Tuesday, September 26, 2006

My Defect is Revealed

When i was 12 years old, my mother took me to the doctor and i did not know why. When he had me take off my underpants WITH MY MOTHER IN THE ROOM, i did not know why. When he looked at my privates with his creepy goateed face, i did not know why.

Back at home, left with no information, my mind went wild with speculation. I was born without one, whatever one was. (You have to understand my level of ignorance about my own body. I did not know that there were any inside bits. I mean, i had heard tell of these bits, but i had not located mine.) My parents never told me anything about sex, ever, and thus i was left to my own devices to try and figure it out. I knew that this horrible thing happened to women at a certain age, and that while it was still ok to go out in public at this terrible time, i must make sure to eat my vegetables and get plenty of rest.

(This was learned from the movie that all the girls were herded into the lunchroom one day to view, after our parents had signed the permission slip. Oh god we were sorry for the girls whose parents had refused to sign, and who had to go and sit in the library during this momentous event.)

My defect had become so apparent that my mother had to take me to a specialist. He gave me pills to take, estrogen, and they made me sick. Maybe these were to help me grow whatever it was i was missing. I lived in fear and shame for about a year, in which time the estrogen did its thing and i "became a woman". I did not tell my mom about this event for as long as possible. She eventually discovered it from my laundry.

Then i was put on birth control pills. I did not know what they were, except that my mother told me not to leave them lying around for someone to see. I was ashamed.

It turns out that my "defect" was having the potential to grow too tall. In my mother's words, many years later "I didn't want to wake up one morning and find out you were 6'3". I guess my defect really was that i might embarass her with my ridiculous and unnatural size.


I should be able to look back at this and find some humor, but i can still feel the ignorance and the shame of it. I guess it worked, sort of, because i am only 6'1". Practically a midget. I still wonder if that doctor knew what the hell he was doing. And i still wonder what i would have decided to do if i had been asked. My guess is that i would have been all for it, i didn't want to be a candidate for the circus.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry your mother botched that up so much. It speaks volumes for how she must have related to you overall.

I don't think it would happen that way today. Sadly, I don't mean to say that something like that wouldn't happen, but that all the parties involved wouldn't be so mis- or uninformed. I'm completely ignorant in the area of endocrinology, but I have to believe that there was some basis for genuine concern about your health.

My mother discovered the loss of my virginity through the laundry. How mortifying, but I guess I wasn't too worried about it at the time, because, why didn't I do a load myself? Back when I was in elementary school, I'd walk home the long way and then have to sprint the last bit, but sometimes I could not make it and I'd wet my pants. I did the laundry those days to avoid explanation.

Anyway, there was no sex talk forthcoming after that. She wrongly assumed there was no point.

I only hope the rest of us parents can learn the power of information - shared and withheld.

Lynnea said...

Its absolutely mind boggling that a parent could put you through that and not say anything about what was going on. On the other hand, parental communication and caring was not a specialty in my home either, so I can see how it would happen. But the thing that weirded me out so much was the gynecologic exam to decide what to do about your height? I guess if they put you on hormone meds it was necessary? That's just creepy.

In the end, your body probably did what it would have anyways.

I wonder how many short kids were being fed pills to get taller?

peevish said...

I am so sorry you were forced to go through this, and are still dealing with it. And I hope you hold your head regally high, knowing that you managed to prosper despite their best efforts.

Anonymous said...

That's an awful story. But soooo typical of the times we grew up in. I don't think estrogen would have stunted your height, but feeding hormones and birth control pills to a child with a developing endocrine system is criminal, to my mind. Ugh. I sometimes wonder who our parents were, how they could even live, being so cut off and shut down.

Josephine said...

I've been sitting here for a couple of moments, wondering why on Earth your parents wouldn't tell you what was going on.

I'm sorry you had to go through that, it sounds emotionally abusive, in that ignorant way they had about doing things during that time and place in American culture.

My youngest step brother was put on hormones to make him grow. He was 12 and just before puberty when his mother died tragically in a car accident. The emotional turmoil caused him to stop growing. The hormones made him grow so fast, that he ended up suffering a broken hip when he was 17.

But at least he knew full well what was happening. This story speaks volumes about how very important it is for all of us to stay curious, to open our minds to science, and to try to be supportive of one another, even if it seems taboo in light of social popular knowledge. Thank you for having the courage to share your experience.

Bob said...

