Menopause in Three Parts: Where Rivers Flow, Split and Unravel

I am a multitude

I belong to me

We belong to me

I belong to we

I walk with legion

I am

When Rivers Flow: The Womb Reflects on Its First Period and on Constructing a Self to Survive

Omisade Burney-Scott 

As a child growing up, who you are and how you are known is so intricately connected to family and lineage.

In New Bern, N.C.—a place that sits between two rivers and is less than an hour from the beach—I am Mary Kinsey and Willie George McConnner’s first daughter together, born of a marriage cut short by illness.

I am also Mary Burney and Charlie Burney’s daughter, raised in Prince George’s County Maryland, as a function of death, second marriage and adoption.

It wasn’t uncommon to hear, “Lord have mercy, you look just like your daddy!”

Even now, at 56 years old, those connections to my roots—people and place—remain strong. Every reunion with old friends or family is punctuated by gasps and greetings of “Hey there, Mary Burney!” as I’ve started to resemble my mother more with age, complete with a shock of gray hair.

For the longest time, my identity was defined primarily by these connections to my lineage. Yet I am more than just the sum of my family tree or the ancestral topography of my place of birth.

As I’ve journeyed through the vastness of life, particularly through the twists and turns of the Menopausal Multiverse, I’ve discovered new layers beyond these familial bonds. It is like stepping through a portal – from menarche to menopause—where I encounter versions of myself that are uniquely mine, defined by me. With each passing phase, I’ve come to understand that I walk with a legion within and am a multitude unto myself. It is a potent realization that my journey isn’t just about where I come from, but also about embracing the depths of who I am becoming, independent of anyone else’s expectations or perceptions.

It is a realization that has a deep connection to my relationship with menstruation and menopause. 

Blood! The memories flood back when I think of my earliest encounters with blood. It is a scorching summer day in 1975, and I’m tearing through our neighborhood in a foot race, rocking my thong sandals like a true fashion icon. But alas, my glory was short-lived. In a moment of reckless abandon, I took a tumble onto the unforgiving asphalt, leaving behind a trail of crimson on my elbows and knees.

As I lay there, nursing my wounds, I could practically feel the sting of the mercurochrome my mother would soon apply. With gentle hands, she patched me up, wrapping my scraped limbs in bandages that would become badges of honor from my daredevil escapade. But those thong sandals didn’t survive the ordeal. They were left in tatters, just like my skin, which still bears the scars of my airborne misadventure. It was a painful lesson, a reminder etched into my flesh always to tread carefully and never underestimate the power of gravity.

Looking back on that early encounter with my own blood, it’s not just the faint scars that remind me of that day, now nearly five decades ago. It’s the whole experience, and the friends and family who bore witness to my to it. That moment wasn’t just about a painful scrape or the fleeting glory of childhood recklessness. It was a rite of passage, a shared experience among many Black kids in the 1970s. Blood wasn’t just blood; it was a badge of honor, a marker of adventure and camaraderie, something to be celebrated rather than feared.

Menstrual blood was entirely different from the bloodstains of childhood adventures—summer foot races, bike rides, and even the loss of baby teeth in exchange for permanent ones. Menstrual blood came with its own set of messages, whispers from my womb space that only I could decode. It was like embarking on a treasure hunt within myself, armed with nothing but a compass made of intuition and a hefty dose of trial and error. Creating my own map of this internal landscape wasn’t easy. I had to channel my inner cartographer and chart new territories with each cycle.

Blood wasn’t just blood; it was a badge of honor, a marker of adventure and camaraderie, something to be celebrated rather than feared. … Menstrual blood came with its own set of messages, whispers from my womb space that only I could decode.

Despite the occasional wrong turn or dead end, navigating this menstrual maze taught me something invaluable—the power of listening to my body.  Born with a uterus and ovaries, I realized I carried a familial legacy from the very start—all the eggs I’d ever have. It represented a continuous thread of existence, linking me to my mother, her mother, and beyond. In a way, I’ve always been here, even before I took my first breath.

But it’s not just about physical existence. It is about carving out my path, and defining my identity in this vast multiverse. The journey to claim my sovereignty and understand every aspect of myself began with that pivotal moment when my first period arrived. Suddenly, my body was a messenger, speaking directly to me, guiding me through this intricate dance of self-discovery.

It was like stepping through a portal into a new realm, where my perception of myself shifted from external influences to an internal dialogue. Who am I? That question echoed in my mind, urging me to explore beyond the boundaries set by others.

