A few weeks after my accident, the nurses in the spinal unit were preparing to get me up one morning when I noticed them giving each other a fleeting glance. One of them asked me if I had any pads. For a second I was confused. Then the full impact of what she was saying hit me – like a ton of bricks – right between the eyes. I was stunned. I just shook my head and stared at her, as if in a trance. Oh my God. You are not serious. No. No. No! I cannot cope with this right now. I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t know how. Oh God, please just take me.
I suddenly felt even more self-conscious. I wished the nurses would just cover me up and go away. I wanted to die – and not only of embarrassment. I realized then that I cannot deal with this on top of everything else – ever.
I’ll never forget the day I sheepishly told my mother that I started my first period. Her reaction took me completely by surprise. She jumped up off the edge of the bed, where she had been sitting drying her hair – a big smile on her face – tears in her eyes – as she embraced me warmly. Oh my darling, that’s fantastic, she cooed. I rolled my eyes behind her back. I was highly irritated. What the hell was she celebrating? I was bleeding all over my freaking panties. Dis-gus-ting! Yuck!
She immediately announced it – proudly – to Dad. Guess what Darling? Your daughter has just become a young woman. Dad looked a little awkward, but smiled and said Oh, that’s nice! He picked up the car keys and mumbled something about waiting in the car as he skedaddled outside. I wanted to die of embarrassment. I had purposely waited until Dad was out of the room before telling her. Sheesh – Mom – what were you thinking? Huh! How am I supposed to look Dad in the eye again without blushing half to death? The only reason I had told her, in the first place, was because I needed a pad or something before going off to school.
The first time I heard anything about menstruation was at school from a teacher. I remember sitting amongst the other grade 7 girls, nodding my head and pretending to understand everything the teacher was saying. I had no idea. I was so naïve. I remember trying to find a book in the library, a few days later. But, as soon as anybody came in, I would immediately move away from that section. I eventually gave up and gleaned as much information as I could from my friends at school. A part of me was angry at my mother for not telling me about this. Another part of me was so relieved that I didn’t have to sit through one of those talks with her. We just did not talk about those things. I think I would have died had she tried to even mention the subject.
My mother is old-fashioned and she didn’t like the idea of me inserting foreign objects, like tampons, into my vagina. But, I was a gymnast and I was always prancing around in a leotard. A week before my first major competition I went into a panic as I realized that I was going to be on my period. One of the other gymnasts – an older girl, I had grown quite close to – sat outside the bathroom door – for more than an hour – encouraging me – and coaching me on how to stick a tampon into my vagina. I sat on the loo crying my eyes out, swearing and cursing Eve for eating that damn apple. Thank God my friend was patient and I eventually got the freaking thing inside of me. It felt horrible – really horrible!
For years, I hated that time of the month. As far as I was concerned it was a curse which seriously messed with my head – my body felt fat, bloated and foreign which impeded my sport – and the moodiness interfered with my being. For seven days, every month, my life was hell. Oh God, why was I born a girl?
Then there were times, after I became sexually active with my first love, when I held my breath each time I went to the loo and would breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of the first traces of blood on my panties. Thank God I’m not pregnant.
Then a few years later I married him and I grew to celebrate my period as a sign of fertility and my femininity. I had definitely planned on having at least two babies and I loved the idea that my husband was intrigued by it all – despite his snide PMS comments – which I hated. But, I liked the sense of belonging it gave me – connecting me to the sisterhood. Then there was the primal power and control it gave me to manipulate him – and myself. Oh hell it was a good excuse not to have to go to the gym or have sex every now and again. Oh God, if I could go back, I promise I would go to the gym and have sex with my husband every single day.
It’s common for a lady to stop menstruating for a period of time after experiencing a trauma or injury like mine. I had not even given it a second thought. There was just so much else to deal with. So when I started my period again a few weeks after my accident, I was shocked. To be honest, a part of me wanted to punch the air with my fist and yell, I told you so! I knew this was only temporary. You see, my body is getting better. I’m going to walk out of here –soon. But, at the same time, I wanted to die. I was barely able to cope with the fact that I was paralyzed from my neck down. I couldn’t even wipe my tears, let alone my own ass. Now this? Forget it!
I learned later that although the spinal cord may be damaged and the body is paralyzed, everything else is still working exactly the same as previously. On the inside of the body, life goes on – as before.
The nurses arranged for a gynecologist to see me and she suggested the contraceptive, Depo-Provera – a three-month injection which should keep me from having periods. It was great. For six years it worked. No period. No bleeding. Nothing.
Then one day everything changed – again. I woke up one morning and I was bleeding. It was as if my body just decided, Fuck you Tracy! I’m tired of being suppressed by this drug. I’m going to do things my way from now on. I felt so confined – so trapped – in this useless body – which insisted on stripping me of the little dignity I had managed to scrape back together since my accident. I have never hated as much as I hated my body at that time.
Three periods down the line – and unbearable humiliation – I was ready to drive my wheelchair in front of a truck. I had had enough. My care assistants were not equipped to deal with the changes in my physical body, let alone put up with my horrific mood swings, anger and depression relating to having to deal with menstruating again.
So, off I went back to the gynecologist, where I made it clear that he has to put a stop to this monthly bleeding – now. He discussed the various options with me and we decided that he would remove my uterus vaginally that very same week. I think he could see that I was at my wits end.. He made sure that I understood that I was a high-risk candidate for anesthetic. But, quite frankly, I didn’t care. For me, the choice was easy – I either stop menstruating or I want to die – as simple as that.
The day before my op, I spent time with my parents, my close friends and I made Chad kiss me over and over again – just in case. I was scared shitless. I didn’t really want to die – yet – believe it or not. I had come to terms with being a quadriplegic and I had managed to rebuild a new life in this pathetic body. And there were, to my astonishment, far more joys to living life paralyzed from the neck down than I had ever imagined.
I made it through the op. Obviously. Otherwise you would not be reading this. And I recovered well. But, I struggled emotionally for a long while afterwards. I always wanted to have another baby. I think I was very much in denial. Part of me still believed that I was going to get up and walk again one day. I guess, I felt as if I was adding another loss to my already long list. Although it was not impossible for me to have another baby, as I was, it would have been quite risky. Oh yes, and… er…um… to make a baby one needs a man. I was divorced just over a year after my accident with no other prospects on the horizon. Sigh
Anyway, I can’t say – now – that I miss menstruating. Good riddance!