Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's Period Time Again


Last month for the first time I wrote about having my period on this blog. One of things I discussed is the fact that menstruation is treated like a dirty little secret that no one really talks about.  We go out of our way to hide the evidence of it, because we have been socialized to believe that it makes our bodies somehow foul and unclean.

Unless we are being sold midol or being told how to keep our periods from "ruining" our clothing, the period is invisible in everyday discourse.  Have you ever looked at woman and wondered if she menstruating just like you?  Have you ever wondered how she feels about it, and what the process means to her as an individual?  I think that it is time we start talking about this.  I think it is time we start celebrating this.   To that end, on the first day of my period every month I will put up a post inviting exchange regarding our shared experience as women with menstruation.  Please feel free to send me an e-mail throughout the month about specific aspects you would like to discuss on this issue.

 image I will kick this one off by talking about my first period.  Puberty was something that happened very early in my life. I had breasts when I was 8, and got my first period right after my tenth birthday.  I remember the year before I got my period reading Are You There God It's  Me Margaret.  Even though I was younger than the girls in the book I really related with their desire to mature.

I remember the girls in the book doing bust exercises to grow breasts and laughing wildly because at the age of 10, I was a C cup and wanted them gone. After reading this book I frantically checked by  underwear for signs of a period for months until that faithful day in August when I opened the bathroom door and screamed to my mother, "I got it." She smiled and informed me to "stay away from boys".

Seeing that my body was developing my mother had already had theimage conversation with me regarding protection.  With the exception of purchasing tampons for me, she bought different brands of pads and allowed me to choose the ones I wanted to use. 

I had no idea that the period that I was wishing for would last for more than one  day.  I was shocked to awake the next day to find out that I was still bleeding.  I was even more shocked to find out about the cramps that came with it.   I am pretty sure that had I known  about the pending discomfort I would not have wished so desperately for it.

When I think about that day, I smile, and not because I view it is an accomplishment, but because I see it as a time when I was to innocent to understand the ways in which  having the ability to menstruate would effect the ways in which the world viewed me.  On the day I became a woman, I still had no idea that world viewed womanhood as less than.  On the day I became a woman I still believed that attaining womanhood meant having the equal opportunity to stake my claim in this world. 

There have been times when I have looked back wishing for the lost innocence of that day, as the battle has taken its toll on me, but I have come to realize that each engagement, each shedding of my uterine wall  is part of my evolution as personhood. 

If I chose to hide my period treating it like some shameful experience I would be supporting the patriarchal construction of womanhood as dirty and diseased.  My body is not foul nor are the natural processes that occur with my body.  Each time I speak about my period publicly, or commune with other women, I am saying to to the world that all aspects of womanhood are worthy of being celebrated.

Please share your stories of your first period in the comment section.



T. R Xands said...

I just want to say that first image is so cute I screamed!

I'll share my first period story...the events leading up to the actual day are so much more interesting though. I used to play with my mom's pads because I thought they were...well they were forbidden and you know with kids anything forbidden is like the Maltese Falcon or something. So mom realized that some of her pads were missing and told me to cut it out basically. I think she tried to tell me about my period but she was too embarrassed about it.

Then the next couple of weeks got...strange. I got really irritated for no reason at times (I remember yelling at my mom over a pair of shorts she washed--wow) and my stomach hurting. I remember up and crying for no reason. I understand now that this is PMS but I wouldn't figure that out until a year after my period started.

Then, when I was about 10, one morning I noticed...blood. It just...came like that. Mom told me to go change undies and put on a pad and off to school I went! And that was that for a while...

I like to talk about my period, actually. Not to every single stranger but its part of me, not talking about it feels like I'm denying my femininity. I got in the habit of talking about it (by force) with my mom and now I just...discuss it. It used to really bother me because I was afraid of my own body now I happily explain to friends why they should stay away from me over the weekend and why I have a giant bag of M&Ms just for myself.

Whew that was long and maybe TMI. But I do like talking about my period!

Fran said...

I didn't have a great experience with my periods when I first hit puberty. They started when I was twelve, a couple of days before I went on a school skiing holiday for a week. They used to last for eight or nine days and were so heavy for the first three or four that sometimes I skipped school because I was scared I wouldn't have a chance to go get to the toilet and change my pad in time (actually discussing it with a teacher, or telling my mum so she could talk to a teacher, never crossed my mind -- that's what shame does).

They got lighter as I got older but I was still relieved to discover tampons at age 15! Being on the Pill helps too -- they only last four days now, my cramps aren't as bad as they used to be, and I can finally say I don't dread that time of the month.

