Sunday, October 23, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 35: Getting the Ugly Womanly Stuff Out of the Way

Gentlemen, you can avert your eyes now. You have been forewarned. This is the IronMOM blog after all.

I remember in 6th grade, when we had "The Talk". You know, the one where the boys went to one room and the girls went to another. Mrs. Brown was in charge of the girls, a five foot tall fireplug of a woman from Corpus Christi, Texas. I can remember this scene vividly: at one point in her little speech about "The Change" that was coming for us, she was holding up a Maxi Pad in front of the room, and Scott Whitely came barging in the classroom door at the back, clutching a message from the office. Mrs. Brown turned white as a sheet, Scott Whitely turned beet red. She hissed at him to get out and get out he did, double-time.

The message was clear: Maxi pads were scary and embarrassing things that men must never, ever see.

That message persists into adulthood. Just take a man on a basketball court who gets hit with the ball. He gets a bloody nose, mops it up with his shirt, and goes over to the sidelines holding a towel against his nose. You'd think the bloody towel was a badge of honor by how he treats it.

The same amount of blood coming out of a woman's coochie is like the scarlet fucking letter, right? Shameful, to be hidden, not even mentioned. Not even when he's your husband. If he sees a tiny bit of blood on the toilet seat, he might go faint, meanwhile the same man farts with abandon during episodes of The Family Guy, never thinking that gasses emitting from his butt should be equally...well... concealed.

Which is all to say that writing a blog post about what it means to be a woman and a triathlete, what it REALLY means on one of "those days", is culturally embarrassing. Yet, because we don't talk about it, none of us knows how anyone else deals with it. No one knows that the reason I didn't have a bigger PR in my half-Iron distance race last year is that I spent all those precious minutes in a porta-potty line that I couldn't avoid. What does a guy do? He pees on the bike. Changing your womanly supplies on a bike would require the skills of a circus acrobat and be a good deal more messy. And no ones knows that I went on the pill for four months the last time I did an Ironman just so I'd know for sure I wouldn't have my period that day.

Wouldn't it suck to train for a year, spend $500 plus travel expenses, and not be able to do the race due to your @#!%! period??

So, what happens when you're signed up for an Ironman at age 46 and you're a woman? Women's bodies at 46 are not the same as they are at 36 or 26 or 16. To put it bluntly, they're starting to do weird things. Periods come at odd times when they're not expected. They're either really light or so heavy you might as well pitch a tent in the bathroom for a day or two. Sometimes you end up wondering whether you got pregnant without knowing it and are miscarrying something that looks like Eraserhead. Don't go squeamish on me, I told you I was going to be blunt. So doing an Ironman in the middle of that? It can be difficult.

Luckily, a couple of my women friends clued me in to this procedure called a Uterine Ablation. Yes, that's about as Un-Fun as it sounds. Actually it's way, way less fun that it sounds, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Basically, they burn the shit out of your uterine lining and it never comes back. A few days of painful recovery and you're free of The Curse for evermore. Or at least semi-free of it, or probably free of the worst of it. There's no guarantees of course, but it sounds better than the current uncertainty and mess. Sign me up Scotty!

So that's what I had done this week. Of course, me being me, nothing ever goes quite according to plan. I have this really weird body that has a pretty high pain tolerance (good) coupled with the fact that anesthesia and medications don't work all that well on me (bad). Novocaine has so little effect that my dentist always wants to pull his hair out when he has to work on me. Given all of that, I maybe should've chosen to use general anesthesia for this procedure, but that freaks me the heck out. I keep remembering people like Olivia Goldsmith, who died during general anesthesia for plastic surgery (one more reason I won't ever do THAT for sure!) Thinking about my kids being motherless, the answer for me and general is NO WAY. But then again, I've never had experience with anything like this (even my babies were not born in a hospital) so how would I know what would happen?

So it was some Valium and some Percocet, some injection of an ibuprofen-like NSAID, and we were off. I wish I could tell you that my experience was like all of my friends who have had it done. For most women it's pretty much a walk in the park, for me it was not. I won't scare you with the gory details but it hurt. A lot. Like if it was a mob movie and a torture scene, I would've told them anything. I would've sold my mother upriver just to make it stop. My doctor (and probably the entire waiting room) got to hear every curse word in my personal arsenal, and then some. It was like The Sopranos in there.

