Image: Amy Molloy
When I didn’t have a period for seven years, friends, therapists and doctors offered many different theories on the reason; because I’d had an eating disorder as a teenager, because I’d been on the pill for an extended period, because I was widowed when I was 23-years-old and my body had ‘shut down’ with grief.
Over the course of its absence – from 2007 to 2013 – I blamed all of the above at times. Yet one common denominator between all these causes jarred with me. They were all in the past and there was nothing I could do to change them. I couldn’t undo my eating disorder, I couldn’t untake my contraception, I couldn’t go back in time and turn down the offer of a drink from the man I’d fall in love with and, three weeks after our wedding day, bury.
I am naturally a ‘fixer’. I face problems head-on and do everything in my power to solve them. There is nothing more frustrating and disempowering then being told that an event from your past is damaging your present.
So, I attacked my missing period, with the same aggression I’d put into my eating disorder. I Googled ‘infertility’ ferociously, I changed my eating habits dramatically. I banned running (which had been one of my favourite hobbies) and forced myself to meditate three times a day. I drank parsley tea by the bucketful and I avoided soy with a vengeance.
It seems my body knew something that I didn’t.
I thought I was doing the right things, and I was in a sense, but I was too merciless in my methods. In hindsight, rather then working to remove the fear that I carried, I was only adding to it with a new set of rules and regulations.
I remember my mum saying that my period would return when I was ‘happy’. This was in 2012 – five years after my husband died and even longer since I’d beaten my eating disorder. I thought I was happy… wasn’t I? But it seems my body knew something that I didn’t.
I remember telling a friend that I felt my body didn’t trust me. If I put my palm on my abdomen below my belly button I felt like my insides were constantly clenched. If I loosened, if I softened, I was scared of what might happen. But instead of looking inwards I searched outwards. Despite the fact I knew on an intuitive level that my missing period had emotional causes, I still went for endless blood tests, scans and ultrasounds.
I remember leaving a doctor’s surgery in tears because I’d been told to ‘just’ go on Clomid. When I asked what mystery ailment we were treating, he said the tests were inconclusive but that, ‘It doesn’t matter what’s wrong because the medication will solve it.’ I couldn’t help feeling that, if my body was blocking its most natural function, it must be doing it for a reason. I never made a follow up appointment.
At the time, I remember a girlfriend telling me that I should ‘enjoy’ not having a period because when it came back the novelty would soon wear off. She was right in a sense. I was single at the time and not in a hurry to have a baby, however my thirtieth birthday was fast approaching and it had been nearly seven years since I’d bought a box of tampons. It sounded like a cliché but, as I tried to explain to my friend, I didn’t feel like a real woman.
I couldn’t help feeling that, if my body was blocking its most natural function, it must be doing it for a reason.
The question is, was that a consequence or a cause? Did I not feel like a woman because my periods had stopped, or had my periods stopped because I didn’t feel like a woman? This question turned out to be key in my healing process, although I didn’t realise it at the time.