One night he started singing it. My husband quickly got my attention before he noticed we were really listening and decided to protest any further exercising of his vocal cords. But he didn’t; in fact, when I started belting out the lyrics with him he got more excited, surprised that I, too, knew a rendition of the very song.
Eli learns a lot at school that sometimes we get little glimpse of, because when you ask him what the highlights were of the day upon school pick-up, he doesn’t register that all of the fun he has had was really all tied to key areas to help him grow intellectually. So when I asked him where he had heard that song and who taught him those lyrics, he at first shied away as if it was a hidden secret amongst only a few people. That was until I started chiming in too.
Music class, of course! And he couldn’t understand how I had known the song. Maybe I had the same music teacher as he did when I was a kid, except for the fact that I’m sure his teacher now is probably my age. No, sweet, boy, I was taught that song sitting on a tree stump in the middle of the wilderness far away from my family at a place I will always remember during 4H camp.
The “Baby Shark” song brings back warm memories of independence and childhood wonder. But it also uncovers a time I had tucked away filled with embarrassment and fear, a time I hoped I would forget.
I was 12 when I attended camp. It was my first real trip away from my parents, and while most other kids that boarded that bus to depart from home and head into a bug-filled, parent-free zone were filled with excitement, I felt a tinge of nervousness, stressed about how my body would react in an environment that I could no longer control.
You see, being 12 wasn’t so easy for me. Outside of the awkwardness associated with every kid that age – I was lanky even though I was short and my body image was skewed as I started sporting training bras – my body had deemed it time for me to undergo puberty. Yes, what every girl is anxious for happened and when it happened to me, it didn’t stop.
My mom and I had never talked about it, really, until the day it showed up. And while for most after a week life can get back to normal, for me, it took more than a year. You see, once my body decided it was time to “woman up” and introduce me to Aunt Flo, I learned that my body wasn’t built the way most were. My mom was determined to only share what my sweet head could understand, and prayed along the way for our family’s disorder to be one thing that I did not inherit. While her prayers were heard, I’m sure, the outcome wasn’t what we had hoped.
I bled. And bled and bled. And it didn’t stop. Not for an instant or a moment. I coughed; I bled more. I sneezed; I ran to the bathroom. Hell, if I moved it happened. And for a year it just kept coming with no reprieve. I watched my girlfriends giggle about their little secrets when it was the time of the month, wondering what it would be like if I could giggle too about mine, except my time of the month was all of the time.
My mom took me to the doctor frequently, which was always an embarrassing situation. Again, I was 12. The last thing I wanted to talk about was my menstrual cycle. In the beginning, the doctor just watched me, I’m guessing wondering if we were just over exaggerating the situation, until she noticed how pale I was and had concerns about anemia setting in. As with most medical situations, typically the waiting game tends to be a sound solution, but for me, it just kept getting worse. So many arm pricks, giving blood to check to make sure I wasn’t loosing too much. I was on the brink of it, and the brink of having a mid-childhood crisis. So we found a specialist.
I didn’t even know they had such things – pediatric gynecologists. Most never need to meet one of these specialists until they are 18 when their annual exam becomes necessary. But for me, I just got the lucky opportunity to meet mind 6 years early. And boy was he cute. I wasn’t a big Super Man fan, but I know a Super Man when I see one and my first gynecologist was a dead ringer for Dean Cain. I may have been pale from losing too much blood, but I’m sure I was blushing the entire time I had to explain to him what was going on.
Embarrassing to say the least, and I praised God that he decided it was more important at my age to treat the symptoms vs. diagnose the problem. So he prescribed me pills and they were going to solve it all up. Let’s trick my body into thinking that my period was over so I could live a normal life. Sounds great on paper, but it took quite some time to find the perfect fit for me. And it took another doctor. I could never set foot again into the place with the Dean Cain doppelganger.
Some pills would slow down my periods, but impact my emotions which is saying a lot for an already emotional pre-teen. Others would make them worse and bring on intense cramps. Others caused my skin to be so oily that it was a welcomed ground for acne. So not only was I stressed about Aunt Flo but now a face filled with craters. Um, no thanks.
After several attempts at treating the problem, the second gynecologist determined it was time to come face to face with it head on. I made my way to my regular check-up, thinking I was going to just have another meeting with my doctor. Until they handed me a gown and asked me to remove all of my clothing. My mom had this look on her face of panic, although I never told her that I noticed it. I’m sure I had the same look on my face too as I hadn’t a clue what was in store for me. And I’m glad I didn’t. Because when the tools came out and the exam began, I screamed a scream so loud that I’m sure the entire floor could hear.
Years later my mom told me that she was crying inside, but tried to be strong for me. She told me that while she wanted to run from that room so fast, she knew I needed her. But the experience, which was one none of us could avoid, was one that felt like she was watching someone rape me. And that she couldn’t do anything about it.
Endometriosis. While I inherited her deep brown eyes and spit-fire personality, I also inherited her uterus, one filled tissue scaring that leads to painful and ongoing periods. What had taken my mom’s ability to have more kids away many years ago through a hysterectomy proved that it would never leave our family, just skip to the next generation to torment. And this innocent 12-year-old drew the short end of the stick.
