Periods are not Cancer.

When I was in 5th grade I unknowingly brought home a note to be signed by a parent so I could attend the maturation clinic.  I had no idea what maturation meant in that context and dutifully got the note signed and returned it without much thought.  A few weeks later I got the scare of my young prepubescent life.

Along with the other girls in my grade I was herded into the gym, handed a small gift bag (well this is exciting) and told to sit.  The boys were sent to a different room and I remember hearing uncomfortable laughter as I watched them gather in their designated area.

In the gym, the school nurse and another lady got up and began a medical presentation.  They said bad words like “uterus” and “vagina” and I became increasingly confused and uncomfortable.  These were words that I had only heard a handful of times and never fully understood.  The nurse pulled out a chart with tables and graphs that showed the average time a girl would start her period and a woman would hit menopause (what pause?) and no longer have a period.  Start time, between ages 9-12, end time, around 60 years old.  The nurse then instructed us that we would need to shower every day when we were having our period.

Shower every day?  This part freaked me out for two reasons.  First, I was 10 and showering was more of a chore than anything else.  At that age I was lucky if I showered or bathed more than twice a week.  I would take the obligatory bath on Saturday night to get ready for church on Sunday but rarely thought of bathing at any other time.  Secondly…from what I understood my period could start any day (I was already one year past the earliest age she told us!) and would plague me every day of my life until I was a grandma.  Somehow I missed the part where it would only be once a month.  I wasn’t so concerned about that bleeding every day thing because the nurses were spouting off facts like it was totally normal, but showering every day would be such a pain in the ass (or should I say butt?  ass would not have been in my vocabulary when I was 10 without a lot of fear and shame).

Toward the end of the presentation the nurse pulled out some underwear and a pad.  At this point I was plotting ways to quietly and discreetly leave the room or disappear and pretend like I’d never been invited to this whatever clinic.  The nurse did not read my thoughts and stop the presentation.  She simply slipped the paper off the pad revealing the sticky lining and skillfully slipped the pad into the underwear.  “So simple girls!”

When I left that room I was more ashamed of my body than ever (what the hell just happened?) and more curious too.  I suddenly realized the gift bag hanging loosely about my arm and was incredibly embarrassed to be holding it.  I vowed that I would not look inside until I got home and could hide in my room.  I did not want anyone to know that I knew about periods and I did not want anyone to see me open that bag.

I rushed into my room and soon as I got home and emptied the contents of the bag on my bed.  There was a small booklet, a couple of pads, and a trial size stick of deodorant.  I read the book while blushing and feeling like I was doing something wrong.  A couple of times I heard footsteps outside my door and quickly stuffed the contraband under my pillow.  Luckily no one caught me.  The book was a cute cartoon story about how much girls loved their periods and were so excited to be women.  When I was done reading it I threw it away.  I stashed the pads and deodorant in the back of my sock drawer and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

Fast forward 2 years.

The summer before 7th grade I started to have cramping in my lower abdomen.  Some days it was really bad, made it hard to stand up straight and walk normally, other days it was more endurable.  I mentioned it to my mom off and on because I was sure my appendix was about to kill me.  She didn’t seem worried though so I would simply lay down when it hurt intensely until the pain subsided and would continue playing when I could.  I woke up one morning after a few weeks of this abdominal pain and felt much better. Yay!!  Then I went to my morning bladder emptying and saw tons of weird brown stuff in my underwear.  I sat on the toilet in disbelief.

A few weeks earlier I had finished reading a book about a girl who was dying of cancer.  She had known she was sick because her pee had been brown.  When I saw the brown stuff all over my underwear and clothes I at first thought that I had somehow pooped my pants while I slept, then I was suddenly certain that I had cancer.  I was going to die.  I sat on the toilet for a minute while I peed (not noticing that my pee was nice and yellow) and cried.  Then, when I went to wipe I noticed blood on the tissue.  And that’s when that fateful day in fifth grade came flooding back.  This must be that period thing that the nurse tried to warn me about.

