon after school, I already knew what to do. After all, I had spent hours upon hours in the library reading up on the female anatomy and its functions. But I was too embarrassed to actually check out one of those books, like that dusty first printing of Our Bodies Ourselves I'd stashed in the corner behind the fake ficus, so that no one else could rent it. I was just kid, but I wanted to know what being a woman would be like and no one around me was every going to explain it. We had Sex Ed in school that year in fifth grade, but who could learn anything with all the snickering and note passing during Mrs. Beakman’s mundane slideshow of illustrations and ramblings of outdated information. It was 1990 and none of us needed to know about belted pads, yet, there they were.
So, the day I got my first period, I hopped the wall between our apartment complex and the neighborhood K-Mart, and I acquired my first box of tampons. I chose a box of OB Tampons because, without applicators, they would be easier to hide from my mother and my classmates — and from the cashier as I zipped right past her, the slender box of tampons shoved up my sleeve. I darted out of the store, hopped the wall back into the complex and ran to our apartment. In the bathroom, I sat on the commode, and flushed the wadded tissue I’d shoved in my panties as temporary protection. Hands trembling with anxiety after pulling off The Great Tampon Caper of 1990, I read the directions, followed them as best I could, an inserted my first tampon. I didn’t tell my mother I got my period that day because we’d never discussed it before, and I wasn’t quite sure how to break the ice on the subject.
It would take her months to figure it out.
Back then, the only period related concern I had was public tampon leakage. Twenty-eight years later, there is a lot more to be concerned about. Over the years, as our bodies mature, we witness a bevy of changes, including all things menstrual. The length and heaviness of my period has varied over the decades. A twenty-eight day cycle shrank to twenty-six, and a week-long period diminished to right around four days. Once a year, I get this weird thirty-day cycle, and under times of extreme stress, my period just does whatever the hell it wants.
But after my last abortion in March of this year, my period has been out of sorts, and with my partner and I planning for a 2017 baby, I wanted to regulate my cycles, making it easier to track my ovulation. My post-abortion periods were heavier and longer than before, and I jumped between twenty-six, twenty-eight, and thirty-three day cycles. On top of that, in the past several months, I’m not even sure I ovulated at all! So, as I have done since I was ten, I began to read and research all the ways a woman can help her cycles become more regular and even less intense, while improving my ovulation and fertility.
As discussed in my last piece, Maca Root has helped shorten and lighten my periods, as well as improve my mood, energy, stamina, and cervical mucus, all of which helps improve our sexual experience. By all accounts, I am quite sure the maca has also helped regulate my flow overall, but I want to be absolutely sure I’m doing everything I can to help my body help me make a baby. So, after weeks of late night online searches and reading what seems like hundreds of blog posts, articles, and message boards, I decided to incorporate Raspberry Leaf Tea to my TTC (trying to conceive) journey.
Raspberry Leaf, as is common with many herbs, boasts a bevy of benefits. It is said to be beneficial for the female reproductive system, aiding those who have miscarried by strengthening the uterus, helping ease heavy menstrual bleeding, improving egg quality, and overall preparation for pregnancy. So, naturally, I was all in and snagged a box on Raspberry Leaf tea right away. Then, while perusing my favorite health food website, I came across a tea called Woman's Moon Cycle, which incorporates herbs like Don Quai and Chaste Berry, both recommended for regulating and easing menstrual cycles, as well as preparing the body for pregnancy. Add that to the benefits of Raspberry Leaf and the other herbs blended in, and I thought it was worth a shot since both teas seem to have helped other women regulate their cycles and conceive, according to TTC message boards.
To make the tea, I steep one bag of Raspberry Leaf and one bag of Moon Cycle in hot water, in a teapot overnight. This allows for maximum potency and the best use of the herbs. The next day, I heat and drink a cup of tea with a half teaspoon on raw honey right before bed. With the cooler weather settling in, I find it pleasurable to have a hot cup of tea or maca latte at any time, so often, I’ll find myself sipping on either several times throughout the day.
After just over one month of drinking both these teas (and Maca lattes), my cycle seems to be in check and I am back to my regular twenty-six day cycle. As I mentioned, my periods are shorter, tapping out around the third day, and they’re lighter. I found myself using only two organic super absorbency tampons in a twenty-four hour period, versus three or four. Even then, neither of those tampons were full. I have even been able to go protection free for a few hours a day, while doing things around the house.
My mother didn’t teach me a whole lot about being a woman. I have depended on books and the open sharing of other women to teach me what to do and what not to do. In the age of oversharing, we can never get too much useful information, trials and tribulations, failures and success of other women. My entire career has been built on my deeply rooted need to leave proof of life and to share with women and girls who maybe had a mother like mine, a mother who never shared but taught me one thing if nothing else — silence hurts.
So, I guess that’s why I’m sharing this part of my life with you, too. I guess that ten-year-old little girl who had to steal her first box of tampons and keep the functions of her body a secret, never wants me to keep another secret like that, again. Maybe that ten-year-old who came across an old copy of Our Body Ourselves is the reason I celebrate all the autonomous pleasures and functions of my body, and I do it out loud for the world to see. Maybe, just maybe, when my mother taught me nothing, she in fact taught me everything I needed to know to be the woman I have become.