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The first 16 years of my period were as beautiful as they could be.  No major cramps.  No super big mood swings.  Four days and done.  I stayed off birth control after my second birth and Mark had a vasectomy.

And then the Red Devil began to gnash it’s teeth.  It’s almost as if he whispered in my ear, “Oh honey…  You didn’t think you’d get away that easy did you?  Silly fool.  I waited patiently for you to get cocky and now I’m waging war on your Goods.”  He smiled with blood pouring out of his eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth.  For 6 years, he waged a crafted war by monthly adding to his arsenal.  And then 3 years ago, he attacked viscously.

A week before my period, I ate every single thing in the house.  And then wouldn’t eat a thing for the next two weeks.  Leaving me bloated and light-headed because I had no food in my belly. Cramps would halt me in Target aisles and they were never eased with drugs or heat.    Diarrhea always appeared without warning so farts became scary.   Or was that just gas which rolled into cramps?  Why am I crying?  Why am I violently angry at the Tide commercial?  Fuck you, Tide and your bragging. I’m pretty sure you’re destroying the planet.  OMG, we’re all gonna die.  I’ll just cry until Ohio falls into a vat of fire.  My flow got to the point where I was going through a tampon an hour.  No need to yank on the string.  Nope.  They dropped out as soon as I could get to the toilet.  Once out more things plopped out.  What the fuck is that?!  Plop.  Splash.  Seriously, what are those?  Are they swimming?! If I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night to change a tampon, my bed looked like the “horse head” scene in “The Godfather”.  Minus the horse head.  And they lasted for at least a week and most times longer.

I talked to my OB and never got anywhere.  “Sorry, but this happens as you get older?How’s your mood during?”  How’s my mood?!  My mood?  How would your mood be if you’re dropping blood nuggets in the toilet every month?  How would your mood be if you looked like you woke up midway through an operation and the doctors left?  How’s my mood?!  I decided to be polite only because I ran the risk of security entering the room, “My mood is normal PMS pissy, but that’s not the point!”  She looked at the chart and said, ”  How was it before kids?  Oh fine?  Well…  Some women have been dealing with these symptoms from the beginning.” I left upset, but semi-gracious.  So I dealt with it.

And then one day my period pushed me to the point that I was unable to ignore its vengeance.

We were visiting an Urban Art Scrawl.  Think artists’ studios set-up in a sectioned warehouse.  “Uh oh.  I think I need the bathroom.  Shit… Shit.  I have nothing on me, but it’s too early anyways.” I frantically thought.  I found a makeshift bathroom on the first floor.  I swear the near-by artists were into horror movies and mocked up a bathroom to suit their style.  Rickety walls were propped up around one stall.  A simple uncovered 20 watt light bulb swung above my head.  It flickered randomly enough to show me where to sit.  I sat down and I realized I matched the creepy nature of the “restroom”.  I was covered in blood.  Not just contained to underwear, but covered in blood.  It was frightening.  I started to panic because I couldn’t find the toilet paper.  I waited for the light to swing to the right.  Nothing.  Swing to the left.  Nothing.  Fuck. I thought I was going to have to use the tattered fliers on the “walls” and I would have with no shame.  I finally saw a tiny roll on the floor.  Dirty?  Not as dirty as I was.  I picked it up.  Of course it’s a single ply…  I furiously and cautiously used what was left on the roll.  Attempted another make-shift pad and left the stall. Tied my hoodie around my waist and found my family.

“Do you want to try lunch?” he asked when I explained the situation.  I think I’ll be ok and a beer would help.  Was I in shock?  But that had to be a one time deal…  No tampons in his car.  Duh.  But it had to be a one time deal.  I went to the bathroom  as soon we got to the restaurant.  It had proper lightening and I realized I did a decent clean-up.  Schew.  Nothing new.  I’m ok!

And then I wasn’t. Being quick eaters comes in handy when you have toddlers and when you have a Grown Up Unpredictable period.

This became the norm for my period.  My purses always had at least a dozen tampons because I’d always toss some in before leaving the house.  This meant I was constantly buying tampons because the box was always empty.  But I still got really good at pushing a smoosed one back to a comfortable shape.  Clean looking underwear?  Please.  It was washed.  If I had forgotten, I became skillful at finding a sympathetic looking woman to beg for a tampon.

 
My period was officially effecting my life.  I could no longer comfortably do things on the first and second days which were never consistent.  I was miserable.  Vasectomy or no vasectomy, I was going back on birth control.