I was immediately mortified.  I had no idea what to do.  I pulled up my ruined underwear and my pajama bottoms and ran to my room.  I grabbed some fresh undergarments and hurried back to the bathroom as nonchalantly as possible.  I didn’t want anyone to ask what I was doing.  I traded out the dirty underoos for clean ones and hid the gross pair as far down in the trash can as I could.  I stuffed some tissue in my pants to catch the blood incase there was more coming out and then I sat in the bathroom with the door locked trying to figure out what to do next.

I did not want to tell my mom.  But I was terrified.  Should I say period to her?  Would she be mad?  Is period a bad word?  Is there a better way to say it?  Maybe I should just keep the tissue in there and it will stop soon.  Wait, not it won’t…it’s going to last until I’m 60.  That’s it, I want to die.  Or be a boy.  Because this is weird and scary and maybe it’s actually cancer.  I stewed for a long time.

period

Then I walked out to the nearby kitchen and said, quietly, “mom, I think I have my period”

“Did you take care of it” she said.

I said “yes” and headed back into the bathroom.  I opened the cupboards under the sink and pulled out the pads boxes that were under there.  I had seen them in there before but never paid much attention.  I sat on the floor and read the back of the box. I cried.  I hated myself.  I wanted to be a boy.  I pulled out a pad the size of a $2000 Serta mattress, peeled it the way the nurse from the 5th grade ambush had, and stuck it in my underwear.  I spent the rest of the day in my room, reading cleaning, and stressing about that pad that I was certain everyone could tell I was wearing and was super grossed out by.

Ten days later that period stopped and I made sense of the fact that I would have them once a month, not every day.  Small consolation.

My periods plagued me for years after.  I was not aware that tampons were a possibility until I was well into high school and I was too afraid to use them until after I was married.  My flow was incredibly heavy and borderline hemorrhage and I had more accidents than I care to admit.  When I would have one I would fake sick from school and go home for the day.  I would NEVER tell anyone the real reason why.

If I started my period at school or away from home and had forgotten to tuck some mattresses into my backpack I would fake sick and get home as soon as possible.  I would never ask for a pad from a friend or the school nurse, no one.  I didn’t talk about it with my sisters or friends.  I didn’t talk about it all.

I once slept over at a friends house in junior high.  I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I had started my period.  I had not come prepared but figured, no big deal, I’ll just find a pad in their bathroom, they should have one.  There was just one box of tampons on a shelf.  I was doomed.  I packed my bag, told my friend I wasn’t feeling well, and walked home in the dark, alone, at 2am so I could get a pad.

Periods were constantly an area of shame and embarrassment.  I would cry month after month when my period started and long to be a boy.

I do not want that for my daughters.

I do not.

Periods are a subject that is becoming more and more talked about.  And thank goodness because it’s so normal and natural.  In our family we talk about it at the dinner table.  With all of our kids.  I draw diagrams.  We laugh, we ask questions.  We talk about arm pit hair and cramps and we talk about boys and penises.  We talk about the beauty and power in our bodies and their ability to carry children and how that wouldn’t be possible without periods.  We just talk.

periods1

Because, I think it’s important that girls understand from a very young age, that periods are in fact, not cancer.

 

 

 

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Now What?!

This post is going to be hard to write, and maybe hard to read.  I have written about this particular experience before but only anonymously.  It’s time that I write about it here.

(side not: I realize that women are not the only ones who are sexually abused but my post will focus on women)

trigger

A few days ago a friend of mine posted this on facebook:
“it’s as much a women’s fault for not standing up and going to the police, talking to a journalist, or forming a committee and suing because of these legions of men who violated them in some way. I’m tired of this woman/victim thing, and they are a disgrace to their daughters and all young girls who need direction. Why has any time elapsed since they were groped, harrassed, and beyond? I am as sickened by the women in these allegations as I am by the perpetrators. Parents, pay attention. Only children can be victimized. I am an adult, the same as any other adult anywhere in the world, and I will not be a victim.
Some will say, ” I would have lost my job”, “no one would believe me”. Then live in the shadows with the grief this experience caused you to save your job and make sure you still have the friends you want. But don’t go putting your decision on anyone else but yourself.”

When I read it I was, at first, enraged by her words.  Women who are sexually assaulted or raped or groped are never at fault for what happened, period.  And while my stance on that will never change, after a weekend of reading the comments that she and others made to the original post I understand better what she was trying to say.