Fran said...

Sorry for the double post, but I thought I should mention that I teared up while writing that -- I guess those experiences must have had quite an effect on me. Anyway, thanks for giving us a place to talk about these things.

Vera H. said...

I had my first period when I was twelve on the first day of school when I was in the seventh grade. I remember feeling a little sticky and going to the school nurse to get some pads. My mother had told me about periods, and I had read somewhere that they would start soon after I got pubic hair.

I felt as if I had a target on my back saying "I'm bleeding." Other than that, it wasn't very tramatic. I did get the "Stay away from boys" speech, though.

Vera H. said...

Oh, I remember wearing a green and white dress. I tend to remember what I'm wearing in big spots.

space said...

I was 12 1/2. I'd started growing pubic hair and producing lubrication at 10, and my boobs were developing by 11, and like you, I had been looking forward to that little rite of passage for a year before it came, expecting it pretty much any time.

At 12, I wasn't as excited about it anymore. I was just like, whatever, it'll happen when it happens.

Then there was one Saturday afternoon I spent with my dad and my sisters, when I was unusually cranky. They joked that it was PMS. I doubted it.

But two days later...voila! My first period. I think it lasted 2 1/2 days, and I don't remember whether I got any cramps or not. I announced it by asking my mom which pads to use. She only used the external pads, which was all fine and good 'cause I'd learned in 6th grade sex ed that they were safer than tampons.

Since then, I've found that the cramps do tend to come regularly, but usually aren't that bad, and I usually don't get "PMS." I also discovered, much later (not 'til grad school actually), another quirk about my body: I get a bit of intermenstrual bleeding sometimes during strenuous activity near the middle of my cycle or just before I'm expecting my period. I was scared by this, worried something might be wrong with me, so I went to the doctor's. They had to do a pelvic ultrasound 'cause I couldn't stand anything up my twat for very long. The doctor recommended that I try tampons to stretch the opening. When I first started using them, I could feel them, and they felt weird, and it did hurt to take them out especially, but I eventually got used to them. I don't wear them often anymore though.

Meg said...

My first period story is pretty unexciting. :( I was in grade 8, and had gotten all the other signs of puberty already, and I knew it was coming. So it came along one spring morning before school, and I took a pad out of the bathroom drawer and stuck it in my undies. I never really anticipated or feared its coming, but I wasn't that surprised by it either. I think I mentioned it casually to my mother later (I must've), but I don't remember.

I love having my period. I don't understand why some women are ashamed of theirs. Yeah, it sometimes brings its annoying friends, like Cramping and Killer Migraine, but (at least for me) it also brings Culturally-Acceptable Excuse To Eat Lots Of Junk Food and Crazy Sex Drive. I say that's a pretty good deal, but I guess YMMV.

Coolred38 said...

My first period came on Christmas Day when I was 11. I was so excited about it being Christmas that getting my period was like a damper on the whole event...I felt guilty like I had committed a crime...I didnt tell my mother or anyone. My mood changed and I became sullen and upset....until my mother found the evidence of my "crime" and lectured me on staying clean and washing my panties if they got stained. She did it matter of factly while busy with something else...I felt like I was being made to feel guilty for having the nerve to bleed when no "injury" had been inflicted...Ive sort of felt that way ever since.

Doesnt help when my husband of 20 years always seem to believe I purposely got my period just to put a spanner in his sexual pursuits...20 years and he couldnt seem to figure out these things come in cycles...or he didnt care..probably that...sigh.

Naamah said...

A friend linked me to this today, and I love what you have to say, and thoroughly agree. I tend to rant about my period because frankly, mine are inconvenient, difficult, and painful (it was one of these rants that shot my LJ readership into the stratosphere, which provided my current popularity base, so talk aboutcher irony) but I DO love the wonderful biology of it, and the rich symbolism.

I attribute part of that to my first period. If it is possible to do it in a cool way, this was cool. I got it on a full moon, on Halloween of my thirteenth year, during which I was dressed as a black cat (it was a really good costume, too; I have pictures).

I hid it from my parents for as long as I could (only a few days) not because I was ashamed, exactly, but because I wanted to keep it private for a while and decide how I felt about it. I wanted to reveal it when I was ready. I didn't really WANT anyone else to involve themselves in what seemed like a really private and personal thing.

