Tuesday, 29 January 2013
An Unconventional Relationship
A few years back, one of my older patients asked me if my mother and I were close. I paused before responding, which she interpreted as an answer of no, but I was thinking that it depended on how one defined a close relationship. As I became an adult, my mother and I successfully transitioned our relationship to a genuine friendship, one that is based on love and mutual respect. She is my confidant, the one I turn to for career advice, or when I need to complain about my in-laws. We shared a few private laughs over Myrtle's poor wardrobe choice for her engagement photos. We go shopping together, we bake cookies. We just don't discuss any personal details.
When I was growing up, I observed even at a young age that Myrtle and her mother seemed too close, which felt a bit awkward to me. As an only child, your life is in a fishbowl, and I felt the need to hide what I could. Not that I had anything major to conceal, but I just didn't have the need to share every detail that occurred during the school day with my parents in the way that Myrtle did. As we both entered into our teenage years, Myrtle and her mother became even closer, which prompted many to wonder how Myrtle would handle leaving home (not well, was the eventual answer) and encouraged me to become even more independent from my parents.
Myrtle was the first to start her period, which was devastating to my pre-teen angst. Menarche would visit me a week later while I was at summer camp, inviting my mother, as well as Myrtle and her mother, to speculate if I made it up a la Nancy from Are you there God, It's me Margaret. Despite my protests of "this is miserable, why would I lie about it?" I still had the feeling that no one believed me, and I questioned it myself as three months went by and I hadn't had another period. My mother was wondering the same thing and came out and asked me one day, "So, did you get your period again?" I shook my head and she responded, "Oh poor Jane," in a rather demeaning tone, "You haven't crossed the bridge to womanhood yet" and just to be a little more condescending, she tapped my cheek with her hand. Fuck You, I thought, but reached for my best know-it-all voice and pointed out that it was common for girls to have an irregular cycle in their first few years. Ha, I knew my physiology of menstruation even then. More so, I knew there was no point in sharing any information with my mother if I wasn't going to be believed.
AF would decide to make her next appearance within that month as I was taking gymnastics classes. Co-ed gymnastic classes, mind you. I only had one option; procure some tampons and learn to use them. I most certainly would not be asking my mother for help. I would figure it out myself. I had a regular baby sitting job every Friday night, so I stole a few tampons as well as the instructions (where was the Internet when I needed it then?) from her bathroom. I quickly got the hang of it, and once I did, there was no going back! In fact, ever the budding gynaecologist, I convinced many friends to erode their hymens with the best invention in the world. I knew I would arouse too much suspicion as the mother of my baby sitting charge would wonder why I needed to use 3-4 tampons within a 6 hour period every Friday night. Fortunately, (thanks to tampons!) I was selected for the gymnastics team, which trained at the high school once a week. Practices at the high school meant access to a vending machine that dispensed tampons! I would steal dimes from my dad's change jar and empty the machine. I wonder if the custodians ever noticed that they had to refill the machine every Wednesday morning...
This was my routine until I was able to drive and shop for myself. However, around my 14th birthday, our family went to visit my Grandmother. We were shopping at the Star market and as we passed the aisle of sanitary products, my Grandmother asked my mother if I had started my period -embarrassingly, right in front of my dad too. When my mother replied "no", my Grandmother suggested that she take me to a doctor. I wanted to yell right in the middle of the Star market "I've had my period for two years, you bitch!", but I quickly realised she probably thought I still hadn't started my period as she didn't have to buy me any pads. Worried that she would take me to a doctor and it would be revealed that I obliterated my hymen with virginity tampering tampons, I came up with a new plan. A month or two later I discovered her shopping list and added 'pads for Jane, please put them in my bathroom'. She obliged and we never spoke of it. To this day, she would likely answer that I started my period when I was 14, and not 12.
As I recount these memories, I'm struck by how one off-hand comment seemed to influence the direction of our relationship and if I do become a parent, I realise how easy it is to screw up. My mother and I would never engage in close personal discussions. We never had the sex talk. Once I went off to University, I became involved in many women's groups and started working at a family planning clinic, so she knew I had found sources for accurate information. When Husband and had been dating for a few months, she wrote in a letter, "have you taken any serious steps yet? I'll be happy for you if you did!" I never answered her, but felt somewhat pleased that she gave her endorsement for pre-marital sex. When she reached menopause, she made a ceremonial attempt to give me her supplies of sanitary products. I laughed to myself, as thanks to my Mirena IUD I probably had gone longer without a period than she just did, but I quietly accepted her offerings and brought them to the clinic for patient use.
I would later discover that our non-disclosure policy works in both directions. Months after the event, I learned from my dad or maybe Myrtle's mother that my mother had some postmenopausal bleeding and was worked up with an ultrasound and endometrial biopsy. "Why didn't you tell me any of this?" I asked, probably more bothered by the fact that I wasn't consulted as a second opinion. "Well," she explained "I really didn't know too many specific details or what was going to happen, and I didn't want to look stupid in front of you." Facing a possible cancer, this was my mother's primary concern...
So maybe our relationship is not one that many would define as close, but I appreciate our friendship for what it is and not what it isn't. If I do get pregnant within the next year, I'm not sure how much about our infertility or treatments I'll reveal. If we come up empty at the end of our journey, I'll likely disclose much of our story, just so she knows how hard we tried to make her a grandmother. I feel that either way, we'll start a new page in our relationship.