The Black String Bikini

Performed live at Resilient October 2019

Trigger warning: menstruation, childhood sexual trauma, miscarriage, pregnancy loss 

I want to be clear that this story is about menstruation and “becoming a woman” but I am aware that not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women. This is just my experience as a cis-woman.

I’m about 13 and it’s summertime. We’re a little ways into the summer, it’s about July. I’ve spent my summer doing Junior Lifeguard class at the local pool. It’s about a year and a half since my first period and I’m still not using tampons, that means I can’t go to class in the pool on the weeks that I’m menstruating. My mom has been very adamant that I learn how to use tampons and she has bought me teeny tiny “teen” tampons and KY Jelly to help. But nothing will help. I can’t seem to get one in the right way, my insides seize up when a foreign object tries to enter my body. I will later realize that this is due to my history of repeated sexual trauma as a child but on this day I just think I’ll never get a tampon in. I feel like such a failure, I have some friends who have been using tampons since their very first period, they say it just slid in and is so much nicer than a diaper-like pad. 

This summer has been very interesting. My mom is pregnant with a baby. I’m so very excited, I’ve prayed every night since I can remember that my mom would have another baby after my brother and my prayers have finally been answered. I dream that she has a girl and we are as thick as thieves. I know there will be an age difference but I think that’ll make it even more fun! We won’t have to compete against each other like other sisters do because it’ll be so hard to compare us with our age difference. 

I actually found out my mom was pregnant before she told me because I was snooping in her closet and found a pregnancy test. She told me it was “for one of her sisters” but I just had a feeling it was for her. When she does admit she is pregnant I cry with joy, I’m so excited and I begin to believe that prayers can be answered. Before this I kind of just went through the motions with my prayers at night. I recite the same exact prayer every night thanking god for my family and friends and praying I’ll get another sibling. 

I’ve always loved babies and my family has had no shortage of babies being that my mom is one of eleven kids and we all live in the same town but I want a baby of my own, I know this baby will be a sibling but now that I’m older I think this time I’ll have more responsibilities. I think I’ll share a room with my possible sister and I’m so excited! 

My mom had postpartum depression after my brother who is two and a half years younger than I am and I pray deep down this time will be different. I don’t even consider that she is now 43 and this is a high risk pregnancy because I’m thirteen and don’t know about these things.

I was always a precocious child, I remember going to my acting agent’s office around age six and declaring that I was “sexy”. She told me it wasn’t appropriate for children to be sexy and I should strive to be sophisticated and sassy. I tell you this because this summer I have made it my mission to get a black string bikini. I saw one in the Charlie’s Angels movie and I think it would look amazing on me. I have a cute frame from genetics, some rock hard abs from gymnastics and what my mom likes to call “mosquito bites” forming on my chest and I feel comfortable showing off my body. 

I would give anything to have this confidence back. 

Somehow my mom makes a deal with me that if I learn to use a tampon she will buy me a black string bikini. I set out my next period to do just that. 

After literal hours in the bathroom and an entire tube of KY Jelly and lots of tears, I finally get a “teen” size tampon into me. I used up an entire box trying to get just that one in. It’s like every time I try to put one in my insides freak out at something trying to penetrate me and they seize up and no matter how hard I push it won’t go in. I study the pamphlet that comes with the box and get instructions from my mom but I refuse to let her help me in the bathroom. I don’t want anyone touching me “down there”. 

The last one of the box finally slid in, I think my body was just tired of fighting and I was tired of trying. It did feel uncomfortable and I felt like I was walking weird but I proudly told my mom I did it! She was proud of me and happy I was out of the bathroom after hours of hogging it. 

The next day I had to do it again so I could go to Junior Lifeguard class. I was up all night worrying about getting another one in after having so much trouble the day before. I woke up earlier than usual to give myself some time to get it in. 

After a few tries I got one in and this one felt more comfortable than the previous one so I felt confident that I would be okay going forward with tampons. After class my mom told me we could go to the mall to find a black string bikini and I was full of excitement. My whole life I’ve put a lot of pressure on ONE THING like the black string bikini to completely change my life. I thought if I had a black string bikini I would finally be cool and happy. I still do this, I just bought a weighted blanket on the internet while procrastinating writing this piece and I’m convinced it’ll cure my anxiety and help me with good sleep hygiene and my life will finally fall into place. 

So that’s all to say that I put a lot on this black string bikini. I was convinced it would change my world. Excitement doesn’t even cover how I was feeling about going to the mall. I guess I also had these feelings about my new sibling, I thought the baby would change my life for the better, I would have a sister, a lifelong friend. 