When I was 20 years old I was about to finish up college and earn my associate’s degree.  As the end of spring semester approached I knew I only had six more credits to go until I graduated so instead of taking the summer off and coming back in the fall I decided to attend one summer term.  The summer term was only six weeks long and I did not have enough money left to pay for housing for an additional six weeks.  I worked things out with my boyfriend Brian and his family so I could live at their house for the six week summer term.  They lived just outside of town and I’d spent a lot of time with them during the previous semester while Brian and I dated.  It seemed like the ideal solution.  I’d been dating Brian long enough that marriage had been discussed and I thought this a good opportunity to get to know his family better.  Brian had already graduated and would be moving south and living with my family while he worked for the summer, so I would stay in his old room.

There was a standing joke in Brian’s family about my sleeping habits.  I was prone to staying up late and getting up early so I was often tired.  Because of that I could fall asleep and sleep very soundly if given the opportunity.  This joke was taken advantage of by Brian’s high school age brother Brett…

About half way through the six week term I woke one night, after having been asleep for hours, because someone was in my bed.  I lay as still as possible and realized that it was Brett.  As his hands and lips moved around my partially disrobed body I could feel his breath on my face as it escalated and he started to talk to himself.  I had no idea what to do and remember not moving because I didn’t want him to know that I knew he was there.  I didn’t want to embarrass  him.  After a few minutes I decided that I should pretend like I was starting to wake so I shifted in the bed a little.  Brett froze and lay still next to me for a few seconds before continuing.  So I shifted again.  This time he lay still and then slowly slunk to the floor and crawled out of the room.  I pulled my shirt back down over my breasts and breathed a sigh of relief.  He was gone.  I would say nothing and pretend like it never happened.  I only had a few weeks left in the term and then I’d be out of the house.  No big deal.

Then it happened again.  And again.  Each time I would wake up with his breath on my face and his hands on my body.  I finally decided I should say something to someone.  So I told Brian.  Brian told me that Brett had a problem with pornography and that I should confront him about what happened.  I did not want to do that and had no idea how but finally got the courage to a few days later.  I walked downstairs after a long day at school and saw Brett sitting on the couch.  I turned to him and said “I know what you did.”  He stared at me for a second and then apologized.  And that was that.  I figured that I’d done what I could.

After I finished up the summer term I moved back home and Brian and I picked up dating where we’d left off.  One weekend we decided to go camping with friends.  And while we were camping, and I was asleep, I woke up with someones hands on my body.  This time it was Brian.  I had confided in him about Brett, told him that I didn’t like what had happened, and here he was, taking advantage of me.  At a small campsite, while our friends slept yards away, Brian raped me.  I’m not sure if he thought I would just sleep through it or if he didn’t even care.  I stayed still and focused on keeping my breath slow and even so he wouldn’t know I was awake.

A few weeks later he dumped me.  He said that I was too sickly and that’s not what he wanted in a wife.

Since that time I have told a few people what happened.  I didn’t even tell Donnie until quite recently.

Brian and Brett are not an anomaly, sadly.  They are part of a large group of men who take advantage of women and move on with their lives with little to no consequences.  They don’t think what they did was that bad.  I recently engaged in a series of facebook messages with Brian where he said that he hoped his “curiosity” didn’t hurt me in anyway.  He brushed off his lewd act as curiosity.  Sickening.

change

So when my friend posted on facebook that I’m as much to blame for what he did as he is.  I was angry.  And hurt.  But after sitting with those feelings for a few days and talking to Donnie about it a lot, I have decided that my friend is not trying to hurt all the women out there who’ve kept abuse a secret, she simply wants change.  If men can get away with these things then they will continue to do them without much thought and no remorse.  It is time for women to speak up.  But what does that mean?  For women in general…for me?

What is the right thing for me to do.  I can’t go back in time and go to the police immediately after what happened.  I no longer have that option.  So what do I do now?  What action can I take to not let this cycle continue where men get to hurt women and then go on with their lives like nothing happened?

Do I go to the police now?  Is that even legally possible?  How do these men get held accountable for what they did?

