I got boobs before any of my classmates. I tried to hide them.
I failed. Big time.
This was the first of many challenges I would attempt to ignore as a growing girl, excusing it as "a woman thing."
Soon after my boobs appeared, I was the first of my friends to get my period. I was so embarrassed to tell my mother that I made her guess what the big news was that I had to share. (A registered nurse and super-attentive mother, she got the correct answer straight out of the gate.)
Then, I got fat. Not fat enough that people would point or make fun of me, but just fat enough. I wore t-shirts over my bathing suits and spent weeks shopping for the dresses I'd wear to dances that I'd attend without a date.
Next came the Freshman 15. Granted, I had so much fun in college that the bars should have paid me tuition, but I got heavier. And heavier.
After graduation, I joined my first gym just because everyone else was doing it. One day on the treadmill, likely walking the same speed at which I'd walk to the bathroom to pee in the middle of the night, I spotted a friend who'd clearly received a complete body transformation along with her diploma. Long, life-changing story short, she forced (yes, forced) me to meet with her new personal trainer.
A year later, I was in the best shape of my life. I'd completed two marathons, was in true love for the first time in my life, had a great job, my own apartment and a one-way ticket to an eating disorder. I don't believe I was ever too thin, but I wasn't me. I remember my grandfather telling me I looked like an Ethiopian, and part of me took it as a compliment.
Fast-forwarding a bit, I got married to the man of my dreams, had a career that I loved and a baby in my belly. (That's definitely a woman thing.)
So, for the first time since that day I'd made my mom guess, I didn't have a period. But in exchange, I had a myriad of other issues, including a bulging hernia that made it look like I was giving birth not only to a little girl, but an alien sibling. That meant I was headed for both a c-section and an abdominal hernia repair (at the same time) for both of my pregnancies.
Every woman will say that her body was "never the same" after having children, but that expression takes on a different meaning for me. Post-pregnancy brought on aches, pains, anemia and fatigue like I'd never experienced. Numerous vials of blood and doctors appointments later, I was diagnosed with Lupus. That disease, fatal for many, is something I deal with on a daily basis. The presentation of the disease came with my first pregnancy, was exacerbated by my second and is now the reason I cannot have a third. While I wouldn't say that the disease was caused by my pregnancy, it was likely something I was already prone to that the pregnancy stirred. Though a very small of percentage of those with Lupus are men, it's mostly a "woman thing."
And, it all started with my very first period.
But thank God it did. Because if it didn't, I wouldn't have this.
I'd never really thought fondly of my menstrual cycle before today. In the past, it has been nothing but a super heavy annoyance.
In their photo series, titled simply "Period," brave sisters Rupi and Prabh Kaur made the curious and seemingly fearless decision to share with the world a very personal side of arguably of the most important -- yet least-discussed -- element of womanhood. Though quickly (and, in my opinion, unjustly) deemed "inappropriate" and censored on social media, I still heard their message loud and clear.
No woman should feel ashamed of the characteristics that most define her as a woman. After all, they are what gives us the gift of life.
I can't begin to put into words exactly how this situation has made me feel, not only about my own womanhood, but about our freedom of expression, discrimination and censorship.
This isn't just a woman thing.