The generic pill helped the flow.  Except now I was having a period all month.  One week it was normal heavy and the other three were spotty rust.  It can’t be normal.  But my OB’s shrugged and said, “Sorry.  It’s your age.  It’s better than before, right?”  Again, I shrugged with disappointment and semi-graciously left.

Enter my sister-in-law.  She’s a nurse practitioner.  “Nope.  That’s not ok.  If you do ok on the pill, try this one.”  It’s not ok.  No shrug.  No “deal with it”.  It’s not ok. I’m happy to say my periods are whipped into shape by changing the type of pill.  A simple fix if my OB would have presented that option.

I wish I had a witty ending.  I don’t.  But I do have a manageable cycle.  Oh!  I didn’t have to use fliers from that bathroom and I should’ve gotten rid of those shorts years before I was forced to.  I consider those huge wins.

Moral of the story:

  • Periods are a bitch in the best of circumstances.  When they control your life?  It’s not right.  It’s cruel.
  • I have insurance.  I’m lucky.  But every single woman should have a way to control their periods.  Birth control isn’t only used to avoid pregnancy.  Many times it helps control and manage your life.
  • Periods change.  It’s normal.  They change and maturity doesn’t help you deal or understand the Why.
  • Makeshift toilet paper pads NEVER work.
  • If you see a “bathroom” with a swinging uncovered light bulb, DON’T use it.
  • OB’s don’t know everything.  A smile and a shrug are NOT a substitute for a solution.

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  • Imene - I did get the Mirena because of my awful periods and nce the first 6 months have past I do see a change pain wise. I am not doubled down but my mood…ouch
    My 12 year old just told me that I’m a nicer person when I don’t have my periods. I guess he better learn soon to kepp clear of a menstruating woman ;o)November 18, 2017 – 8:34 pmReplyCancel

  • Donna - I popped over to visit your work by way of your beautiful guest post on ViewFinders today, and this blog post grabbed my attention immediately. I’m older than you, now post-menopause, but you’ve described with honesty and sincerity one of the most difficult phases of my life. My periods were exactly like yours, and my response from my Ob/gyn was similar – “deal with it.” I awaited menopause like a kid anticipating Christmas, and now that I’m there, I’m happy and free. But, if women talked about this subject, I might have been more forceful in demanding help, might have sought other options as you have done. I’m glad you got help, and glad you are shedding light on this subject. Thank you!November 21, 2017 – 7:52 amReplyCancel

I was incredibly thin as a girl.  Plus I ran cross country and track (not very well I’ll add).  These two things were explained as a reason why I had not started my period at 15.5.  My 13-month-younger sister started two years prior (she hid it for a year and then it became regular).  I wasn’t worried about my nonexistent menstrual cycle.  Why the hell would I want a period?!  It seemed like a hassle.  Just like shaving your legs…  And really?  Does ANYONE want to bleed for a week every month?  No thank you.

“If you haven’t started by 16, I have to take you to visit the doctor” my Mom explained one evening.  “I don’t really want to because you’ll probably have to go on hormones and that means you’ll probably get fat.”  Listen… Almost 35 years later, my Ma will argue that she never added the fat line.  “I probably said ‘gain weight'” she’ll succumb to my insistence.  Nope.  “You’ll probably get fat” was said.  I know this as fact because I was a 15 year old girl who heard a doctor’s visit will end with weight gain and a period…  Gain weight in high school?  Plus have to deal with a period and PMS?!  She said it.  And that was plan.  No period by 16 and this was the solution.

“If you think about starting your period, it won’t happen.  You gotta relax.” a common line from my friends.  So I ignored the fact that I had 6 months to will my body into a menstrual cycle.  Every time I time I felt a little squishy, I was certain I’d wipe and find blood.  Nope.  Maybe I have to wipe twice?  Nothing.  Come on, Body!  Help me out!  Start a period.

That summer I turn 16.  It was the magic number when I’d get my license (took 4 tries), finally be able to date (no one asked for another 2 years) and as soon as my Mom remembered, I was heading to the Lady Doctor!

I worked at an small female retirement home.  One day in July, I was mopping the dining room after lunch.  “Save By the Bell” was over and I pushed the mop bucket to the kitchen.  The kitchen was filled with cigarette smoke and the old radio was blaring Paul Harvey’s latest story. Before I left, I needed to use the restroom.

It was tiny dark closet in the kitchen.  I finished and wiped.  And on the toilet paper was a small smear of red.  I did a double take,  smiled, zoned out until I heard blaring from the kitchen…

“…now you know the rest of the story!”

I made a makeshift toilet paper pad and drove myself home.

