Sometimes childlessness physically hurts

When you have children, you won’t have cramps anymore. That’s what my mother used to tell me as sat bent over double, sharp pains slicing through my lower abdomen. Every 28 days, waves of hurt would leave me gasping. Gynecologists never found anything wrong; it was just “cramps.” They’d get better when I grew up and had a family. Except I didn’t.

From age 13 to menopause at age 53, I suffered horrible cramps. My best friend stayed home when she got her period, but my mom did not believe in babying me. I took those cramps to school and work. I suffered through algebra tests and physical education classes, through interviews and deadlines.

You might say, “Why didn’t you just take something for it?” I took what was available at the time. Aspirin did nothing. We the ’70s version of Midol, really just aspirin with caffeine, which wasn’t much help either. I tried getting drunk, which left me bombed and still hurting. I didn’t just need a pain reliever; I needed an “anti-inflammatory” drug. Ibuprofen was not available until near the end of my first marriage. And then I needed a prescription. The first time I felt the relief from that miracle drug, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to hug my doctor. And when it became available over-the-counter, oh my God. I still experienced cramps, but at least I could do something to mute them a little.

What I’m saying is my cramps were horrible, and I never experienced the permanent relief that childbirth might bring. Toward the end of her life, my mother confessed that she had never had cramps, so she didn’t know what I had been feeling or whether giving birth to me made any difference for her.

Dysmenorrhea is the formal medical term for painful periods. The sharp pains are caused by the uterine muscle constricting and tightening. Most experts say that the stretching of childbirth eases the cramps. An article at Parents.com http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/changing/benefits-of-pregnancy/ suggests that childbirth eliminates some of the prostaglandin receptor sites in the uterus. Prostaglandins are the hormones which direct the uterus to contract during labor and may also be involved in monthly menstrual pain.

If there’s something wrong, such as endometriosis, periods can become absolute agony. It’s important to get medical treatment, but for plain old cramps, the only hope seems to be medication and motherhood.

I’m no medical expert. I have read comments online from women whose periods have gotten worse after pregnancy, but in general it seems to offer relief—relief we will not experience if we never have children.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Have you experienced killer cramps? Have you seen relief via childbirth? I would love to hear your experiences in this area.

BTW, menopause was a picnic compared to my monthly periods and now my cramps are gone, so that’s something to look forward to.

Male readers, I know this is one of the girl subjects you don’t want to hear about, but maybe someone you love is having cramps right now. Give her some love. They hurt like hell.

Are we defying nature by not making babies?

Women’s bodies are baby factories. It’s not all we are, of course, but if you look at our bodies, they are definitely designed to produce babies. Our breasts give milk, our vagina is designed to take in sperm, the ovaries to produce eggs which unite with the sperm, and the uterus to provide a nest for the resulting embryo to grow into a baby. Somehow, when it’s time, the body knows how to send the baby out through wide hips and a cervix that expands tremendously. Women carry extra fat reserves to help nourish the babies they carry. Hormones flood our bodies to keep the process going.

Every month of our fertile years, our uteruses prepare a cushy space for a baby then flush it away through our periods. That monthly flow of blood is the reminder of what’s not happening in our bodies, that we’re not making babies. I had periods for 40 years. Mostly it was a nuisance, messy, painful, and embarrassing. I didn’t think much about how it meant I was not pregnant because I wasn’t trying to get pregnant. I was using birth control with my first husband, and my second husband had had a vasectomy. Between marriages, I was trying NOT to get pregnant, so the arrival of my period was a relief. But think about how amazing this whole system is and how different from men’s bodies, for whom it’s all about sex.

Of course, we’re not JUST baby machines. We think, we love, we create, we dance. We’re CEOs, doctors, lawyers, teachers, ministers, artists, actors, bakers, gardeners, and so much more. But we do it all with bodies designed for motherhood. In modern times, we can decide we don’t want to be mothers. Sometimes our partners make the choice for us. Sometimes something goes wrong and we can’t get pregnant or carry a baby to term. But four out of five women still have children. Why not us?

Every other animal reproduces without questioning whether or not to do it. But we humans with our fancy brains sometimes say, “No, I’d rather do something else.” Not to get all Catholic on you, but is this right? I would love to know what you think about all this. Women’s bodies are designed to have babies. What does it mean when we choose not to use those parts or let someone make that choice for us?