That year got harder before it got easier. I called mom many times from school when the intensity of my period caused me to ruin my uniform. Embarrassing. I remember trying to be normal and get excited about the upcoming school mixer that my friend and I anticipated. My mom drove us and we gossiped and giggled the whole way. Until it we arrived. She got out of the back and when I went to stand up, I knew I had to sit back down. I had ruined the car set, just by sitting. I watched my friend go inside to spy on the cute boys as mom and I inched the car farther and farther away from where my childhood heart yearned to be.
We hadn’t even had our “family life” class in school before family life hit so close to home. So when we did I was hopeful to learn more about my disorder, except that I didn’t. I just left terrified to be honest. I realize now how critical this class is for the majority of my classmates, but for me, it left me confused. I remember the classroom like it was yesterday. Where I was sitting and even who the teacher was. I remember her talking about birth control and how our religion did not support the use of any artificial measures, including the pill. The pill that I took.
I didn’t realize that what I was taking was that pill; a pill that others used to prevent life was the pill that I was using to save mine. I went home that night in tears, telling my mom that God was mad at me for taking the only medication we could find that could help me live semi-normal. She hugged me, and probably cried too, and told me that God loves me no matter what.
That year I went to 4H camp. Boarding that bus I was not only nervous about what it would be like a week without my parents – and remember, this was a time when we didn’t carry cell phones – but I was nervous if I packed enough feminine products, if anyone would question my medication, and if my period would cease long enough for me to enjoy any of the week.
There were times it did because I have lots of awesome memories associated with it. Learning how to shoot a gun and how to enjoy the simplicity of life on a canoe. I learned how to conquer my fears by going zip lining and asking a boy to dance with me after dinner one evening. But my period never left and what I feared would happen did. My bleeding came with a vengeance and didn’t cease. I made friends with the counselors that worked in the medical hut as they monitored me. We called mom, and while she was ready to come and get me at a moment’s notice, I told her I wanted to try to make it. I wanted to be a kid.
My group leader took good care of me, never questioning if she needed to take me back to the room to change. When everyone else went swimming, her and I would go have fun somewhere else. She let me live how I needed to, and because of their kindness, I had an experience of a lifetime filled with lots of memories, including the “Baby Shark” song I still sing to this day.
Eli and I sang it together as we drove in the car to visit my uncle in the hospital last week. Each word we sang together made me teary-eyed. When I was diagnosed with my disorder, I learned that having kids may not be in my future. That it was a 50/50 shot on if my body would get its act together and function normally. I learned that while I always prayed for a sibling, my parents were lucky to have me. My mom was given the same fate years ago, and yet she was able to carry and deliver this spunky bundle of joy!
I had forgotten those years as over time the medicine did work and my life did get some sort of normalcy. Much like having a kid, your mind has a way of forgetting the stress so that you entertain the idea of moving forward. As I sang the song and even did the hand motions to go with it, I felt a peace within me. Not only did my body get whipped into shape, it did so enough for me to have three beautiful babies. And now, after having so many pregnancies, my uterus has decided to stop fighting me. No, it’s not perfect and sometimes Aunt Flo shows up when she’s not supposed to. But I can live now, and my life is so much sweeter than I could have ever imagined.
I’m not sure if any of the kids in my 7th grade class ever knew what was going on. Maybe they thought I just had a little bladder, which actually isn’t too far from the truth. Or maybe they thought I was sickly, going home all of the time. Or the friends I made at 4H camp, did they know why I couldn’t participate in everything that they did? Maybe no one noticed, or some did but just looked the other way. Or maybe they were just kids and loved me none-the-less.
Whatever it was, they never knew my whole story or the battle that I faced daily and still do in some capacity today. I’ve learned to live, but my childhood experience is a part of my story that for many years I kept silent. Because, for most, your relationship with Aunt Flo is very much a private one. There are pieces of each of us that we opt to hold close, not letting others peak in and see. Some of us judge others, generalizing what we think is going on when we really don’t know. This 12-year-old girl at a gynecologist received lots of stares and judgement, let me tell you. I’m sure that others in the waiting room excepted to see me with a growing belly in a few months. They had never been so far from the truth.
You never know another person’s internal battle. The person that checked you out at the grocery who didn’t smile may have just gotten some bad news before work and was just trying to make it through her shift. Or the waiter who takes forever to fulfill your order may be taking more tables to try to pad his paycheck to cover an unexpected expense in his life. Or the little kid sitting next to the pool with her feet dangling in the water may not be scared to swim, just may not be able to that day for a reason that she can’t control.
My challenge to you is this. Don’t be a critic. Leave those judging eyes at home and replace them with those filled with kindness. Smile at others, and when you do really look at them, letting them know that you see them for who they are and where they are and that life is going to be okay. And as you walk away, pray that whatever burden they are carrying, God is helping to carry it with them. I’m confident that someone did that for me. Somewhere along my journey someone took a moment to ask God to let me get through this and see the other side. Because He listened. He always does. And just like the “Baby Shark” song ends with a happy shark, so am I, safe at last.