Sure, I looked to the guidance of my parents and the maps they provided, but gradually, I became my cartographer, sketching out new territories of identity as I matured. The familiar landmarks of family ties and societal expectations gave way to uncharted territories, mapped out with the experiences and lessons of my adulthood. 

My journey of self-discovery has been like navigating through the ever-shifting Menopausal Multiverse. It’s not just about the physical changes from menarche to menopause; it’s about the profound shifts in how I see myself and the world around me. Each phase brought new layers to the question, “Who are you?”

I carried a familial legacy from the very start—all the eggs I’d ever have.

Today, menopause is a continuation of that journey, continuously peeling back the layers, discovering the nuances of my being, and embracing every facet that makes me uniquely me. So, as I traverse through this Menopausal Multiverse, I’m not just finding answers; I’m uncovering the depths of my essence. 

And in that exploration, I’m finding the beauty of being authentically, unapologetically me.

When Rivers Split: The Womb Reflects on Perimenopause and Remembers Its Inner Child

Danielle Purifoy 

And in that exploration, I’m finding the beauty of being authentically, unapologetically me. 

My first period. I can remember the day in 1995 when I came home on the bus and spotted the dull brown spot, a mysterious abstract painting, in my underwear. I felt weird. I was 11 and just starting middle school and even though we learned all about this period thing at 9 or 10, I didn’t know anyone else who had started their journey. I called my mom at work to let her know, and she said—


I wasn’t sure why we were celebrating. I got calls from my mom’s girlfriends, her elders, my great aunts, and they all said something about me becoming a lady. Here I was, dressed in the baggiest jeans I was allowed to have, black T-shirt to my calves, praying for a pair of tan “butter” Timberland boots, and they were calling me a lady. 

I knew that I didn’t want to be a lady, but I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. Even if I wasn’t feeling the lady magic, there was something special about a bunch of Black women who had already been where I was calling me with joy in their voices. It felt like a portal of some kind, traveling with their memories of their first periods, the language they used (“my menses,” “my monthly”), their struggles with the technologies of the day, like that little belt with the washable pads.

If I couldn’t locate the space time where that joy resided, I realize now, it was mostly because nothing they said after “congratulations” or “you’re becoming a lady” was particularly joyous. They never lingered on what joys I should expect from becoming a lady—I suppose they believed it was self-evident? Either way, joy quickly turned to caution. 

Now make sure you clean yourself well—you don’t want to smell. 

Always keep some pads with you—you don’t want to have an accident. 

Make sure you stay away from them boys—you don’t want to get pregnant. 

Caution also came with a giant box of the thickest maxi pads made by Tampax. I felt thankful to receive them, but I can’t say they brought me joy. 

There was something special about a bunch of Black women who had already been where I was calling me with joy in their voices.

Since that day, nearly 30 years ago, my relationship to my womb has been unremarkable. She has faithfully, every month, followed her routines and I have followed mine. We’ve been distant acquaintances—so detached, in fact, that every time a nurse asks me the first day of my last period, I take a wild guess and say, “I don’t remember, but I know it happened.”

I was incurious about her, and lucky for me, she didn’t demand much of me. Nevertheless,we traveled a long way and a long time together.  She has so many stories archived—some vivid to me and others buried far away, a time capsule of little joys and big traumas and heavy awkwardness that I’m afraid may break open by accident. Other stories creep to the surface, in the form of random musings at strange times—in the gas station bathroom, on a long road trip, after a particularly long period–they’re getting longer and heavier now.

Remember how long it took for you to relax enough to insert a tampon? Your pelvic floor was not playin’ back then. 

Remember that time you thought you could be pregnant and you got so stressed that we skipped a month? 

Remember how you said before starting on the tenure track that you wanted to be less stressed? Look at me. Girl! What are you going to do with these fibroids?

A few years ago, she made me pay attention for the first real time in my life. The fibroids she was growing started tiny, but quickly began to crowd around her, a duet dancing against my spine. I hadn’t been cautioned about this. In fact, as I consider that time in 1995, everything I had been told about my womb and her business was about other people. Becoming a lady, and even becoming the gender-obscure person that I am, is still, because of my womb, about becoming a steward of other people’s expectations and fantasies. Smelling the right way, looking the right way, being available for other people’s pleasure. And certainly never prioritizing my own health and safety. 

