Around this time last year, I gave birth to twins. Kinda.
The stereotypical Asian mother/grandmother dream is for their daughter to get married to a nice man and have lots of kids. Not to brag, but while I haven’t gotten married yet, I did give my family some kids: my ovarian cysts.
I had two of them—one on each ovary—that were both about 10 cm big. According to my mother, that’s approximately the same size as a newborn’s head. I have absolutely no clue how the hell I managed to carry that around with me for however long it took for them to grow (nine months? Who knows). It’s a good thing that my gynaecologist caught it when he did too, because apparently if I had left it for another three months they probably would’ve ruptured and twisted my ovaries—yeah, it’s as nasty and gross as it sounds.
For about two years, I had no periods. Now, this might sound super ideal to people who get horrible cramps, headaches, and other PMS symptoms, but personally, my periods weren’t bad or anything, they just lasted a bit longer than the average. But, I’m not gonna lie, I did feel pretty good about not having periods for a bit; it was just one less thing to worry about. Plus, I had just come off some birth control and I was told that not having a period for a bit was totally normal. The problem was, I didn’t know how long ‘for a bit’ was supposed to be. I thought it would just last a couple of months, but it continued to persist even after my caesarean cyst removal.
I remember after the surgery, my mother asked my gynae if I’d still be able to have kids in the future. He responded by saying that he salvaged what he could of my ovaries so I can potentially still have children later.
Now I don’t really want kids, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on this one. There’s nothing really appealing to me about being pregnant for the better part of a year and then having to actually look after and be responsible for a living being—the idea is fucking terrifying. However, something struck me after my surgery: even if I don’t want kids, it would still be nice to know that I have the option to. There was something about the idea of my reproductive system being totally irreparable that made me feel some kinda way.
But why? I’ve always hated it when people tell me “oh but you might want kids later”. Because like, yeah but I also might not? Why was I getting sentimental over something I don’t even want?
The thing is, we all want to belong somewhere. We identify ourselves with certain people and groups. There are some parts of us that we hold onto dearly as parts of our identity. For some, that’s their ethnicity. Some of us emphasise our political standing. Others have their gender at the forefront of their identity—like me. It’s not necessarily because I actively have to tell everyone that I’m a woman or that I emphasise this fact all the time, it’s just because that’s the first quality that people notice about me.
What’s hard about this is constantly being told that the group that you want to belong to—that everyone views you as being a part of—has a quality that you don’t have. With identifying as a woman, that thing happens to be our reproductive system. I’m so tired of seeing messages embedded in the media emphasising the link between womanhood and menstruating—because there are plenty of women who do not menstruate for various different reasons, but we’re all still women.
There was a large part of 2021 where I just felt like I was less of a woman because I didn’t menstruate. Even though hearing about ‘period power’ is supposed to be empowering, it wasn’t. It was almost like a trigger for some feeling I didn’t know I had. It had never occurred to me how much not having a period felt like a deficit. In the media, women who don’t bleed are seen as something else entirely—it’s like we’re not real women. (At least not according to JK Rowling.)
I’m still slowly regaining my menstrual cycle. Every month I worry about my period not showing up. Every twinge in my abdomen has me overthinking what caused it. And the thing is, I’m not alone in this. A lot of people experience menstrual problems—whether permanent, transient, or intermittent—and it’s important that we tell our stories.
Despite the problems we face, we are still women, and we shouldn’t be defined by our reproductive systems.