"So, remember how the book we read about sex said eggs dissolve at the end of each month if they’re not used? That wasn’t quite a complete description of what happens."The gang — my 7-year-old, 5-year-old, and 3-year-old — and I were walking through a gas station in LaPine, Oregon, looking for tampons for my partner. The oldest had spurred the conversation when she asked “What are tampons?” immediately after I asked a clerk where we might find them in the store. As we made our way to the right aisle, I carried on.
“Remember the part about your uterus? That holds the eggs?”
“Well, it builds a lining made of blood and tissue for the egg to embed in if it gets fertilized. If the egg doesn’t get fertilized, the uterus sheds the lining and it comes out through your vagina. So, remember how right now, at this age, you’re not supposed to have anything put inside your vagina?”
“Yup.” There were now several customers with an ear cocked towards us to see where this was headed. To their credit, we only got one look of complete incredulity.
“Well, when the lining flushes out, you can put a tampon — they’re made out of cotton — inside your vagina to soak up the blood, and then later you just throw out the tampon. Got it?” I leaned down to pick up a box of the tampons that we’d finally located.
And that was it. The gang picked out a donut — the advertising for the gas station swore donuts were their claim to fame — asked what the slushy machine was (“Sugar in a cup”), asked if they could have one, (“Nope”), and off we went with our donuts, tampons, and motor oil.
If you’ve been on the Internet in the last few months, you may have seen more than one story about men being reluctant to purchase tampons, or stories of women who feel they have to hide them. As a dad, it’s become very evident to me that we’ve all got to start talking about vaginas, uterine linings, tampons, and pads because perhaps once we get over talking about those things, we can finally start talking openly about women’s health issues.
I’m a dad of two daughters of whom I think the world. I’m sad that their grandmother — my mom — passed away before she could meet them. I’m even more concerned, though, that she passed away before I had the chance to ask her about her health and how that might translate to the girls’ lives.
I know that Mom had ovarian cysts throughout her life. I know that at one point she considered whether or not she should opt for a hysterectomy. I know that, though doctors never found the root cause of the illness that killed her in just under seven days, they did find “fragged” uterine cancer cells in her bloodstream. I don’t know what the causes or the implications of any of this were because Mom and I never discussed it.
Any of my mom’s health issues might be heritable, and as my daughters grow up I’d like to make them aware of factors that might negatively affect their health. That could have been an easy task for me if my mom’s health issues had been discussed openly. Instead, I’m left doing detective work after the fact, hoping I get the details straight and that the information is still accessible. The bummer is none of my detective work would have been necessary if Mom’s ovaries had been as topical a discussion in our family as say Great-great Uncle George’s stroke. I’d already know everything.
So, here’s a manifesto of sorts, a place for us men to start to make things better. To all the guys out there, say it with me:
“It’s a uterus. It contains a lining that will either serve as the first home to my kid if my partner and I fertilize an egg, or that will shed to make room for a new lining if we don’t. If the lining sheds, well, it contains blood so, it will exit through the vagina…as blood. That’s how it works. In either event, it’s important, as is the person it belongs to.”
Now, let’s get back to that kid we mentioned. Once again, say it with me:
“Heaven forbid anything should ever happen to my partner, but if it does, I could be my kid’s last link to vital information she needs for her continued health. If I don’t have that information — either because I’m squeamish, or because a ridiculously patriarchal society tells me I should be — my kid’s screwed.”
And finally, all together now because this is the most important part:
“I will talk about menstrual cycles as if they were events that happen routinely — every 30 days, in fact — to half the population. And I will discuss my loved ones’ health issues, just like they talk about mine. Because it matters.”