This is not my mother’s fault, nor her girlfriends or elders or my great aunts. Because where in the spacetime of our anti-Black, anti-womb world would they have learned in abundance about joyous, healthy wombs? 

Nearly every Black person I know with a womb has fibroids. We have all been told, one way or another, that we could look forward to the next transition–to menopause–to help them go away, or at least shrink. Otherwise, the options are to remove them (knowing they’re likely to grow back) or to remove the womb, all together, or in pieces. 

And once again, I find myself headed towards a transition that would (further) alienate me from my womb. 

What if I/we could go back?

I wonder if pre-teen Dani—with their baggy jeans and unladylikeness—could have become a friend to their womb, instead of a passive associate, or at my worst, a corporate overlord trying to manage her existence like I was being managed by parents, teachers, peers?  

I wonder if my ladylike mother and her ladylike friends could have recognized my non-lady self with curiosity and delight instead of fear. I wonder if they could have told me how powerful the womb is, how the true joy of the womb is that the womb nurtures every kind of life, that the womb makes us all possible. That the womb gives so much, even when we do not choose to carry life within our own wombs, that we ought to form a kinship with the womb. That forming a kinship with our wombs is about learning to love ourselves, to treat ourselves with the same grace, kindness and high regard that the world demands of us as Black people with wombs. 

What if 1995 was 2035? What if I—still wearing baggy jeans, still unladylike—decided to throw my womb a menopause party? What if my fibroids were still there (or not) and we weren’t focused on them because we were too busy becoming something new, together?

What if we knew that our ancestors always planned for this return? 

When Rivers Unravel: The Womb Reflects on Menopause, Existing Outside of Linear Time, Dreaming as a Form of Communication, and Body Sovereignty

Austen Smith

What if we knew that our ancestors always planned for this return? 

The sunny halo of my lamp cast shadows across the cherry-red typewriter on my walnut desk. Next to my typewriter is my writing companion, a wide-nosed she-warrior carved from an ebony tree. Beside her are the faces of Black women writers printed on a ceramic mug filled with ashwagandha, moringa leaf, turmeric, honey and steamed oat milk.

What I am describing is a rather ordinary scene, but the practice of noticing the pigment around me is one way of being with the spirit of the pigment that no longer flows from me. Rest here, my ancestors say, rest in this pigment. 

It has been half a decade since my uterus and ovaries transitioned from the physical realm. The eggs I inherited carried generations of wisdom, dreams, information and pain. Being linked to my mother, her mother and beyond meant carrying the weight of all those memories. All the ancestral data my foremothers stored in their eggs were passed down to me. Even as a child, I had spiritual sensitivities that made me susceptible to those painful memories passed through my lineage.

I never resonated with the Baptist tradition I was raised in and struggled to connect with the religion. I yearned to catch the holy ghost, but the holy ghost wouldn’t catch me. Spiritually displaced, I longed for the ancestral technologies that could have prepared my foremothers for my arrival. I longed for the Indigenous African rites of passage that would hold my vastness and teach me the ways and responsibilities of seeing through, around, and beyond time.

Some days, carrying this ancestral wisdom felt like an inheritance—a spiritual trust fund, if you will. On those days, you couldn’t tell me nothing! I was the lineage steward, the healer of our wounds, the one my ancestors prayed for!

On other days, it felt like karmic chains I couldn’t get free from; like I was being punished for past lives or made responsible for the work that my mothers couldn’t or refused to do.

Every day, it felt as if everything that had happened before me was happening to me in the present tense, and it manifested in prophetic dreams, depression, and anxiety, and my womb was constantly inflamed.

The medical professionals I saw throughout my youth and adulthood for menstrual pain were either men or protectors of patriarchal dominance. None of them were black. To them, my pain was nothing prescription ibuprofen couldn’t fix. They weren’t interested or curious enough to investigate further.

The eggs I inherited carried generations of wisdom, dreams, information and pain. … All the ancestral data my foremothers stored in their eggs were passed down to me.

There are technical, diagnostic terms that can rationalize my experience according to Western logic, but what is true is that my womb was the place where generations of grief and rage went—which means that my foremothers survived by storing their grief in the future. The oppressive and anti-Black conditions of the world they lived in made it impossible for them to take time to grieve, so they made promises to make time in the future. “When I get off this plantation, when I pay off this farm, when I save up enough money and pay off the house, it is then I can fret. I can’t worry ‘bout it today.”

