Teaching My Rainbow about Menstruation
“Let me tell you ’bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees…”
…and, pregnancy and infant loss, and, a struggle to conceive.
Spring, a time known for celebrating fertility, vibrancy and life, stretches its wings at the most critical time of the entire year, for suicide.
Sprays of brightly colored eggs, bunnies, chicks and all things young, cute and fuzzy adorn storefront windows and every marketing ad in sight, for all of us to see, including so very many whose particular season is the exact juxtaposition of the message of hope, future, and life these symbols are intended to portray.
In fact, it is true, April showers may bring May flowers, but for those sopping wet in the downpour of grief, the childlike whimsy of such a poem is lost and the world just feels cold, dark and bitter – overcast, as far as the eye can see.
And as we all get busy peeling back our winter layers, some believe this increase of skin exposure means more access to pheromones, and the sex drive we associate with them.
It seems the entire world is transfixed on this notion of getting busy with sex making, eggs and baby-making, and school officials take notice. Appointed adolescent healthcare educators adopt the notion that they are fulfilling an honorable duty through teaching safe-sex education, though in itself safe-sex is an entirely subjective topic; shortsighted instructors equating menstruation to fertility and puberty to sex are left satisfied that they have achieved some temporary neutering of society’s uncontrollably promiscuous youth. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states are somehow involved in sex education for public schoolchildren.
And the message prevails, through public school campuses, and society, that sex makes babies. Oh yes, and diseases. Sex makes babies, and diseases. And teens shouldn’t want either, so, our children are taught how to have the sex, without all the diseases and babies.
Lest we think we can just exempt our teens from taking this universal public school health class, the message remains and is in fact revisited in the now earlier-than-ever geriatric pregnancy (to date, a pregnant mother who is approximately 35 years old or older), when healthcare providers solicit the antenatal journey to convince pregnant mothers that parenthood is quite like getting a puppy: the Quad Marker Screen is approached medically as though confirming the baby truly has the prized American Kennel Club Certified Purebred papers, to look down on the baby who doesn’t.
But being indoctrinated at such a young age by these perspectives is the young girl who is infertile, who doesn’t even know it yet.
The teen girl who will become pregnant, and who will face all the perspectives on elective abortion and all the perspectives on adoption, and then, who will endure stillbirth or miscarriage.
The young woman who will experience ridicule and shame for some manifested signs such as acne or hair growth, that reflect more happening under the surface than a textbook puberty.
So while in spring our local supermarkets reveal to us the newest way to make our eggs more sparkly, colorful and fun, women everywhere are carrying the weight of shame directed perhaps no more pointedly than at their own eggs, women trying to make sense of their own fertility and their own motherhood journey.
While September is the most popular birthday month among those surveyed in one study, rewind a few months and it would stand to reason that spring, of all the seasons, would hold the most first trimester births (or, as society often refers, miscarriage, babies born too soon to survive).
After experiencing the birth and death of my baby, born in the first trimester, I gave birth to a little girl. My daughter. My subsequent child and as some might say, my rainbow baby. I only reserve that term rainbow baby as a gentle rebuke against those who believe that we bereaved can “just try again.” My daughter has added to my life, added to my story, added to my family. She hasn’t replaced anyone. Human babies, quite frankly, are intrinsically, inherently, unequivocally irreplaceable.
“You started your period! You’re a woman now! And now, you can make babies!”
These are things I won’t say to my daughter.
In my adolescence, I was taught the public school safe-sex ideology. I was given the rhetoric that a period equals fertility, and, fertility is something to be afraid of. I was also molested. I shed blood from rape long before ever shedding blood from menstruation, long before any trusted adult even thought it relevant to mention.
So for my daughter, I will do better.
I will see her more holistically and I will choose to exemplify habits and speak words that convey a more accurate and honoring message to her, of who she is, right where she is, within any season.
I will not convey that her perception of herself is something to toss like a Mari Gras throw, or approach her adolescence as a decade of spring break debauchery, or encourage her to think that her body is designed to calculate her value based on performance or production. I will not approach conversations of maidenhood within our cultural more of naiveté.
Pregnancy and infant loss is as near to you, reading this, as is the season of spring. It is here.
In fact, I am increasingly more aware that the season of storms we convey grief to be, could much more accurately be conveyed as the storm atop all of us, who are blissfully fertile or achingly grieved. It is those of us who ache for our babies not alive, who have seen the storm. We have that folk throbbing knee. We can smell it in the air. We know. By the time you think the storm is coming, it is already here.
So let’s speak better about it. Let’s drill the sirens. Let’s interrupt the radio stations. Let’s stock our shelters with love now rather than scraping up later the dusty platitudes that leave us so hungry.
Getting your period doesn’t mean getting babies.
Let us not skip over maidenhood as a little girl jumps over a puddle. We bereaved mothers know that it leaves us drowning in the sea.
Speaking accurately to our daughters might at the onset seem harsh, to strip of innocence and rob of hope.
Instead, I see it as bestowing knowledge, imparting wisdom, and helping her to prepare for the storm.
To my daughter, I love you, more than sunshine.
You are loved, exactly for who you are.
Beloved girl, the best days are yet to be.
And dearest daughter, I love you so very much, and you need to know,
there will also be rain.