The Menarche Diaries:
Susan's First Period
My mother was - and continues to be - very open when it comes to discussing reproductive health. I knew the proper names for all of my girl parts, and what they were for, by the time I was in fifth grade (in other words, before they ever separated the boys and girls to watch those weird puberty videos). My younger brother, who was also in on these conversations, was so enamored of the ova and my mom's description of them that he tied up a pillow into a more-or-less round shape and called it his "cushy egg." (I don't think he'll peruse your site anytime soon, so I feel confident that he's unlikely to ever be embarrassed by this!) Despite all of this knowledge, which flowed regularly and often from my mom, I really don't clearly recall her ever bringing up much about my impending period. I feel that she must have, or that at the very least I asked her to show me what pads and tampons looked like, since I was so confused about girdles after reading, "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" (isn't that just like THE go-to book for pre-pubescent girls??). I was glad to learn that pads had kept up with the times, at least, and that no additional paraphernalia was needed!
Nevertheless, I was completely unprepared for my first period when it actually arrived, which was in the summer between 6th and 7th grade (I was 11 years old). I played my first and only season of softball that year with one of my then-best friends, and at the end of the season we had a picnic and pick-up game to celebrate. My friend's mom was an assistant coach, and she has a slightly abrasive personality - she was definitely not the comparative coddler that my mom was, instead insisting that kids pick themselves up and carry on bravely after emotional/social/physical injury. So when I went to my knees in the field with unbelievable stomach cramps, she was not sympathetic. I tried to show her that I could be strong and carry on, but I was, in fact, pretty sure that I was just going to die right there. I finally dragged myself off the field and over to my mom, who immediately saw how miserable I was and took me home.
I didn't actually suspect anything was terribly wrong, though. I thought maybe I'd just eaten something at the picnic that wasn't agreeing with me, and figured after I'd used the bathroom, I would be just fine. My mom didn't seem to suspect otherwise, herself - when we got home, she went out into the backyard to see what my dad was working on in the garden, while I took myself straight indoors. So when I pulled down my underwear and saw the massive amount of blood in them, she wasn't around to hear me screaming at the top of my lungs. I HAD been right back in the field - I WAS dying! The proof was right here. My insides were clearly bleeding out of me. Terrified, I pulled my underwear sorta-back-up (I was skeeved out at the thought of that blood touching me while being fully aware of its presence) and ran/waddled back outside, where I screamed for my mother. I'd already figured out that I was bleeding from the vagina and not anywhere else, and even while I was panicking, I was so embarrassed at the thought of my dad finding out, so it was an even trickier operation making sure I got my mom separated from my dad before I took her back inside with me. How, exactly, does one panic as a child without having BOTH parents get concerned and want to help?
But I managed to do it, and back in the bathroom I showed my mom the proof of my imminent demise. I remember her half-laughing, half-crying as she told me that I'd just started my period and that I was not going to die - at least, not from this. I also remember feeling completely and totally ripped off. THIS was my first period? It was terrible! It hurt, it was messy...and I was supposed to be excited about it, somehow? My mom obviously was - not in a jumping-around, let's-have-a-party sort of way, but in a way that showed both how sad and happy she was that her little girl was growing up. And, seriously...how could I NOT be dying? It was a total let-down that I was just going to cramp unbearably and bleed out half of my body fluids (or so it seemed) and yet not be rushed to the hospital for life-saving treatment. Didn't my parents CARE about me? I was just supposed to change out my underwear, put on a pad, wash out the bloody pair, pop some ibuprofen, and go on about my business LIKE NOTHING WAS HAPPENING??
Now that it's been almost 14 years, I've had a LOT of months to get used to having my period, and now, like I think most women probably do, I get anxious for it to come every month because it indicates normalcy. I don't know that there's any way to make menarche seem NORMAL for a girl who's never had any experience like it before, but it seems like a disservice to leave girls to have to wade through all of these feelings about it when it does happen. I think that talking about it more, and sharing stories (in a positive way - just like pregnant women don't want to hear your own birth horror stories, pre-pubescent girls aren't going to want to hear ONLY about how terrible and horrifying it is to have a period) is definitely a good way to combat some of the stigma and silence we have right now about it. I'll probably share my own first period story with my daughter(s) before she/they have hers/theirs, because now that it's had 14 years to percolate, it actually makes me laugh when I think about it, even though I can still clearly recall how terrified and then ripped-off I felt at the time. But how to keep bringing it up so that my girl(s) don't have that same awful, panicked feeling like I did when it does happen...? That's still a work in progress.
Thanks for opening the dialogue.