Grief was stored in their eggs for safekeeping. If they passed on before they addressed this grief, then it was passed down to another womb. Grief must move, and therefore it must be felt.

If my womb-wisdom taught me anything, it’s that numbing is antithetical to healing. I knew something was wrong. It simply was not possible for my reproductive system, aged 26 earth years at the time, to process centuries of Transatlantic grief, data and memory that was unable to be addressed in the hulls or the fields or the big house or on the farm or in the cabin or in the kitchen—not without significant consequences.

For all the hullabaloo about Western medical superiority, I only discovered the panicle of ovarian cysts in the post-surgical report and X-rays … after the hysterectomy. 

Long before I knew anything about Black trans identity, gender-affirming surgeries, medical transitions, hormone replacement therapy (HRT)—or how any of that applied to me—I dreamt of an ancestral imperative.

“There is a way forward,” they said, “But it requires sacrifice.”

The Yoruba cosmology teaches that the most difficult journey one can make is the journey from heaven to earth. The voyage of being born involves violent storms—bullets of clattering rain with brazen winds against harsh, electric skies.

My womb was called to make that journey. To heal generations of pain, it was born back into the realm where time and space flow in every direction.

Menopause would be that queer initiation, that modern-day rite of passage I had so longed for. And it would come at a price. My transition initiated a second puberty that changed everything about my body. This rite of passage pried off the mask of societal expectations I had inherited from my foremothers. Menopause set the mask on fire.

With my spirit face now exposed, I became unrecognizable to those who once knew me. I learned to be comfortable naming myself, my values, and my perspectives. I could no longer hide behind the mask or revert back to the familial cycles I had agreed to sacrifice.

“Find out who you are and what you stand for,” they said. Then, I was carved out of my own earth by a robot named Da Vinci and sent to the eye of Oya.

The conversation that my Blackness, transness and menopause are having in this body is time-abundant—which is to say timeless.

Perhaps due to their own fears, my foremothers enshrouded our spiritual gifts in secrecy. We didn’t talk about them growing up. I am grateful to be connected with spiritual elders I met along my journey who taught me how to see excess, crevices and fractures as pathways into other worlds and how to use my gifts responsibly. This instruction was crucial for me to survive well, as I exist in the space where puberty and menopause coalesce, where time and space collapse.

There are downsides to split-world living. The particles I once called myself are dispersed throughout time and space. I am everywhere all at once. It can be difficult, then, to respond in “real-time” (which real time?) It takes an incredible amount of energy to harness my multitudes, to perform “me” when I am us. The conversation that my Blackness, transness and menopause are having in this body is time-abundant—which is to say timeless. Anyone blessed with the opportunity to experience either—or both—must learn to harness the power of reversing and speeding up time and learn to travel backward, forward, and diagonally through and around time to create the conditions necessary for past, present, and future selves to heal.

Some people will have no interest in this work, which is fine. We all have our own destinies. Without going through this myself, I would not have believed this work was mine. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to take off the mask of inherited identities or endure life wearing nothing but my spirit’s face … or fathomed the costs.

“Cultivate the audacity to be who you say you are,” they said. I am trying, ancestors.

Menopause—this mighty afterlife—is a fissure in reality where imperceptible pigments bleed out of every orifice, where the ordinary world can be, and is, hospitable to color.

I am a multitude

I belong to me

We belong to me

I belong to we

I walk with legion

I am

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About , and

Omisade Burney-Scott is a seventh-generation Black Southern feminist, storyteller and social justice advocate. She is also the creator and curator of "The Black Girls’ Guide to Surviving Menopause" (BGG2SM), a multimedia project focused on normalizing menopause and aging through the centering of the stories of Black women, women-identified and gender expansive people. She has been featured in numerous outlets including Oprah Daily, Forbes, VOGUE, Prevention, the Washington Post and the New York Times. Burney-Scott and BGG2SM will be partnering with The Honey Pot Company for World Menopause Month, as well as the Embodied Podcast at WUNC-North Carolina Public Radio for a series of weekly videos. She currently resides in North Carolina.
Danielle Purifoy (she/they) is a geographer, writer and professor from Durham, N.C. She writes for scholars and the public, mostly about Black geographies of the U.S. South. You can find their writing in Scalawag, Inside Higher Ed, Southern Cultures and Southerly Magazine, among many other publications.
Austen Smith is a spirit-forward writer, visionary, researcher and artist who uses ancestral reverence and dreaming as a methodology to restore the imaginations of systemically disempowered peoples.