Goodness. I too am mystified why a doctor evaluating your "potential" to grow too tall would require a view of your genitals. But, as has already been said, the tradegy here was that at 12 your mother didn't - or couldn't - tell you what was going on. Did you ask her? I had a hard time as a teenager talking to my parents about personal problems - and I still tend to keep things to myself. It seems to be fairly common in our culture, at least it is for males. I was taught to be responsible and to take charge of myself. How can I be in charge if I am burdening others with my problems? This has been a challenge in our marriage - communication. I am, we are still working on it.

meno said...

de, as i understand it, there was no concern about my health. The estrogen was to bring puberty on sooner, and thus give my body less time in which to grow. Your story makes me want to go back in time and give you a hug and some facts.

maggie, i think he was trying to determine how close i was to puberty and thus how much drugs to give me to help things along. Of course this is all speculation years later. It is creepy.

lisa, i try, and i also try not to repeat the ignorance w/Em.

marian, sadly, it is typical. And i do wonder what it did to my body, in the long run. I come from a long line of big breasted women, on both sides. I'm the only small one. (About which i am very happy.) But i do wonder.

josephine, it was just their way, i guess. I mean even back then they must have known that you were supposed to tell your kids about sex, but they were so uncomfortable that they couldn't.

bob, i don't think i would have asked. I had learned well by then that if i had a problem, i had best work it out for myself, because no help would be forthcoming, and i might get in trouble. Keep on working on it.

Tracy Helgeson said...

I think it is so common for us to think that physicians know everything, when clearly over time many treatments have been proven to be downright harmful. People are a bit more skeptical now, but still things haven't changed that much. At least there are some options regarding information these days.

My mother said not one word to me about development, sex or much of anything else for that matter. Finally in sixth grade when my breasts were bumping into other people, my friend's mom bought me a bra. She helped me with my first period too. And I will always be grateful for sex ed at school. I have been very open about talking about that stuff with my daughters, as embarrassing as it is, for me not them:-)

Anonymous said...

meno, we are twins separated at birth. I'm 6 feet and although 50, haven't even lost a quarter inch of height. All my peers are shrinking, shrinking, shrinking, but I'm still standing tall.

Meno, your parents submitted to authority. It was seen as the righteous thing to do. It still is: by those who voted for W a second time and support him still, regardless of his record.

Karen Jacobs said...

A wonderful example of the change of times: the story goes, the oldest g-girl excitedly ran into the family room yelling "I'm a WOMAN!" marking the event. I was 13 when I 'became a woman,' late compared to my peers and I was so envious of the talk of belts and pads in the girl's room and gym. Wonder if late puberty and height is connected... never thought about it (I'm 6'.)

Anonymous said...

I wanted to know more...I found out that this is still an accepted practice, even though the dangers of taking hormones are both better understood today and still unpredictable!

Also that a result of a ONE INCH less than the predicted stature is considered successful. WTF?!

I'm stupefied that there is no reason for this other than to just be less tall.

Instead of helping you find a humorous side to this, I'm just really pissed off now.

peevish said...

I have to pop in again to say I'm so jealous of all of your statuesque women. I'm 5'2" on a good day and I can't reach a fucking thing in my house without dragging a chair over to climb on. I'm hoping my daughters have inherited their father's genes for height.

meno said...

tracy, yeah, he was the doctor, and at 12, i would never have considered asking him any questions. I'm glad that you have found a way to let your daughters know what is where and how it all works. And thank god for your friend's mom. Yay her!

holly, another 6 footer! awesome. KJ, and One tall momma, and mamap, who are commenters here and have great blogs, are all 6' and over. I say we have a convention somwhere and frighten the locals.

kj, isn't that great that your g-girl was so excited and wanted to share. When Em got her first period she came right up and told me and then we told her dad. Afterwards i cried because it was proof that i'm not my mom. I was 13 too, but mine was artificially induced early, so who knows when i would have started otherwise.

de, thanks for your anger. I can't really find the humor in this either. As if being tall is wrong. My mom was probably concerned about my ever getting married. But i messed with her head and married a short guy. HA!

lisa, you are who i wanted to be in high school, cute and little. But now i am delighted to be tall. But about those airline seats.....

urban-urchin said...

why did he have to do a genital exam to deal with your height? That is majorly fucked up. I'm sorry your mother did that to you- I'm tall (not as tall as you though I wish I were) and I am glad my daughter is going to be over 6 ft according to her doctors.

Mignon said...