When I got out of class my mom told me before we went to the mall we had to go to her doctor because she had been bleeding a little that morning. I don’t remember being worried about the bleeding–she had been bleeding the previous weekend and she seemed fine so why would this be any different? 

We drove all the way to the city to go to her doctor and I remember waiting in the waiting room for what felt like hours but was probably just 45 minutes. This was before smart phones and dozens of apps that could keep you occupied for hours and I hadn’t thought to bring a book because I thought we were just going shopping after class. 

When my mom finally came out of the examination room and into the waiting room with puffy eyes she explained to me that she had lost the baby. I sat in the uncomfortable seat and I felt the world around me crashing and spinning. I was in total shock. I didn’t know what to do so I got up and gave her a hug. I don’t remember talking a lot on the ride from the doctors office to the mall. What could I possibly say to make either of us feel better? There was nothing to say. A life had been lost. I now know that what I was experiencing was grief, something I hadn’t experienced before. 

We went to Lord & Taylor, Kohls, Dillard’s and a shop that only sold swimsuits and looked all afternoon for a black string bikini that would fit my tiny frame. We finally found one at the swimsuit shop. The day was a lot of walking around in silence. I was so excited about the bathing suit but I was also sincerely upset on the inside. I didn’t know how to reconcile these emotions. How could I feel so sad yet so excited at the same exact time? How was this possible?

I wondered why my mom was taking me shopping moments after she had just lost a baby. I wonder now why I let her. 

I would guess that my mom was using her “keep everything normal” parenting style by taking me shopping. Maybe she wanted a distraction. I don’t know and now, thirteen years later I’m still afraid to ask. It feels like an invasion, asking her about such a dark time. I have come to believe that when sad things happen you have to distract yourself and keep moving on with life. Through a decade of therapy I’ve now learned it’s important to “Feel your feels” and deal with your emotions as they arise but at thirteen I didn’t have these tools. 

I often thought about this day as I grew older, in college especially. I spent a lot of time thinking about how my body was changing and evolving. Having a period meant I could carry a baby and my mom having that miscarriage at 43 meant she could not. Trying to reconcile these facts was extremely difficult for me. We were all so excited for the baby, my mom had already asked my cousin Siobhan and Michael to be the godparents. Looking back I realize my mom was still in her first trimester and being 43 she should have been more cautious and possibly secretive with her pregnancy but we were all just so excited. It felt like a blessing. 

After my mom lost the baby I stopped saying my nightly prayers. I stopped reciting the lines I had memorized as a small child about being grateful for family and all our blessings along with the our father and an Irish prayer about falling asleep. I was still grateful but I was also bitter that my prayers for another sibling had not come true after I was so close. I wouldn’t say I stopped believing in God but I was a little more suspicious. I still went to CCD ( Confraternity of Christian Doctroine) — I had to look up what the acronym meant because we had so much to learn on Tuesday nights about our religion they didn’t have time to teach us what CCD stood for. I volunteered with vacation bible school in middle school and had my own class in High School every summer and went to church every Sunday until my brothers sports schedule got too busy for us to go. 

I’m not a religious adult. As a survivor of childhood sexual violence I find it hard to reconcile my faith being raised as a Catholic and the violent history of the Catholic Church. I’ve recently started to say my prayers again when I can’t fall asleep at night. I don’t say the part about getting another sibling but it’s comforting to me late at night when it feels like I’ll never get the rest I crave. 

I don’t know if I believe in the words I’m saying when I pray now but they feel like a hug, a reminder of my childhood and simpler times. 

The black string bikini didn’t change my life, I didn’t become cool and happy with my life. I wore it to a friends birthday pool party and a popular girl who actually had boobs was also wearing one. I felt upstaged and embarrassed by my body. I didn’t talk to my friends about my moms miscarriage and it basically never came up. 

About two months ago I went to an Aura Cleansing with my mom, the Aura Cleanser was also an intuitive and he told my mom she had two children but still held on to a third that she had lost. When she told me this tears sprung to my eyes for her loss and my own. I know that I’ll never understand her loss which is much deeper than my own but I’ve been working to understand my loss. I lost a sibling I never even got a chance to fight with, that sibling is untouchable to me in a way that my brother isn’t, he has his faults. 

I have a lot of worry surrounding my own future fertility. I’m nowhere near ready to have a baby but I “secret” that I’ll have healthy pregnancies despite my poly cystic ovaries whenever I remember to. I guess Secreting things has become my way of praying now that I’ve stepped away from religion. 

Even now as a lapsed Catholic, I still experience that good ole’ Catholic Guilt when I think about going shopping on the day my mom lost a baby she deeply wanted. I’ve come to realize that was her way of coping in the moment. By taking care of the child she had in front of her, the one who desperately wanted a black string bikini to change her world. 


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