I busted into the house and screamed, “I’m a woman!”  Mom, Dad and my younger sister came running in.  “Yup.  I’m a woman now!” (we’re an open family)

Mom and my sister went with me to my parents’ bathroom.  I had two options: pads or some tampons leftover from my older sister’s visits.  Already hating my makeshift pad and figuring I was so grown up at 16, I reached for the tampon.  They waited outside on my Mom’s bed.

I sat down and ripped the plastic wrapper open.  A puff of chemical smelling baby powder wafted into my nose.  “This must be what a woman smells like” I thought with a grin.  Now how to get this in…  I poked Goldilocks style.  Went too high.  Too low.  And then just right…  Done.  How hard was that?  But after a few seconds, it didn’t feel right.  I thought you weren’t supposed to be able to feel tampons.  Hmm…  Maybe it’s just new. There’s got to be a learning curve.   So I stand up and walk out.  But quickly, I had to lay down on the bed.  I had a history of passing out, so my family knew the signs.

“You ok?  You don’t look well” my mom asked.  “I just feel funny.  I thought you weren’t supposed to feel a tampon.” I squeaked out.  “Did you use the applicator to make sure it was in there high enough?” she asked.  “Applicator..?  Whaaat’s that?” I said slowly.  She explained the the plastic outside was the applicator and you had to hold the top and push the bottom up.  Remove the applicator and toss it in the trash.

That would have been some good information to tell your daughter prior to leaving the bathroom!  I waddled back in, pushed, pulled and tossed it in the garage.  The faint wooziness slipped away and guess what?  I couldn’t feel the tampon…

I left the bathroom and joined the other Women of my family.  My mom left and my sister and I talked about the perks of a tampon.  I mean, I was a expert at this point.

A couple minutes later, I ran into my Dad in the kitchen.  Without taking his eyes off his dishes, he asked “Forgot about the applicator, huh?”

Moral of the story…

  • Periods show up.  Periods happen.  Some come early.  Some come late.  But periods are normal!
  • Makeshift toilet paper pads never work.  No matter how much you use or how tightly you pull up your pants.
  • Paul Harvey was a genius.
  • Womanhood does NOT smell like chemical Baby Powder.
  • In my entire life, I’ve only used three tampons with plastic applicators.
  • Show your girls how to use a tampon.  Or at least give them the instruction book.  Even if they’re 16.

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  • STACI KENNELLY - My mother informed me that she would never pick me up from school for this kind of thing ever again. Kindness wasn’t king in my childhood home.

    My first daughter was with her dad and sisters. He handled it like a champ. She didn’t want her sisters to know she had started, so he pretended it was “National Candy Day” and that they needed to go get candy at the drug store. While the younger two picked out candy, he helped our oldest buy pads and showed her what to do in the bathroom. Since then, starting your period was something you did with dad. And we still call having our period “National Candy Day”.October 20, 2017 – 7:57 pmReplyCancel

    • Erika - I have laughed and laughed over the sweetness of your National Candy Day ever since your comment! <3October 26, 2017 – 2:19 pmReplyCancel

 

From an early age, women are conditioned to feel shame.

  • Your knees are too big for that skirt.
  • You’re talented, but don’t get too vocal about it because it will make those not talented feel bad.
  • Oh no… I can see the outline of  my first bra through this shirt.  It’s summer so I can’t wear a sweater.  I guess I’ll spend recess fending off bra snaps…
  • “Ladies, don’t burp/talk loudly/use that word.”
  • You’ve come back from the bathroom to hear Paul whisper “Oh that’s why you’re bitchy.  You’re on the rag.”  “What are you talking about?!” you whisper back.  “Girls only take their purse to the bathroom when they’re on their period…”  So the next time, you sneak your purse from the ground.  You use your stealthiest moves to pull the tampon and shove it up your sleeve.  Raise your hand with a smile.  When you return, Paul keeps his mouth shut and you Shame high-five the Shame of having to sneak tampons to deal with your period.
  • Your friend shares “studies” and/or the horrible experiences of a Friend of a Friend who didn’t breastfeed/co-slept/circumcised/etc after you have a conversation about YOUR choice.
  • Why didn’t I tell him to Fuck Off?  Why did I laugh at that comment?

Every day girls and women are presented with a tray of broken mirrors: you don’t look the right way, you don’t use the right words, you don’t use the right tone, you did’t do the right thing.  Go on Ladies! Pick up your shards of Shame mirrors and try not to get cut.

But we don’t have to accept that mirror.  We don’t.  Some learn this lesson very early and some are still learning.  Talking about our commonalities can help lessen the shame.

Lately, I’m lost on my blog.  Older boys mean less family posts.  A lack of birth means no labor and delivery shots.  Rallies?  I’ve taken some time off from visiting those.  I guess you’ve got nothing to say, Erika.