My mom, as a parent to an adult, is wonderful. And actually, I think now she would be an excellent parent to a teenage, but at the time she sucked and I felt ashamed, dirty and uniformed when I started my period. I had no idea it lasted several days and was completely confused about what that pain in my lower back was. I thought there was something terribly wrong. She told me to get out of bed or I'd be late for work (berry picking). I spent several days with a hand towel wadded up in my underwear in a giant raspberry field. I'd make a shameful trip to the port-a-potty every hour or so to adjust the towel.

I'm sure, like me, your experience has resulted in you being very open and understanding with your daughter. I look forward to being able to explain to Madeleine what's happening to her and making her feel lucky to be a woman. I do now, but it's taken a while.

And also Bob? "[A] view of your genitals" is not really how I like to think of a visit to the gynecologist. Especially when picturing a 12-year-old girl's first visit.

Mother of Invention said...

Well, at least we can say that we've come a long way in parenting and perhaps doctors too have become more communicative and include children in the discussion.
I remember walking over to another school to see that movie in Gr. 5. One girl already had hers. I didn't get mine until Gr. 7 (12). My 2 sisters and I are all 5' 10" and proud. One married a neat guy who is 5'5".

I got diabetes a year later and then I didn't get a period for months and I'm very small-busted. Hormones just do weird things to our bodies.

I am glad you survived the hurt this caused you and are proud to be who you are in sharing this with us.

meno said...

urban-urchin, i think he was looking for pubic hair or some other sign of development. Or maybe he was just a creep. Hooray for your daughter!

mignon, i feel so sad when i hear this kind of story. It makes me angry to think about how alone you must have felt. And that's just wrong.

mother of invention, we have come a long way. I think 5'10" would be the perfect height, and i'm only a few inches off that so i'm pretty close.

urban-urchin said...

Ugh. It's still humiliating- I'm sorry.

Bob said...

Mignon - I don't either as I have a daughter too. I misunderstood the first paragraph, the way Meno described it I didn't even get that it was a gynecological exam.

Ashley Lasbury said...

Now I can comment. You got hormones, I got an x-ray of my hand when I was 16. They were checking my bone development and trying to figure our if I would ever get my period..or breasts. Talk about feeling like a freak. And I was 6 feet tall at 13. As you know, not fun.

Now that my daughters are growing into their feet I hope I am dealing with them in a more sane way them my mom dealt with me. They both know that they are going to be tall women. That being a tall woman is a blessing and not a curse. That they will menstruate later then all of their friends but that they are normal and beautiful. It helps that all of their aunts are tall, beautiful role models.

Mignon said...

Bob, glad you feel the same way. Your comment gave me the willies a little - reminded me of the time a "friend" asked my husband if he minded that other men had "been inside me." He meant did Jim get jealous of my old boyfriends, but can you imagine? Jim almost puked his pizza. Anyway, I don't think you're like that guy any more!

Dick said...

I think your Mom was concerned about you (although I can't understand the reason - too tall?) and wanted to "help" with what she thought was a problem, but it is too bad she didn't talk with you about what was going on. I think we are doing a better job of parenting now days. I read someplace that it is too bad that the birth control pill isn't one that a person takes when they want to HAVE a baby. Wouldn't that be an idea?

Bob said...

Mignon - GOOD! I'm sorry that you got creeped out and that I caused it. I hate being misunderstood. I hate even more offending people, I certainly never mean to.

meno said...

onetallmomma, it is a blessing. I reached my 6'1" at 14. I remember how shocked i was at not being able to say i was 5'11" anymore. I'm surprised that you aren't taller, given that you didn't have a period until you were 16. But what do i know about it?

mignon, now i am snickering a bit wondering why he didn't just ask you how you felt about other women "surrounding his penis". What a creepy way to out it.

dick, you know, you are probably right, she was trying to help. But i can't imagine why she didn;t tell me what the hell it was about instead of putting me through that psycological hell. The pill idea might have been from my "When i rule the World, Part 1" post.

Andrea Frazer said...

Wow, that's just a freaky little tale. I had hormones, too, but my mom gave me the choice. I am glad about not being more than 6/1. But your scenario is rough. Your mom... you HAVE to write a novel and make some money off of this dysfunction. Even better - a sitcom. Residuals! That's how we angelenos think, anyway.

meno said...

mamap, really? You had them too? At what age and what was your predicted height? Do tell.

Yeah, you are from LA. When i visited there last year, i was totally amazed by all the billboards for TV shows.

Bobealia... said...