First Person Periods: Ursula
I’ll be the first to say that not having periods for nine months was one of my favourite things about my twin pregnancy. I was never a fan. I was that girl who back-to-backed the pill to avoid periods as much as possible. I loved not having to worry about bleeding or when I was going to come on. I also loved the fact that, after my pregnancy and while I was breastfeeding, my periods remained elusive, like a distant relative I was gradually losing touch with. I’d had enough of blood and bleeding to last a lifetime. I felt liberated from the whole messy, visceral experience. So when my periods finally reinstalled themselves, after six months of breastfeeding, it took me by surprise just how emotional I found them. To say it was like welcoming an old friend back would be overkill, but realising that my body was functioning again and that my uterus was quietly back doing its thing felt like something to be respectful of. And definitely grateful for.
I could have been left, at 29, with no uterus at all. No womb. No periods. No natural rhythm
To put this into context, I need to explain that it could all have been so different. I could have been left, at 29, with no uterus at all. No womb. No periods. No natural rhythm. No need to choose between tampons or pads each month. Just hormone replacement tablets and a blank space inside where my reproductive system used to be. I was incredibly lucky that I managed to escape both death and a hysterectomy after a life-threatening postpartum haemorrhage. I lost 4.5 litres of blood (the typical adult body holds 5 litres) and required more transfusions than I can remember.
My son was born first and the blood loss that followed was immense. The once-white sheets were taken from the bed and weighed, now a shocking red. My episiotomy was sewn quickly back up while my daughter remained inside. She was born nearly an hour later, extracted from me with forceps, like a stubborn tooth being removed by a dentist. As I drifted in and out of consciousness I wondered if I was going to survive this. Whether I’d get to tell my children that I loved them. Meanwhile the medical team worked on saving my life, inflating a balloon with water in my uterus and packing my vagina with gauze. “If the balloon doesn’t work, you’ll have to have an operation,” I was told before everything went black once more.
I didn’t understand for a moment that this “operation” would have been a full-blown hysterectomy. I was kept in a bay just opposite the theatre while everyone waited, hoping that the blood would stop.
Eventually it did. The balloon inside my womb held its shape, stopping my uterus from pumping out blood. A day later, on my birthday, I was told I wouldn’t need the operation. And it’s still the best birthday present I’ve ever had. I got to keep my womb and everything that comes with it. The good (like having the possibility of having more children) and the bad (PMS, backache, period stain surprises).
It’s not as though I have a period party each month
When my period finally came back, I felt the familiar tug in my back and the uneasy, raw drag of menstrual blood between my legs. It felt natural and normal. The most mundane thing in the world. Like sweating or swallowing or breathing. A biological process that my body was in complete control of. And something to be truly thankful for. My body doing what it should. Bleeding for me. A vibrant testimony and reminder each month that I am here. That I survived.
But let’s be real. It’s not as though I have a period party each month. Oh no. I’m much more likely to be found on the sofa with a hot water bottle pressed against my stomach, watching First Dates and working my way through a box of After Eights. I still get frustrated when I leak. I worry when I’m late. I have huge crescendos of PMS each month that take me to the brink of my emotions and back. I hate the way my skin flares up with hormonal period spots, and I resent it each time I accidentally ruin a pair of treasured pyjamas or knickers. But these are the little things. The inconveniences that I know I’m privileged to have. They’re just part of the period package, and I’ve never been more aware that periods are only going to be with me for a ‘period’ in my life. One day, when my uterus stops shedding its lining, and the pads and Tampliners remain unopened in the drawer, at least I’ll know that me and my womb saw things through, together.