Luckily, I'm now on the other side of the River Styx, after the first day of agony with some upchucking thrown in just for kicks and grins. Several days later, I'm just taking ibuprofen and will hopefully be back to training sometime in the near future. I'm hoping this bet pays off, the pain and suffering were worth it, and I have an Ironman to look forward to where I don't have to worry about taking Aunt Flo along on my bike with me.

And because I'm not Mrs. Brown, and this is not 1976, I'll let you know how it goes.


Liz said...

I think this is a great and honest post, especially for all the women who have been through the exact same worries about running races at that time of the month! Some friends and I have had much more luck with the DivaCup (or other brands) during our outdoor activities. It has truly been life-changing to not be forced to take extra bathroom breaks during sports or swimming or being outdoors. Good luck with your recovery - I'm sure your Ironman experience will improve immensely and perhaps inspire more women!

Robin said...

I did use the Diva cup for awhile, but it's hit and miss with sports for me. If it gets tipped slightly the wrong way - disaster. So it wasn't a long term solution, though definitely better than the disposable alternatives!

Mama Minou said...

Another option that has similar though time-limited effects in the Mirena progestin IUD. However, it could take 3-6 months to achieve the atrophy of the endometrial lining. However, for those thinking about ablation, it is another providing contraception (at very low hormone doses) for up to 5 years.

Mama Minou said...

Sorry for the typos and extra "Howevers"!

Perhaps I should also add that I just got a Mirena 3 months ago and have been very happy with it. It's a good solution for those who suffer from very heavy menses!

Kristin said...

Great honest post. You had me cracking up about men and farting! so true! I was introduced to the Diva Cup but think it is really gross to think of the blood just pooling in a cup in my way! I would rather have my Nuva Ring and just change it and not worry about a period which I am doing this week!

Shanecycles said...

The Dutch cyclist Leontien van Moorsel, planned her 1 hour world record attempt during her period because then she'd be stronger and more aggressive.

Shame an ironman lasts slightly longer than 1 hour.......

Good luck!

Kristen said...

Thanks for sharing all of this! I've been on a monophasic pill forEVER (meaning I skip the sugar pill and have total control over when I have or don't have a period), and I love it.

I'm just really glad you're starting this discussion. There are so many issues around monthly cycles and training and everything, and you're right, so many of us are shy about bringing it up. And we shouldn't be!

Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

Robin said...

LOL Shane, more aggressive I can believe!! But yeah, anything longer than an hour or two gets problematic.

Robin said...

My doctor did mention other options like Mirena and the ring that work for a lot of women. Since I'm already mucking with hormones (only have half a thyroid and have to keep an eye on that dosage already), I didn't want to add any other hormonal manipulation into the mix. I know they work well for many women though.

Mary IronMatron said...

Although this procedure sounds oh so unfun... I might have to consider it. I have just entered those lovely unpredictable years. I did Mooseman 70.3 with one of those heavy periods in which 9 super plus tampons still wouldn't staunch the flow. FYI, I changed the plug in bike to run transition... Just saying! :) No waiting in line for me! And yes, I left my (2)dirty tampons in a paper towel in my helmet. Here's to honesty!

Aimswa said...

Mother Nature has been MOST unkind during some of my adventures so I totally related. And you're RIGHT. WHY is it so shameful? Oy. Hope you heal quickly!

PPH said...

Yeah, I did the ablation, wish I had known about one called Novasure, mine didn't last long, maybe 6 months, now back to it and I'm 48 uggg! Also got the post op infection, sounds like that's what you had too, so sorry, I felt your pain. Anyway, I will keep my laces crossed that yours works totally. I'm going to look into some of the suggestions here and thanks for sharing. We should be able to carry our tampons and pads with pride, we are women!! hear me roar!

Kathy said...

I'm 51 and am pretty sure I'll be bleeding during my IM next month. I use the DIVA and I'm just hoping it will be a "good" month because sometimes they can be so unpredictable these years. I'm soooo close to menopause I won't do anything permanent and at this point they are more light than heavy, though I'll count on not only getting it during my IM, but being the kind that is particularly fierce. :) The Diva cup makes it pretty nice for containment and cleanup also and I figure I'll just pop down to the beach on the bike and for the run I'm just hoping for lots of potty opportunities.