Yes, this is a period piece.
I was a late bloomer, and an irregular one, too. My first period, at age 14, felt like the doors to womanhood were finally opening to me. I eagerly awaited the next one—but it didn’t come. In fact, while my friends were griping about their monthly cramps, I waited over six months for my second period.
From that time on, my period would come as a surprise every two or three months, and I was woefully underprepared each time. I experienced many “accidents” at school and in other public spaces that make me blush to this day.
Since my cycle didn’t show up the way my textbook taught me, I felt ashamed of what was going on. I didn’t know how to properly communicate what was happening with my body to my mom or my friends—or even how to ask for a tampon or pad. And in a household of having only brothers, I felt shy to speak up about it.
Even in adulthood, my period is still sporadic. I’m finally using the aid of doctors and professionals to sort out what’s causing it. But these days, I’m much more equipped with the experience and vocabulary I need to get the care I need.
My irregular periods taught me how to come into my body on my own terms—and what womanhood truly is for me (hint: it has nothing to do with periods).
Shame taught me to open up
The language I’ve used to describe my body throughout the years is soaked in shame: I’d call myself “broken” or “not normal.” I was ashamed of something I had little control over, and yet still blamed myself for it.
But all of that is nonsense. Throughout the years, I’ve connected with so many people who feel lingering physical or sexual shame about their bodies. And when I realized the compassion and patience I reserved for them, I realized I had to be kinder to myself.
Once I factored in this new compassion, I became more vulnerable with those around me. I shared my deepest insecurities with friends, and it opened up some beautiful conversations around the misperceptions we carry about ourselves. We were able to wrap each other in support and solidarity as we deepened our journeys towards self-acceptance.
What began as something I hid away blossomed into deeper connections with my community.
A lack of control taught me to guide myself
I’m still becoming my own best advocate and learning to be proactive about my health. Because honestly? It’s scary and overwhelming to face questions of hormonal imbalances and fertility challenges.
But this lack of control invites me to connect with myself on an intimately physical level. I’ve become attuned to the way my body feels before, during, and after my period. And, despite not ever knowing when my period will begin, I still care for myself gracefully and thoughtfully. I feed myself nourishing food, move my body in ways that bring me joy, and frequently check in on how my emotions match my physical experience.
An irregular cycle has given me the opportunity for self-awareness and deepened my sense of curiosity about my own body. It reminds me to live in the present and trust my gut (literally) instead of giving in to helplessness.
The undefinable taught me about self-definition
Doctors shrug their shoulders and tell me that the only cure is to go on the pill. I’ve had appointments where they casually mention infertility, as if it’s not an emotionally-loaded topic. I’m left to process these big questions on my own, and it can be overwhelming. I’ve lived most of my life without answers, and without my healthcare providers seeking them either.
Not knowing with certainty if I can have kids has taught me to release some weight of expectation and open myself up to things as they come. I embrace the thrill of possibility rather than the defeat of doubt.
Textbook examples are limiting, and my body is living proof. My identity is not wrapped up in the body I have; my body is the vessel that carries who I am in this world.
An “irregular” experience taught me that no experience is regular
The only similarity everyone shares is this: we are all different. My “irregular” experience is just one of many possibilities. No two people have the same story, and it’s thrilling to know that there are billions of stories out there to learn.
From my narrow experience of having a slightly different body than what sex ed textbooks defined for me, I’ve discovered the varying degrees of space between who we are and what we think we’re supposed to be. Whether it’s big questions of sexual preference or gender identity, or the smaller things like family expectations, we’re all grappling some idea of who we “should” be. And I’m learning that it’s better to be who we are than who others tell us we must be.
Bodies are constantly fluctuating, growing, and changing—the only way we’re going to get through these changes is if we offer acceptance for everyone’s. Womanhood is an identity that is made up of our lived and learned experiences, for better or for worse. It is not defined by what our bodies do, or how they look.
An irregular cycle taught me that I don’t have to bleed to be feminine, and I don’t need to fit into the gendered conventions of womanhood to bleed. I just have to embrace the constant, essential, and difficult work of loving my body as it is without requiring it to fit a textbook definition.
What does womanhood mean to you? Share in the comments below!
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!