Or How We survived Our First Period
I got my first period (the menarche) between the age of 12 or 13. I was expecting it and was delighted that it had finally arrived. My mother had prepared me well, there were sanitary towels in the bathroom, I knew how to use them and I couldn’t wait to tell her my news. The only embarrassing part was her insistence on telling my brothers, but eventually I got over that. That was way back in 1997.
I consider myself lucky, many of my peers back then had little or no information before they get their first period. If my Mother had left my menstrual education in it had been left up to school I would have had the benefit of one solitary hour of sex-ed, where boys and girls were separated, of which my only abiding memory was an animation of a penis becoming erect.
Menstrual stigma is still alive and well throughout the world. In India only 50% of girls have any knowledge about menstruation before their first period. In Ethiopia as few as one-third of girls receive education on menstruation. While in the UK, Ireland and North America menstruators still feel embarrassed and awkward discussing periods, accessing products or facing taboos around menstruation.
As part of the lead up to World Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th, four wonderful bloggers, activists and menstrual health advocates agreed to share their stories of their first period, the good, the bad and the downright ugly:
Paula Dennan “I don’t remember much about the sex education I received in school. There was the basics, covered in biology, and a talk about the dangers of toxic shock syndrome from a woman who gave us all a box of tampons once she was finished scaring the life out of us. Other than that I got most of my information from older friends or at home.
Getting my first period was a bigger deal for others than it was for me. The reason being, that my Dad was the first person I told. That he knew what to do still baffles some people when the conversation comes round to first period stories. That he wouldn’t have known what to do never crossed my mind.
The idea that it’s only “acceptable” to talk about periods with certain people and in certain circumstances feeds into the secrecy that surrounds them. The secrecy that says, now that you’ve gotten your period it’s time to spend the next however many years pretending you haven’t. Because that is totally doable. Not! Even if it was doable, why should we have to act like it’s not a thing we experience regularly?
Advice I wish I had? I would have loved someone to warn me that, despite what I had learned in biology class, not everyone’s cycle is that magical ‘can set your watch by it’ 28 days long.
Paula Dennan is a feminist, activist, writer, and book reviewer who swapped city life for the quietness of Co. Kerry. She was once a regular runner until her health got in the way, she hopes to get back to it someday. She can usually be found with a book in her hand. She blogs at Cornflake Girl Musings and you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook , or Instagram.
Britta Long: “I was 12 when I started my period. It was a school day. When I told my mom (who had already supplied me with some pads months prior), I burst into tears. She hugged me, told me to go back to bed, and said I could go to school late that day. Even though most of my friends had theirs already, even though I had read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret multiple times–I cried. I just felt so overwhelmed. I’ve never been in a hurry to grow up, and starting my period felt like everything was changing, too fast. My mom was very understanding, and she helped me adjust. By the time I went to school a few hours later, I felt fine.”
Brita Long is a southern belle trying to make her way back to Paris. She writes and blogs about marriage, feminism, fashion, travel, Crohn’s Disease, and more. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram.
Chella Quint: “I got my first period when I was 12 and a half, living in the US, and I was more worried about the social etiquette of whether to flush or not to flush within earshot of guests arriving by the front door than what to do about my period. To be Continued…
Chella Quint coined the term #periodpositive in 2006. You can support her campaign on research by visiting periodpostive.com, or becoming a #periodpositive partner for Menstrual Hygiene Day. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Barbara Loomis: The very first day I started my period I felt an immense amount of shame and dread. I don’t know why, but I did. My mom never prepared me for menarche, but luckily my friends filled me in. Friends: “It really sucks!” “You can never wear white pants again” “You can get pregnant” “It hurts” “The pad makes you look like you crapped your pants”.
Anyway, as I sat in my room rehearsing how to tell my mom that I started my period, I felt a tremendous amount of anxiety like I did something wrong. I sheepishly went into her sewing room where she was working away on a project, I meekly said, “Mom, I think I started my period.” “Shit! The pads are under the sink,” was her reply. That was it, no congratulations, no how do you feel, no hug, no explanation of why I was bleeding. I knew how to use the pads (I read the box many times), but I still asked her how to use them. I think I was looking for some kind connection with her. In an irritated voice she spat out, “the directions are on the box!” We never mentioned pads or menstruation again. I’m not angry at my mom, I only have love and compassion for her, may she rest in peace. I can’t imagine what her experience as a young woman was like. She was obviously uncomfortable regarding the subject.
Barbara Loomis specialises in several forms of abdominal therapies for reproductive and digestive health. What lights her up is to see people connect with the inner beauty and wisdom of their bodies. She has a wonderful blog and website full of resources to help you on your journey to menstrual and abdominal health. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram.
How was your experience with your first period? Did you feel prepared? Were you happy, alarmed, embarrassed? Who did you tell? How did they react?