I had very mixed feelings about this ascent into womanhood. I had been raised to understand that there was nothing wrong with being a woman, but that the world is full of jerks who will make it difficult because they don't agree. I knew that it was hard being a woman. And I knew that I had a lot of responsibility now. In my mind, now that I was bleeding, I was old enough to have sex if I wanted it, which meant I had to be sure I knew how to be safe and responsible (nobody wants diseases and I've never wanted kids). It was definitely one of those "with great power comes great responsibility" moments. (My mom may have been certifiably crazy -- no, really, she was -- but she WAS a feminist. I think my attitudes about growing up show that.)

So no matter what I've bled on or what event my period interrupts or how long it makes me wait between its fashionably late cycles, or how much it hurts, I always think of that thirteen-year-old black cat, and the full moon, and that black spot of blood in my black tights, and I think of the promises I made to the girl I was then -- not to catch anything, not to bring life into this world wantonly, not to let the bastards get me down -- and I feel good that I haven't failed her.

Queers United said...

I think this is not as taboo as it used to be. I know many classmates of mine undergrad who would say "I'm having my period" they weren't hiding it, it was just a matter of fact.

Danyell said...

Can anyone tell me who drew that image? I've seen it before and I've always been in love with it.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

I love this post Renee! I love that picture too! =)

My first period was in junior high school. I felt disgusted. I knew it was coming because I started to bled very lightly a few days before. I didn't like the smell. I went in the bathroom to check my pad and it was full of blood. I changed my pad and put the waste in the metal trash can in the stall. I walked out and I felt funny. I felt like people knew that I was on my period. I felt ashamed. I didn't embrace my first period at age 13.

This is totally opposite now because I love my period. I love the spiritual aspect of it where my dreams seem more powerful. I also love it because I feel more powerful overall. I embrace it now because I embrace the Goddess that I am.

Anonymous said...

Hm...I don't remember all the details of my first one, although I remember being deeply embarrassed at going out to dinner to celebrate. What I do remember, vividly, is the next summer. Because up till then I'd used pads and I cannot express how much I hated them, their lumpiness, their limitations on a girl who loved to go to the beach all the time. That next summer is when I discovered tampons and that I could actually use those. At that point, I stopped hating the whole business quite so much, but you must understand all this going on meant also that now that I was no longer a girl but a young woman, all the usual limitations started to descend on me, in so many ways, through messages from the family, from society, from friends. Suddenly I was clearly a second class citizen (instead of a tolerably cute tomboy) and I resented that; that resentment percolated over into my own biology, of course.

I became much more neutral about all this the more I accepted that being a woman didn't mean that I WAS a second class citizen, though I *did* have to fight against those putting me in that box; I certainly wasn't the only one in that boat either. So it worked out, and I really wouldn't NOT be a woman given a choice now (as a child, I would have unhesitatingly chosen to be a man, because I understood even then, without knowing, where the freedom and power structure lay).

These days, I'm going thru perimenopause, and I tell you I can NOT wait to reach menopause. This current business of 2 week cycles (never 6 week, oh no) at random intervals, or periods lasting for two weeks instead of the usual four days is making me absolutely scream.

I suppose there's lot of symbolism, etc, etc, in all of this. I don't know. Never got into that.

SharlHarmakhis said...

I got my first period in Jr. High, and (since SexEd classes in sixth grade) I'd been convinced you'd only bleed when you peed, if you excuse the rhyme. So when I got it, I thought I had smelly feet and SERIOUS skidmarks, so I dutifully hid my stained underwear from my mother. If I hadn't been struck with Classroom Crud in the middle of it all, my first period would have passed without my ever knowing what it was.

Designing Hilary said...

I barely remember my first one ... nor do I even recall my last one. I guess I just consider it a normal cycle of life so it was never a big deal except for the fact I welcomed each and every one because it meant I wasn't pregnant. I did miss three throughout my life before menopause.

My daughter's, on the other hand, I remember very vividly. She was only 9 years old at the time, bless her heart, and first thought she was having diarrhea, but after the second episode within a couple of hours and no other symptoms, I knew something else was up. We were traveling at the time and fortunately we were at a truck stop that stocked all the necessities of life.

I cried privately when her period came. She was only 9. There's nothing wrong, dirty or anything like that ... it's simply a part of nature and the cycle of life and preservation of the human family. But she was only 9. There's a responsibility one takes when one becomes capable of bearing another life. She was only 9.

Almost a week later I asked her if she was still on her period and she told me "No ... that's not going to happen again, is it?" I had to chuckle and tell her "Yes dear, every month for the next 30 to 40 years, except when you're having a baby." She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said: "Oh bother."

When she started school a few months later, I packed up some pads in a paper bag with her name and gave them to the school nurse. I spoke to her teacher, who was very caring and careful with my daughter and her feelings ... she wanted her privacy. None of her friends were even close and she didn't want to deal with their questions and viewpoints.