If any of you have answers I would love to hear them.  I do not want to be the silent victim anymore.  I don’t want to sit back and give men the idea that women are objects to be used.  I want to speak up.  I just don’t know how to be affective.  But if I stay silent because “it’s been so long” and all the other women who’ve been hurt in the past, do the same thing.  Nothing will ever change.

This is me not wanting to be part of the problem anymore.  Help me.

I Wist! (a story and a coupon code!)

I was helping my 9 year old son Donnie clean out his backpack a few days ago.  He was handing me a bunch of papers and in the midst of the stack was this piece of art…

iwistsmall

When I saw it my heart broke.  My son is a good kind hearted kid.  He is emotional and tender.  He cries when he’s sad and I don’t tell him to “buck up” or “be a man”.  He loves to pretend.  He has a hard time sitting still and listening for long periods of time.  He knows a lot about Pokemon, and did before Pokemon Go came out.  He loves to play legos, for hours, and for the past few years has been using his birthday money to buy lego sets.  He has a hard time reading.  He doesn’t care what his clothes look like as long as they feel right.  He loves to talk.  He is very passionate.  And he has a hard time making friends.  But it’s all he wants.

When I posted the above image on my Facebook wall the response was overwhelming and somewhat unanimous, we all “wist” for friends.  Most of us feel lonely. Forgotten.  Overlooked.  Unloved.  Passed by.  Unworthy. To some extent or another.

I know I do.  I have a few really good authentic friends.  Girls I can tell anything to and they are really there.  They hear me, they hold space for me.  But they all live so damn far away.  And sometimes I really want one of those friends to go to the park with me but Idaho and Arizona are not a day trip away.  And sometimes that thought makes me REALLY mad at God.  Like…why would He bless me with these great friends who I rarely get to see?  Why?!

I don’t know the answer to that.

So I stay home.  Or I do go out but it’s just with my own kids and I don’t get to know other people, other women.  Because I want real close relationships and I want then RIGHT NOW.  But they take time and they take bravery and I don’t want to wait.  I want to skip right past the pleasantries and the talk of the weather-because if I want to know about the weather I will just check the app on my phone or go outside-and I want people to know me, and I want to know them.

I don’t want to be lonely anymore and I don’t want other people to be sitting in their homes, behind their devices like I am, feeling lonely either.

So here is what I’m going to do.  I am going to encourage all of you (and me of course) to put down your devices and electronics and get in touch with someone, a friend or someone who you want to get to know better, and do some art together.

For the next two weeks if you use the code “iwistihadfriend” in my etsy shop you can get 50% off your purchase.  That means you can buy one drawing for the price of two, one for you, one for a friend.  Then, you need to actually call that person (or text them because you better bet I’m probably not calling anyone…too much anxiety), and get together and fill in the drawings.  At the same time, in the same room.  And maybe, you will be able to talk to them and really get to know them.  

I am going to commit to doing the same (aaahhh…this is freaking scary!).  Then, when you are done, tell me about your experience.  I’d love to hear how friends are being made.  How maybe comfort zones are being breached.  Involve your kids.  Involve your neighbors.  Let’s be the change and maybe, just maybe, help one person who is sitting alone right now in the quiet of their own thoughts and “wisting” they could just be seen and heard.

If I get some stories I will feature them here.  Or, you can write about it on your own Facebook page or blog or other social media.  I will use the hashtag #iwistihadfriend.  I am always amazed by the courage that I see in others.  And sharing our experiences is part of building connections.  So let’s get out there and be the friend we “wist” for.

Side note:  I had some folks ask about buying my son’s art.  It can be purchased here.  Any proceeds will go directly to him (to further his art career and his lego collection, lol).

xoxox Meg

The Secret to Beauty.

 

beauty

This morning as I was fairly mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed I passed an article that claimed to have beauty secrets from India. This is a common occurrence …articles that tout unknown products and rituals that will bring beauty. I’m sure there are numerous articles spouting the statistics of how often I am barraged by similar posts. And I’m sure it’s a lot. I am fairly careful about who I associate with on Facebook and what kind of advertising I allow in my news feed because I am ridiculously susceptible to such blather. I often finish a Facebook session feeling bad about myself.

