Our bodies are amazing things. The female body even more so. I was not prepared when I started to menstruate. Yes, the breast buds had appeared but they essentially were not noticed. The hairs too. But there’s no way of being ignorant of your menses. How old was I? Nine? Ten?
Anyway, I was young. I had taken my evening shower and was playing with my sisters in my long whitish nightgown. I must have run by my mother because next thing I know I was being grabbed by my arm. “Eh, Onyankopon (God)!” were the words that escaped her lips. “What is this?”. She pointed to a reddish patch at the back of my nightgown. “Eh, eh, eh, are you having your period?, she asked. Of course I had no idea what she was talking about. Period? Huh?!
She led me to the bathroom while asking God “why?”. Now, I can look back and smile. I guess if she didn’t start her own menses until she was almost 16 how was she to be prepared when her oldest daughter showed signs of womanhood before she was even a teen? But back then I was bewildered. What had I done?! I had blood on my panties and I was forced into another bath while my sisters crowded the door trying to find out what the whole excitement was about. I was so embarrassed. So ashamed. What is this?!
A period. “You are now a woman. If you don’t know and let a man touch you, hmmm, you will get pregnant, and we shall see”, threatened my mother, or at least it felt like a threat. I was still trying to figure out why she was so angry, but I didn’t have the lip! I just sat there quietly listening to the speech and watching her make pads out of giant tuffs of cotton wool wrapping them with toilet paper. Don’t ask! It was communist Berlin, and the pre-made feminine pads from West Berlin were not worth the money apparently. Besides this was a woman who used cloth diapers for all her children and washed the stool off them by hand.
I think that day, I withdrew a little more into myself. Maybe a lot more, but I definitely withdrew. I mean if a man can just touch me and get me pregnant, well, I better keep to myself. If this thing, can make my mother so angry, it must not be a good thing. If this thing can cause her to go to my father, and say “Hmm, trouble oo, do you know what just happened? KChie blah blah blah” it must not be a good thing. And if it can cause her to go to Auntie So&So who isn’t really my aunt and tell her with that same voice, then it really isn’t a good thing. I thought I had contempt of men before that (after all my purpose on earth apparently was to learn to cook so that my future husband wouldn’t send me back to my parents home because I didn’t know how to grind pepper without a blender, or because I could potentially attempt to cook nkatenkwan with whole groundnuts, onions & tomatoes if I didn’t stay in the kitchen when my mother was cooking), and now this?! Eve’s curse took on a whole new meaning.
Things were made a little clearer when I looked up the woman page in the medical book we had lying around at home. A little clearer. And then when sex education rolled around in class, and everyone snickered around me, I realized “oh goodness, that is me, why, why am I a woman?” Class Five was suddenly not so fun anymore. Despite the sex education class, which was fully equipped with video mind you, I was still fearful of being touched by a man. I wondered if the boys in my class had that power as well. But worst of all was the many excuses I began to make for why I couldn’t participate in swimming on random occasions. I wonder if my teacher (a woman) knew? I mean, most everybody else was flat-chested, and I, I felt like an impostor.
Fast forward two decades and my relationship with my periods has been a hate-hate one for the most part. Two decades huh?! Yep, I’ve been bleeding out on a monthly basis for TWENTY good years now. All those little eggs, of which I only have a finite amount to begin with, all down the drain. Not allowed to have realized their full potential. Month after month for twenty years like clockwork. I would keep tabs, first in my dairy, then a planner, then a PDA, and now the IPhone. And then it happened. One day, my period did not come. Since I had no reason to be fearful of being pregnant (apparently the “touching” by man was more than a mere touch) I waited and waited. It never came. When it finally did come the following month, let me tell you I was the happiest woman on earth. Forget the fact that it came with a vengeance, like a downpour, for days on ends, with clots and cramps that doubled me up, I was so happy that I was having a period. My dear dear period. I love you! Please don’t play games with me again. At least wait until after I’ve used some of those eggs, okay?
But honestly. Missing my first period made me realize that one day it will go and never come back. If I never get the chance to make a baby by then, would I hate myself for letting all those eggs go unused? Should I harvest them now before it’s too late? Should I just go find a warm body and have a child now, even though I don’t want one now, so that I won’t be sorry in the future? Or what if this hemorrhage is not a one time affair? What if I continue to bleed out like the floods upon Noah’s Ark causing me to meet a medically induced menopause ie. hysterectomy, do I automatically lose my womanhood, my sex appeal? Oh goodness, am I at that age that I now think of these things?
Goodness! Goodness! Goodness!