I wasn’t like a lot of girls that I knew or seen in movies. I was never anticipating that day where I “entered womanhood”, acting like I was better and somehow more mature than the other girls in my class, who had yet to have their period. As far as I was concerned, I hoped it never came. I mean, I didn’t need to have children. It was just a monthly burden anyway. I was willing to wait.
Puberty wasn’t regular discourse in my house. Everything I learned about it, I got second hand by some of my older cousins, the Canadian tv show Ready or Not and these life cycle books from the 60’s or 70’s that my mother gave me at age 9. My cousins were of no help. They liked to talk about horror stories as a way to intimidate me. But, they had been through it and survived, so I was hopeful I would as well.
The life cycle books were a whole other story. I’m not even sure who’s they were. My mother’s or Memere’s, I think. There were 3 of them. 1 was on the stages girls go through, another about boys and the last was about dating (it used words like necking). My mother I suppose, noticed that I was getting a bit older, she gave me the books and said, “You like to read.” So I did, and they scarred me for life. The books stated that the average girl is 12 when she gets her period, but it can be as early as 9. Every day for the next 3 years, I would fear having my period. I believed that blood would just gush out of me desecrating everything in site. It would be horrible and humiliating.
The other issue with the book is that if you weren’t interested in tampons (not even sure if they were invented yet) you had to use a pad, but pads weren’t what they are today. They were called sanitary napkins. There was a waist strap that you had to put on in order to keep the pad on. I had no idea this was no longer common practice and could not believe people were walking around with this thing. It seemed awful.
So there I was, fearing my period for 3 years, hoping it never came, unsure of what I’d do. Then, March 16, 1997, I got my period. I believe it was March Break, there was no school. My friend Tanya had slept over. I got up in the morning to go pee, and noticed that I had started my period. It wasn’t a freak show, there wasn’t blood everywhere. I was so lucky. There also wasn’t any pads or tampons in the bathroom. Afraid to tell anyone, I used a bunch of toilet paper and pretended like nothing happened. I told no one. I was angry. I was the first out of my friends to start their period despite being the youngest. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it.
My mother only found out after she did my laundry 2 days later. Her talk consisted of, “You can get pregnant now, so be careful.” I felt so awkward I can’t remember anything else she said because I wasn’t listening. I never told my friend’s until one of them started their period 1 year later.
Easter that year was especially exciting. We celebrated with my dad’s side of the family. Everyone was over at my aunt Rhonda’s house. When I walked in, my family members were clapping and congratulating me on my womanhood. I looked at my dad and brother in horror, then ran to my cousin’s room to hide. That’s all anyone wanted to talk to me about for the rest of the night.
Even 20 years later, I still don’t like to discuss my period. With girl friends, I’m okay, but having my period when I’m in a relationship is still tough. I think a lot of it is because guys are like, “It’s cool, I’ll still touch you!” And that is usually the opposite of what I want. It’s hard to explain how awful I usually feel. The fact that I get depressed and want to be left alone. The sensation of someone touching my skin is like sand paper, but then other times I can really use a cuddle. I usually feel very tired and run down and am almost always in pain for a few days.
There isn’t enough discussion about periods. I shouldn’t feel embarrassed or like an inconvenience because of it and especially not at 32. But I do, because most people don’t understand what it’s like. There is still so much stigma around menstration and PMS (not the same thing) and that needs to change.