I get a similar feeling when I go to the mall. For the past six years we lived on a remote island in Alaska and access to stores with mannequins was nonexistent unless I was traveling. Now that I’m back in the “lower 48” though I can visit big stores as often as I please. And I’m realizing that I need to be careful. When the weather was unbearably hot I decided to take my two youngest to the play area at the mall so they could expend some energy. We spent a good amount of time enjoying the small kid area with toys and slides but also walked the halls with the numerous retired people trying to simultaneously exercise and beat the heat. And after about 30 minutes of filling my head with images of skinny mannequins-“Mom, where are there heads?”-I realized that my thoughts were not positive or uplifting. I was suddenly feeling like I needed new clothes. And not only that but a different house with certain scented candles and well placed decor. I am so quick to fall into the trap of “I’m not good enough”.

Whether it’s Facebook, or the mall, or *gasp* Target, I am unhealthily weak when it comes to remembering my value after being faced with ads and fancy clothes and beautiful trappings.

I don’t think I’m the only one.

So, this morning after seeing the glaring article title about beauty secrets I stopped and reminded myself that…

Beauty is not a secret! And to be beautiful I don’t need secrets. Or certain clothes. Or that perfect flower arrangement.

Don’t get me wrong,  being surrounded by beautiful bits that remind me of God’s amazing creations is not bad.  Having a house where I feel comfortable and safe, where there is a certain level of organization and objects that spur positive feelings is good and even important. Having clothes that fit and feel pleasant on my body is integral. But there’s a line somewhere that I need to stop crossing.  On the other side of that line is a place where I have to live beyond my means to fit in.  Where I have to starve my body to make sure I’m pleasing to others.  Where I give in to the pressure to know and follow religiously the secrets that will seemingly make me beautiful.  Where I become a slave to money and magazines and facebook articles and fitness routines that tell me what I have to have to be liked by those around me.

On the positive side of that line though, is where the real beauty is.  Where the truth is.  When I’m there, in that good place, I’m not only more accepting of myself but others as well.  In that place the secret to beauty isn’t a secret at all but a commitment to live openly and honestly, a promise to be true to myself and love my body for the places it can take me and the ability it gives me to be present and love others, an agreement with my inner beauty to let others see it on the outside and to simply show up in my life.  And for me, that is a much more rewarding place to be.

I yearn for the day when I can look objectively at all the negative messages that are hurled at me because of the world I live in, the world we all live in.  But for now, I am going to take it one step at a time.  I’m going to talk to myself and my body the way I would a dear friend.  I’m going to slow down when I’m presented with the next secret to success and happiness and tell myself a truth, just one, any truth to bring my mind back to the present moment.  The moment where I’m good enough, beautiful enough, and loved enough.  The moment where I remember that beauty is not a secret or made by secrets or kept only for those who know the secrets.  Beauty is love and truth and authenticity and vulnerability.  And every single one of us have the ability to show and experience the elegance inherent in being true to ourselves and exhibiting our unique beauty.

Here’s to living a beautiful messy life surrounded by people as imperfect and beautiful as I am.  I don’t need the secrets.  I don’t. I need the truth, because that’s where the beauty is that reminds me how amazing all of the differences are and how exciting life is when I show up.  I am beautiful.  And so are you!

 

My Friend Lily.

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I have a friend.  Her name is Lily.  And I’ve never actually met her before.  Or her mom Sarah.  I came in contact with Sarah on Facebook.  Because she saw one of my drawings and we got to talking (aka typing to each other) and we’ve been friends ever since.

Lily is having surgery this week and so Sarah asked me to draw something inspiring for Lily before the big day and I was humbled to be  part of something so big and scary and important for their family.

And this, my friends, is a big part of why I draw.  When I drew my first portrait it was because I needed strength.  I needed a reminder that I’m worthy and important and loved.  Since then I’ve learned more and more about the power of art.  The power it has to connect people and inspire people and strengthen our hearts.

So Lily, this one is for you.  I pray that you will have comfort and peace during surgery and that the doctors will be calm and precise.  I hope for a magical recovery for you with healing and love.  Here’s to hoping we can meet in person some day!

xoxoxo Meggan

#LoveforLily