Bullshit, Inner Erika voice!

Mommy-hood didn’t define me.  Births and rallies were icing on a cake.  The lack of those don’t define my voice.  So let’s talk about something I encounter with so many women my age. I had no clue about my grown-up period until other women my age said, “OH MY GOD!  Mine too!!  My OB said that same thing.  It’s shitty.”  Why didn’t I know this?  We don’t talk about something that happens EVERY SINGLE MONTH.

Listen, I’m not going to run a marathon without a tampon to bring awareness to accept periods.  Nope.  I’m awful at getting stains out so that’s a good waste of shorts and socks. Plus I hate to run.  But why not talk about it?  The majority of women on earth have a period 3-7 days every month for decades.  But try mentioning that when a man is in earshot…

Let’s talk about periods!  With no shame.

Instead of jumping ahead to my late thirties, I’ll start at the beginning.

Tomorrow tune in for my story.  I’ll make it entertaining.  Because honestly… It was.  After all the cramps, mood changes, prayers for the period to start, stained underwear, tears when the period did start, ruined pants, thousands spend on tampons, pad, cups, and for all the middle school Paul moments…  It’s our period.  It’s natural.  It’s educational.  It’s a good chunk of our life.  Let’s have a conversation.

And please.  Please feel free to share your own stories.  It’s no big deal.  You’ve got one.  Had one.  Will get one.  Me too, Ladies.  Me bloody too…*

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(Just a nice warm cup of tea for your cramps…  Mix in some bourbon and banish those assholes away.)

*if I was English

  • Tracy - I was intrigued to come and read this particularly because I’m just starting to get into preparing my daughter for the eventuality. Looking forward to your next post. Love your words about shame.October 19, 2017 – 12:56 pmReplyCancel

  • Anonymous - Keep writing what your mind revels! I love your voiceOctober 20, 2017 – 10:32 amReplyCancel

Last weekend I participated in a three day yoga workshop.  During the final day, the teacher explained how she had asked other students to keep a journal.  Write down their every thought.  Or everything they watched on tv.  Or all of their cleaning products for a year.  It was explained that during the year, you’d start to recognize patterns of thought.  Realize emotions are fleeting.  And at the end a gratitude for the practice.  For a year, pick a topic and write it down.  Every day.  For a year.

 

A year?!  “Umm…  How big are these journals?” I asked.  Multi volumes of journals.  

 

I sat there exhausted by the idea.  A whole year of my thoughts?!  Holy hell.  Who does that?  And for what good reason?!  Blah blah blah gratitude for cleaning… Why the fuck would I care to write tiny details for 365 days?

 

Oh…

Oh…  Wait.  

Just wait, Erika…

Oh.  You do that.  You understand the Why and the How.

And just like that I had a moment.

 

The reason I couldn’t see it while staring at this smart woman was because I wasn’t doing the work on my 365.  I was clicking, but NOT doing the work.  My camera had almost a month’s worth of images.  I’ve never gone that long between dumps and edits.  This time I had.  Most of the days, I took one photo.  Not giving a shit about composition or subject.  A few days, I took 5 only because I’m pretty sure I missed the focus on ALL of them.  Lots of boring food shots and blurry cat photos.  So I clicked everyday and felt smug about that fact.  But I didn’t care for the photos, so I didn’t do the work.  I couldn’t see the practice.

 

Without editing the photos or even culling them I missed my moments.  It was just a string of days stacking up on my camera.  Not seeing them made me ignore the point of a 365.  The point is to find gratitude and acceptance with your life. To notice your misses, not dwell on it and to move on.  It’s not to create 365 amazing images.  Not to create a portfolio of work.  That kind of pressure kills every 365 on Day 52 or 211.  You pick.

Sure some shots are beautiful because that’s the deal with life.  You get some beautiful moments strung in between the crap inducing moments.  In between the One Click days, were reminders of my life.  How my youngest continues to cross his feet when he builds lego.  Or how my oldest fights the camera and then still mugs the camera.  A cute moment when my youngest greeted the cat before hugging me.  A self portrait after completing said yoga workshop.  Remember that night I said, “Fuck it” and ate pizza with cheese?  I do.  It was Day 83 and it was no big deal.  A brother hug that was a gateway for wrestling and an annual tradition nearing a 20 year mark.  Those moments happened between the misses.  Some were perceived as misses only to see their glory beyond my initial emotion and the tiny LCD.  Those were my moments.  And I created them for a reason.  

