“You look white as a sheet,” said Jacquie sitting next to me in math class. I nodded and gripped my lower belly. I knew it was a mistake going to school that day. But I had missed two straight days, and tests were coming soon. I needed to be there. I thought I could make it through one day. But by late morning, I couldn’t ignore the relentless pain wreaking havoc in my uterus anymore, and I had reached my limit.
“I don’t feel too good. I’m going home,” I told Jacquie, putting away my stuff in my school bag. As I stood up, the intensity of the pain doubled, and I saw white dots for a few seconds. Regaining my vision, I made my way to the teacher’s desk. Mr. Karaindros took one look at me and immediately let me leave.
Waiting for my mom outside the school, I fought back the tears. Watching our old, gray Buick Century pull up the school’s driveway, I breathed a sigh of relief. I could finally lie down. But that feeling didn’t last long—my mom was angry. Not at me. But at the situation. At the fact that she had to leave work yet again to come and pick me up from school. After seven years of watching her daughter agonize over being a girl, she still had not found a way to help me. The guilt set in on my chest, and the tears overflowed.
“I can’t keep missing work, honey. We need to find a solution to this problem. Missing school is one thing. What will happen when you start work? No employer will tolerate you missing work every month,” she told me, shaking her head.
I had no answers to give her, and I felt like a burden. Though I was the one curled up in pain in the back seat of our car, I felt terrible for my mom. She was right, and this could not go on anymore. I looked out the window to the gray autumn sky and the colored leaves gracing my view. I tried to concentrate on that to try to block out the horrible ache in my belly.
We never did find a solution for my menstrual agony. I can’t even call what I had cramps. Some of my friends had cramps but still made it to school, popped some Advil or Midol, and continued their merry way. Mine cannot be qualified as cramps. Mine felt like punishment. It felt like my body was tormenting me for answers I didn’t have. Mine had me balled into a fetal position with fever, nausea, vomiting, shivers, and blinding pain for two straight days. The pain was non-stop. For 48 hours, I was in a torture chamber, and my poor parents tried every month to get me out. And every month, they failed.
My parents, bless their hearts, tried everything, from regular over-the-counter medicine to concoctions short of witchcraft passed down by old grandmas knowledgeable in the medicinal benefits of herbs and spices. Nothing worked. I don’t know how many painkillers I swallowed or how many green, bitter-tasting brews I drank. Or how many times I cursed the heavens for this malediction. Or how often I looked at my brother and envied his carefree adolescence.
I did seek medical help for my problem. Once. I was 19 years old, in college, and I got tired of missing school. As I sat quietly in an examination room on the fourth floor of a hospital, my feet dangling back and forth, waiting to be seen, a young, rushed, stern-looking woman came in. Briefly glancing at my file, she introduced herself and asked why I was there.
And as the words poured out of me, a sense of relief invaded me. Finally, I would find a solution to this problem that was poisoning my life. But then the doctor spoke, and my sense of relief flew out of the window to let despondency slowly walk into the room and sit by my side.
“It’s a hormone imbalance. You need to be placed on the pill,” was the doctor’s immediate and curt answer. Stunned at her assessment, I just stared.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Why the pill?” I asked her.
“The pill is not only prescribed to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It’s also prescribed to regulate hormone imbalance. Which is what you have,” she answered, pushing a strand of her loose brown hair away from her face.
“But how do you know I have a hormone imbalance? You haven’t even done any blood tests. How do you know it’s not something else?” I asked, and I couldn’t hide the disappointment in my voice.
I wanted tests done, and I wanted to be examined. Something told me this was not simply a hormone imbalance. But the young woman lost patience with me. After reiterating that my problem was hormones, she sighed, signed a prescription for Yasmin, and handed it to me. I walked out of the room, shaking my head. I never did fill that prescription.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I finally got the answer I had been looking for during a routine ultrasound. Along with a healthy, growing fetus, the technician also noticed huge fibroids in the lining of my uterus. My doctor speculated they must have been the culprits of my dysmenorrhea, the medical term for my condition. And after giving birth to my first child, the pain simply disappeared. And so, becoming a mother was a blessing in more ways than one.
Today, my eldest daughter is in the storm of adolescence, and my youngest daughter just started kindergarten. And so I wait, with bated breath, hoping and praying they didn’t inherit my curse. That I didn’t pass down this evil gene. So far, my eldest seems to be in the clear, and I still have a few more years before I need to worry about my youngest.
But my years of experience have better prepared me if they turn out like me. Heating pads, painkillers, witch’s brew, and a few memberships to streaming services for mental distraction are at the ready. And maybe this time, unlike my poor parents, I’ll get lucky and find the right combination to free them of the pain. Being a girl is hard enough, and nobody deserves to suffer because of it.