Welcome back to Blogville! Thank you for joining me. The tea of choice today is Red Raspberry or ginger. The reason may, or may not, become apparent as you read on.
If you aren’t comfortable with the word puberty, you should probably stop reading now and move on to another blog.
I was with some friends today and for some reason, the discussion turned to puberty. Weird right? After all, we are more menopausal than pubescent. As you can imagine, my friends are a bit odd, just like me. That’s how I keep them! Anyway, it seems puberty developmental events were different for me than my friends who were raised by their birth parents. I had not really thought of that. Not knowing when my birth mother, or any of her sisters started their period was a bit of an issue, a mystery, a game of chance, (not that I knew whether or not she had sisters). In today’s world, when you adopt a child who identifies as female, her social and medical history should contain the approximate ages when others in her family began their menses. This is to give adoptive parents at least some idea of when to prepare their daughter for this life event. (Not so in my day.)
So, this is how it went, to the best of my recollection. When I was around 10 or 11 years old my mother dutifully bought me the pads and belt (remember I was raised in the 1960s) to put/hide in my closet for “that day”. She told me that I could not use tampons before I got married because I wouldn’t be a virgin (Oh, that is a topic for another blog . . . Or not lol). My mom had apparently started her period, or got her “monthly visitor” quite young. So into the closet these secret supplies stayed, gathering dust, for what seemed like a very long time. I think I even once took the belt out of the closet only to find it had lost most of its elasticity. My mother kept trotting me to the doctor to ask what the holdup was, why was I not starting my menses? I felt like I was doing something wrong, but not exactly what.
During today’s visit, my friends and I started figuring out how old we were when we each actually started ours. One of them was around 10 or 11 years old and the other was slightly older. I had still not started by those ages. By those ages girls were usually busy figuring out how they could go swimming, or if they could wear short shorts, for fear that people would notice they had their “monthly visitor”. I was busy reading pamphlets and books and using a mirror to see if I could figure out what was going on down there that was preventing me from starting my menses. So, my mom decided that I was not humiliated enough with being 14, 15, 16 years old and still not having my period, so she took me to the doctor AGAIN for a reasonable explanation. Essentially he told her that I was too busy growing tall and when my body stopped doing that, it would begin to develop.
You are going to love this bit. Keep in mind that I was adopted. I honestly remember being afraid that I’d be like my mom and would not be able to have biological children. How many of you just re-read that sentence? Yep, I was afraid that I had inherited my mom’s infertility. So don’t tell me that adopted children don’t feel like their adoptive parents are their parents. Having lived that herself, I believe my mother was afraid of the same thing. By the way, I’m no doctor but I’m pretty sure infertility cannot be genetically transmitted. Just a guess.
Oh, I’m also pretty sure that teen pregnancy is not genetic either. So many adopting folks I have met were not sure if they should tell their children that the birth parents were teen parents. Or they extra supervised adopted children in their teen years. Pregnancy is caused by the same thing no matter how old the birth parents are. Again, I’m no doctor, but I am pretty sure that pregnancy is caused by the fertilization of an egg by a sperm cell. I do not think that people are genetically predisposed to having that happen at a particular age. So, adoptive parents, please stop worrying that your adopted child is at any greater risk of teen pregnancy than birth children are.
If you are interested, my adoptive mother, who loves me and has always been dedicated to caring for my brother and I used an unusual method of birth control, or preventative tactic with me. When I was of dating age, she would warn me that should I become pregnant, I would be making adoption plans for the baby. I was very confused by how she made it seem like a bad thing? I will admit, given that she was speaking to an adoptee, she was really kind of making an empty threat. I thought adoption was a good plan. I was living that same exact plan. (Plus, I still didn’t even have my period yet so it was rather a moot point.)
So, back to the present, sitting with my friends talking about menstruation. One of them asked me if I knew when my birth sisters started their periods. Nah, I never thought to ask them that. By the time I met my birth sisters I was closer to menopause than puberty and my daughters were all adults by then so I guess I just didn’t think about it.
Instead my friends and I began talking about the horrors of puberty.
Remember, my family doctor said I was too busy growing tall than developing? I must say that I paid the price for that in grades nine and ten. There was a toy made by the Ideal Toy Company from 1969 until 1973 called Flatsy Dolls. By the way, these are valuable collectors’ items now, but for me they were an instrument of torture. If you look up ‘Flatsy Dolls Jingle’ on YouTube, you will hear a song that some of my loving peer group would sing to me as I walked down the hall in grade 9, or when I was at my locker. The chorus went like this:
They’re flat and that’s that
I think you get the picture. Those dolls and their jingle, plus the fact that I was taller than most of the boys I knew, combined to make a miserable start to high school. I started signing out using the excuse of “cramps” to either go lie down in the nurses room or go home, hoping that people signing out after me would believe I had my period. It was really a cover story for the fact I did not start until I was almost 16 1/2 years old. I could drive a car before I had to go to the store to finally replace that elastic belt in my closet.
So, my advice to social workers completing social and medical histories today, please don’t skip the question of when birth family members began their menses. I know it is an uncomfortable question but it is less uncomfortable than it will be for a child or adoptive parent later on. My advice to adoptive parents, please ask the question if it is not readily apparent on the social and medical history. Even if you are adopting a child identified as male, one day this information may be important for his daughters. Maybe you should consider asking for a family history of when facial hair and changing voices began in the birth family? Puberty is tough to begin with, knowing when to expect changes can make it easier!
As always, I welcome you to share your thoughts here or more privately via my email at email@example.com.
Lynn Deiulis' personal and professional journey sparked a passion to write a book that offers an opportunity for children to learn about how they came to be living together as a family or living with another family.