Those moments of frustration are bookended by beautiful moments.   Frozen just waiting for me to notice.  But I couldn’t notice until I forced myself to sit with them.  Worrying about focus, shitty light, bad composition, icky scenes were keeping me from seeing the truth.  Perfection does not birth a full heart.

You have to do the work.

Make mistakes.  Learn and let it go.

Find some gratitude.

See your own truth and sit with it.

Accept it.
And give birth to your very own full heart.

 

That’s what a 365 always teaches me when I’m willing to listen.  

It was time to listen again.

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I guess if I’m being honest and you’re still around…

I could take away the photography angle and apply it to real life.
Notice it.  Sit with it.

And do the damn work.

 

At my births no one said, “Hey, Sweetie wanna see your placenta?”  I would have gasped in horror and politely said, “No thank you. Remember I wanted him spotless before you gave him to me?  And you still gave him to me all gooey…  You’re lucky I didn’t let him slide right off me!”

So photographing my first birth was the first time, I had actually seen a placenta.  And it was memorizing…  Even for a someone who got warned all the time, “YOU don’t do well around blood!”  But I was captivated by the placenta. I kept thinking, “What is the midwife doing?  What’s she actually looking for?  How can she see anything?  Oh.  My.  God.  She’s lifting it off the floor?!  It’s gonna rip.  It’s gonna rip!  Blood is gonna go everywhere!  Woah…  Look how strong it is!!”

Examining the placenta is still one of my favorites parts of a birth shoot.  And it doesn’t get much love from birth photographers.  I get it.  There’s more tender, real, and emotional parts to share.

But the placenta…  People, the placenta is life!

This life sustaining organ is also a pretty decent metaphor for life.

It’s messy.  Confusing.  Dark.  Fragile looking.

But look closer…  Please.  Look closer.

It’s also beautiful.  Mysterious.  Powerful.  And gives you exactly what you need.

How can one not be in awe of the placenta?!

Look past the blood and notice its beauty and strength.

After all it gave you your beauty and strength.  Honor it.

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  • Jill - Love your work! I’ve been flowing yo since I took your breakout on CM. I also love your unapologetic t-shirt. Where did you buy it from?August 10, 2017 – 10:45 amReplyCancel

  • Anonymous - LOVE this ❤August 10, 2017 – 6:13 pmReplyCancel

  • Anonymous - It’s gross but so incredibly awesome. Like the real definition of awesome. To stand in total awe of. Man.August 11, 2017 – 12:22 amReplyCancel

Birth is completely unpredictable.  You can guess.  But in the end, it’s that.  A big ole Guess.

When will labor start?  First labor 27 hours and the second only 2 hours? Contractions are really close and steady, but I’m only 3 cm?!  Contractions JUST started and I’m pushing?!  So-and-So’s started like this so mine will too?  Nope.

Ladies, it’s a solid guess.  And you just have to roll with it.  Understand “rolling with it” and your labor and delivery will be easier.  Not pain-free, but easier.

I got the Labor Started text, but something told me to go.  I hit the road and I got the next text “She’s complete.  Get here now.”  Not the text you want during a rainy rush hour.  But you drive and roll with it.

So did Melanie and Michael.  He rushed home.  She didn’t worry about setting up the birth pool.  Found an old tablecloth from a previous birthday party and laid it on the bed.  No use ruining good sheets and a mattress.  I showed up and she was calm but in full labor.  There was no smile to greet me.  She was ready to meet her third baby.  She was in her strength.  She was already accessing her power.  Silent.  Strong breaths.  Demanded silence and asked for comfort.  She was in the birth zone.  For a split second she questioned her ability (every woman does).  Amy and Michael supported and reminded her, “YOU CAN DO THIS.  Meet your baby after this next push.”

And then I saw it come over her body.  She knew it was time.

Minutes later she held her baby and introduced her two girls to their new sibling.

I photographed her second birth and she let Daughter 1 announce the Baby 2’s gender.  I loved that scene and was even cuter because she announced the wrong gender.  Easily done, Folks.  But everyone laughed.  Baby 3’s gender would be revealed by Daughter 2.  “It’s a boy.”  Everyone reacts.  Two girls and a boy!  A couple minutes later, the midwife whispers to Michael, “You might want to check again…”  History repeated itself and the room erupts with laughter.  They rolled with it.

Look at those smiles?  Look at the love?

This family rolls with life because they have each other.

And because they have faith.

It was an honor and joyous to watch the first time.

It’s inspiring to watch a second time.

Thanks for letting me roll with you

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Special thanks to Well Rounded Midwifery.  Having a baby soon?  Call her first.  And then call me.  You won’t regret either call.  Just saying…