When I visited with the nurse, she was a bit surprised, because of my daughter's age. But when I had to replenish my daughter's supply in mid-year, the nurse mentioned that there had been additional starts by other girls in the 4th grade. She always had a health discussion with 5th graders but was beginning to realize she was going to have to push the timing ahead by a year. I told her that would be a good idea, because I was noticing the physical changes in the younger girls taking place.

My daughter is almost 14 (next month) and she's an old pro at it now. I never know when she's on her period unless she runs out of pads. Fortunately she inherited my genes ... not much in the way of cramping or anything other disrupting symptoms.

I welcome the stage of life I'm in now. Regardless of it being just a normal cycle of life, it's nice to be completely free from it!

Angel H. said...

I want to wear that picture on a t-shirt!!!

I got my first period when I was 13. I was (and still am) extremely bookish, so my parents just decided to my books on puberty, saying no to drugs, peer pressure, etc., instead of sitting down with me and having The Talk. Because of this, I was pretty blase' about the whole experience.

So, why hide it? My mom was the type who was giddy about buying "her baby" her first bra. She was the mom who would hold the bra in front of my chest while browsing the sale racks. She would talk about my "boobies" in her loudest voice (completely oblivious, of course). And, no matter who would join us when we went shopping - aunts, cousins, neighbors - she would invite them into the dressing room to get their opinion on how well it fit. The last thing I wanted was her to make a spectacle in the tampon aisle.

The first couple of months, I would sneak pads from Mama's stash under the sink. Then, my da (ret. Air Force) got stationed to another base, and we all had to move. The first night we spent in the hotel, I bled on my sheets. Mama grinned and gave me a big hug...and then she made a small spectacle in the tampon aisle. :)

Anonymous said...

My mother got HER first period at school wearing at white pair of shorts. She swore that would never happen to me.

I got my first period when I was 12. I knew immediately what it was, and I used a pad, just like my mom had shown me.

That weekend, she was out of town, and I called her to tell her. She was upset, because her first was so traumatizing, but I regarded it as a necessary, if unpleasant, part of life.

Not an interesting story--but I think that's the best kind.

Anonymous said...

I was very eager to get my period after having heard about it at school for a couple of years at that point (Iwas 11, nearly 12, when I got my first).

My mom did for me what I hope to do one day for a future daughter - she celebrated it! She brought me flowers, a chocolate candy bars, and I think a little journal to write in, as well as letting us have the rare treat of pizza for dinner, and I got to choose the toppings.

She showed me how to make sure my pads were in snugly, announced it to the family, and that was pretty much the end of it at that point. (She also later coached me through putting in my first tampon, because I insisted and somehow thought those were more "grownup". I remember her standing patiently by the bathroom door for what must have been two hours while I struggled to figure it out.)

I wasn't embarrassed at all because I'd never been taught to be ashamed of it - my mother spoke openly about her period whenever I had questions, and if I recall correctly, I understood what a period was and why it happened from a fairly young age.

Looking back, especially after hearing horror stories from my female friends, I'm forever grateful to my mother for treating my period not only as something that was normal, but for treating it as something worthy of celebration.

thewhatifgirl said...

What a wonderful idea, Renee! It's great to hear so many stories from other women. It almost sounds silly to say this, but I thought until TODAY that I wasn't the only one who thought my first period was a matter of not wiping properly - I expected bright red gushes of blood, not a little smear of brown!

And I remember how shocked I was just a few years ago when one of my aunts told me that her period had gotten heavier after each of her three children. It's so sad that these kinds of things aren't part of our common knowledge when they are the facts of life for half of the human population.

I'll have to write the rest of the story of my first period some other time since I need to get my costume together and head over to my SIL's house soon, but I'm looking forward to future installments!

yamiryu990 said...

i had gotten some very basic talks and explanations as to what the reproductive organs did when i was in 4th grade, then a bit further and being given a sample of a couple pads when i was in 5th grade, but my period didn't come until i was almost 13. i remember that day well because i'd just woken up and gone into the bathroom. i looked and saw the blood in my panties and just screamed all high pitched like a cat having it's tail stepped on. it wasn't that i didn't know but that i wasn't compeletely awake at the time. i had to go and find my mom's pads so that i wouldn't mess my clothes up at school. i had really bad headaches and cramps all of that week. and unfortunately it's just gotten worse over the years. damn being an broke college student and stupid insurance companies who drop students when teachers pull BS without telling us students.