At 16 years old many important teenage milestones had been checked off the list:
Drivers permit? Check.
Sweet 16 co-ed birthday bash? You bet.
First kiss? Well…yeah. A few years ago.
But there was one important thing that had hadn’t happened yet. One big thing. No I’m not talking about getting into an R-rated movie or being invited to that kegger in the woods (this was the mid-‘80s, people).
I’m talking about getting my period.
If getting your period meant that you were now a woman, that meant that despite my big boobs and insanely-intense interest in boys and Mick Jagger, I somehow remained a little girl. My gang of girlfriends, along with what seemed to be the rest of the world, had morphed into adulthood – what was the matter with me?
I had been to the gynecologist who said to be patient, every girl develops differently, it would come, just give it time. I started getting sympathy cramps when my best friend Susanne had them. I started wearing a maxi pad “just in case.” I started adding to my prayers at night…God bless my family and my friends and let me get my period like everybody else. Oh, and pleeease let me meet Mick Jagger. Amen.
But the prayers weren’t helping. And at 16 it was feeling rather late for there still to be no red flag. On my next visit to the gynecologist she did something that kind of blew my mind.
She put me on the pill.
She explained to me that the pill would regulate my cycle, maybe give my body the little “kick start” that it needed. Get the “pipes working” “flush me out” and “trick my body” into making things happen. Maybe after one or two months, we could try going off of it, see if anything happened naturally.
That was all white noise to me. All I knew was that I was going to be on birth control pills and I wasn’t even having sex. THIS WAS GREAT! None of my friends were on the pill yet, wait until I tell them! I could flash that little pack around like it was the newest, hottest must-have accessory – as cool as a banana clip or the Pretty in Pink cassette tape.
This. Was. Great.
The pill did what it was supposed to – success! Finally I was getting my period on a regular basis and I felt normal. But there was baggage that came along with going on the pill and getting my period. Like weight gain, unwanted hair in really weird places (hooray!) and awful cystic acne.
If this was what becoming a woman was all about I would have happily gone back to being a little girl.
Back to the doctor we went, it had been a few months and the doctor suggested that I go off of the pill – a little test to see if the trick worked on my body and maybe Mother Nature would lend a hand and my period would start coming naturally. She also gave me a referral to a dermatologist for my painful, terrible complexion and sudden facial hair issues.
The dermatologist was a strange little man who prescribed me a pill called Minocin, and a cream, Retin-A, for my acne. He told me to invest in an Epilady and a good pair of tweezers. He injected my acne cysts with cortisone injections. It was painful and I felt like a human pin cushion.
I got in the backseat of the car with my mom that day, I was supposed to go in late to school after my doctor’s appointment. I started crying, because I didn’t want to go to school with my terrible skin and also…what was wrong with me? What was wrong with my body? Why couldn’t I just get my period once a month like every other teenage girl on the planet? Why was all of this weird stuff happening to me?
My mom let me and my terrible skin and my non-ovulating teenage body stay home from school that day. One of the nicest things she ever did.
Months go by and my little experiment was not turning out as planned. No period without the pills. So back on birth control I go…then a few months pass and we try again. Then more bad acne. And mood swings. And hair on my lip.
Finally my doctor sent me for blood work and it turns out my pituitary gland is dormant. What the hell did that mean? All I remember is that I was taken out for frozen yogurt after that doctor visit (again, it was the ‘80s) and it had come up that my hormones were out of whack, I had elevated testosterone levels and down the road, I may have trouble having children.
So I stayed on the pill. I stayed on the pill for a loooong time. I was tired of experimenting with my body, going off and on all those hormones. It must have been so confusing to my insides.
I stayed on the pill and my period came like clockwork. No guesswork as to the week it would come, no PMS and no real cramps to speak of. For years I stayed on the pill – until I was in my mid-30’s when my husband and I wanted to have a baby.
This would be the ultimate test! After 10-plus years of my being tricked, what would happen with my body? Would I finally get a period naturally? Would I get pregnant right away?
All those years later, my body still wasn’t fooled. No period. No ovulation. No baby. Nothing happened.
We tried naturally, then went through year or so of fertility treatments and were lucky to get pregnant.
I didn’t go back on the pill – I was breastfeeding and even after that was over I kind of just wanted to give my body a break. I was tired of tricking my insides – I wanted to give it a long needed treat of no added hormones. It felt good not to be taking a pill every day.
Then…something else happened.
One day in the shower I started feeling sick. Like in the morning. And my boobs felt extra painful. Both of these symptoms occurred early in my pregnancy.
Could I be be?! NO…that was impossible. Look at all the trouble we went through to get pregnant. I can’t get pregnant naturally anyway. I don’t ovulate. I don’t have a period. So no…again, that would be impossible.
After another day or so with the water from the shower making me almost burst into tears when it hit my chest, I dug out an old pregnancy test from under the sink just for fun, and to put my mind at rest.
And I was pregnant.
My husband ran up to the store to buy another test and and yep, I was pregnant.
We had a BOGO baby. A “buy one get one” from all that money we spent at the reproductive medicine center. All those fertility tests, all those treatments.
My pituitary gland had finally woken up.
And after my second son was born, a few months later something else great happened.
I GOT MY PERIOD.
Most women are unhappy after nine months of not having a one, but I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
I felt like I was that 16-year-old girl again, like it was the first time. But this time it was real.