Before I start, let me get this out of the way: there is nothing shameful about menstruation. It is a human experience, not just another stigmatized female condition. A period is a period, period. Openly discussing it shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re genuinely squeamish at the mention of blood. If that’s the case, this post isn’t for you.
There were two first-ever days of my period. The very first day, at 11 years old, I was exhausted and had no idea what was going on. A quarter-sized amount of blood graced my underwear and dried to a light-brown before I noticed it. I used the bathroom when I got home from school, and innocently (and hilariously) thought, “Did I poop my pants today?” I changed underwear and that was that.
The second day, I was lining up with my fifth grade class to go to PE. As an eternally weak-bladdered individual, I decided to leave my place in line to tinkle before a highly anticipated elementary dodgeball tournament. In the bathroom, I saw it— another drop of “poop,” strangely in the exact same place as the day before. I tried rubbing it out, but to my dismay, it was there to stay. It wasn’t until I washed my hands that I had my “aha!” moment.
When you’re 11 years old, things that make you adult-ish give you a sense of pride. Beaming, I exited the bathroom and returned to my place in line behind a friend. I leaned over into her ear and whispered, “Hey, I think I started my period.”
She seemed as happy for me as I was, but after the general hoorahs she suggested that I tell the teachers. I hesitated; I was unopposed to free bleeding— after all, I had no idea pads existed at the time, and was convinced tampons were for actual women. At the last minute, I quietly confessed my speculation to a teacher walking by.
It was a good enough excuse to skip dodgeball that day. She asked me a series of questions to make sure we were dealing with a period, and not some other anomaly. After explaining that the same spot had stained my underwear two days in a row, the beginning of my time as a menstruating female was confirmed. I was then cautiously handed a panty liner. “You’re sure you know how to use this?” Blinded by childish pride, I nodded and skipped off to the bathroom.
In fact, I did not know how to use a liner or pad. For the next three years, I put pads on sideways and folded the ends under the mid point of my underwear. It wasn’t until my mom accidentally walked in during installation that I learned the truth.
My periods quickly started to consume me, and fiercely destroyed my life.
Imagine being 12 years old and pleading to your mom, “Don’t make me go to school today,” because you feel physically unable to get out of bed.
Imagine having a male principal in middle school, and having to ask him for ibuprofen while barely standing up straight, clutching your stomach in agony. Imagine your disappointment when he forbids the teachers from giving you more than two pills. At 13, you’re used to taking 12 pills a day during the first few days of your period.
Imagine the countless lies I had to tell in order to be excused from the classroom, or to hide away from my friends in the bathroom. “I think I have a stomach flu.” “I’m running a low fever.” “I have food poisoning.”
I would’ve rather experienced all of those things, but I was stuck with debilitating cramps. To the outside world, my cramps weren’t enough. The fact that I couldn’t walk, that I couldn’t focus on anything, didn’t matter unless I could translate my pain into a “normal” experience.
Several years later, this is still the case. Within the last year, I was rushed to the hospital because of my cramps. That same day, I held a straightening iron to my belly— yes, that very hot styling device that straightens women’s hair— in an actual attempt to burn myself so that my contractions would maybe calm down.
What did I tell the professionals I missed meetings with?
“I’m sorry, I’ve fallen very ill today.”
Such words don’t give that amount of pain justice. Worse, sometimes people like to ask what’s wrong. I’d like to be honest and say “my uterus!” But a fear of not being understood overcomes me; more predominantly, a fear of someone not trying to understand overcomes me. So I make up something simple to cover the truth.
I had to go through four different types of birth control to find my saving grace. The first three were all pills, and each of my experiences with the pill eventually led to throwing up my breakfast, every day.
It was inexpressibly terrible to only have one week out of the month to see how my medicine was working. I would give it a trial period of a few months, then admit defeat and face my frustrations again.
I began perusing birth control when I was 16. I didn’t find the right one until I was 21. Had I given up the fight, I probably wouldn’t be able to write this to you, on this day. I’d be curled up in bed holding fire to fire.
Battling off my cramps has been one of the biggest victories of my life, but a new challenge arose when I started birth control: battling off opinions.
Think of it, a 16 year old girl who just wants control over her body, with these questions and claims thrown in her face:
-“If you start taking birth control now, you’re going to be infertile when you’re an adult.”
-“Birth control can make you even more moody on your period; are you sure you want that?”
-“Birth control should only be used when you’re sexually active.”
“Birth control shouldn’t be used as a contraceptive. That’s an act against God.”
-“Don’t tell anyone you’re on birth control. They might think you’re a slut.”
The list goes on and on, but these were the most pointed indictments. I started wondering (and still wonder to this day): Why THE HELL is my pain STILL not seen as enough? Also, why are so many people concerned with how I take care of my body? Shouldn’t they be happy that I’m taking steps to be more comfortable with myself?
It wasn’t until after my recent trip to the ER that I started regularly using tampons. For a long while, I wasn’t a fan because I thought they were uncomfortable, but the assumption was “She’s never going to have anything stuck up inside her.” I’ve actually had someone say that to my face— she was joking, but I was considerably offended. Let me bluntly lay this down for you, in case you didn’t already know: how I take care of the downstairs does not signify how I throw a basement party. More simply, for those of you who need cruder terms: tampons ≠ sex.
I eventually gained trust in tampons, then abandoned them for the Lena cup. Typically, people like to brag about how they’re saving the environment and their bank account with menstrual cups, but I just want to brag about how much it has changed my life. I don’t feel it whatsoever, and I can leave it in for 12 hours— can I get an amen?
It isn’t that graceful at first— I can honestly tell you it has popped up in my face and has bounced into the toilet— but you get there. To the young women reading this right now, I urge you to give it a chance. You will have moments of horror where you think it has been lost in the great abyss, or feel that your soul is being pulled out through your cervix by a micro-plunger, but once you get the hang of it (and you will get a hang of it!) I promise it’s worth it. Need I remind you again? 12 hours! Furthermore, I’m happy to say I woke up to soft white sheets this morning. They evaded the likes of a murder scene.
Jokes aside, I know menstruation can be terrible. I also know that it can be empowering. However you feel about it, know this: It’s increasingly important for women to claim their bodies. Our pain is enough and we need to be able to talk about it. Get loud about it! You’re experience is valid. You are more than enough.
‘Til next time, y’all.