I remember being a little anxious because most of my friends had started menstruating and I hadn’t. It was a bit of a taboo subject in my family, we never really talked about it. One day in middle school I went to the bathroom and discovered blood in my panties. I didn’t know what to do, so I stuffed a lot of toilet paper in my pants. I walked out of the cubicle, terrified that all the bloodied tissue will fall out for everybody to see. I was relieved when the day was over and I went home. My mum was so happy when I told her. She offered my a boiled egg, I wasn’t sure what the significance was, but I said “no, thank you” politely.
I knew it would come but somehow it found me unprepared. I had been told by my teacher to expect it, I had been told that once it comes it would mean I can get pregnant! Mind you it had not even crossed my mind to engage in sex yet that was a real fear. I still recall that day which was a public holiday in Kenya, possibly October 20th so I was at home. I went to the toilet and felt ‘funny’. Checking I realized my panties had blood. I felt sad, and the thought that went to my mind is “I can get pregnant”. The fear of pregnancy was more than anything else. I didn’t know who to tell, I did not think I was meant to tell anyone! Somehow I was among the last girls who got their first periods but I ‘knew’ that ‘bad girls’ got their periods early so I was happy I was not among the bad girls. Still there were some girls who had not got their periods, so I didn’t feel that much achieved. I needed to have it remain a secret! It did remain a secret. I was in primary school and since there is no pocket money for primary school students I looked for tissue then later cotton wool that was cheap. It took going to secondary school to have ‘shopping list’ where sanitary pads featured. I have never ever spoken about this, let alone write! Yes I wish I knew that this was the time to celebrate womanhood.
My story is interesting, when I was 12 my mother thought I had started my period. One day as I was riding my bike, I crushed into a wall and hit my vejay jay area really hard. Of course I went to my mum and told her that I was bleeding but neglected to tell her of the bike accident. Immediately my mum thought I had began my period. She asked me to take a bath and then showed me how to line my panty with a pad. She used some pads that she had in the house. Of course since I had not really started my period. I was not bleeding the next day. Then when I was 15 my period started while at boarding school. I did not have any pads but I told the other girls in my dorm and they were so helpful. They let me use their packet of pads. Since my mum had already explained to me about my period about 3 year prior and since most of the girls in the dorm were already having their period. I just felt that it was time for me as well. Thankfully there was no shame surrounding it. However when my period did finally come, it was extraordinarily heavy. It used to soak through my pad even if I wore two. I had to sleep with a towel on my bed. There was a lot of shame in this as I did not know what to do and I felt like there was something wrong with me. I suffered through it till my adulthood without really addressing it. As a result I am highly anemic. I wish I would have felt comfortable enough to talk even to my mother about it. In hindsight I know she would have helped but it is something I carried with me and dealt with on my own.
Dirt in my Panty…
It had been about a week and a half since I recovered from an unknown illness. The doctors did not know what it was but I knew how it felt like. Blinding pain in my abdomen coupled with continuous throwing up, landed me in the hospital, followed by bed rest at home. It was exciting to be back at school and quite pleasant being the centre of attention while I shared the horrors of needles. My day was going quite well till a trip to the bathroom. I noticed a light brown stain in my panty and started running the day through my head, wondering where I sat down during break time. I thought to myself it must have been dirt from that tree root I sat on at break-time and advised myself to start sitting on the school benches. During the day I started getting queasy and my mum’s warning that I needed to rest as much as possible came to mind. I did not want to go back to the hospital and mentally scheduled myself for an early night.
My last trip to the bathroom after school revealed the dirt in my panty had increased and gotten darker. Now I started becoming alarmed. With my mum’s consistent and graphic description of female hygiene and consequences, I was sure I had an infection and I was a little scared. I charged through the house looking for my mum when I got home and told her the bad news:
“Mama I have an infection, the bottom of my panty is stained brown”
“Does it smell? Can I see?”
“Ya”, Pulling my panty down.
“Thank You Jesus!!!! My baby is a woman!” excited pause and relieved laughter followed this.
At this point I was wondering if my mum was alright. What could possibly be joyous about the potential decaying of my vagina?
“AAHHHH that’s why you were ill. You may have been ovulating!”
“I have my period?” I glared at her accusingly. You told me it was blood. Blood is red”
“Yes but the first time is brownish. I didn’t tell you that?”
“Now go take a bath and use a pad as I showed you; if you are in pain, let me know”.
I was mad. Having my period was going to be inconvenient. My mother had given me a detailed description of menstruation and what went into taking care of it. I had never looked forward to the work involved. It was all her fault I had mine so early; always talking about this menstruation thing. She had jinxed me.
While I was sulking in my room and wrapping my wad of cotton with gauze to use (in the 90’s sanitary towels were scarce and expensive in Ghana), I heard my grandma bulldozing through the front door. She came to inspect my DIY pad was firmly in its place and dragged me to the dining table where my parents were sitting looking very happy. She was so excited I started getting a little less angry. She banned me from coming into the kitchen while announcing to anyone in hearing distance that her grand-daughter was a woman. I watched her walk to the dining table after 30 minutes, proudly carrying an earthenware bowl with mashed yam and egg. And that wonderful woman sat me on her lap and fed me; telling me how amazing it was to be a woman. I did not fully understand the excitement but as I looked at my parents’ glowing faces across the table and wrapped my arms around my grandmother’s neck, I thought ” this getting your period thing may not be too bad after all”.
It happened at home and my mother had explained to me what is would be like previously so I knew but I was very sad and devastated by the fact that it had come. I thought I was too young. I wasn’t ready to be a woman yet. I told my mother and she assured me that everything would be ok. That was it
Join us! On Father’s Day (June 15th) and the Day of the African Child (June 16th) to highlight ways in which men and boys are engaged in and can mobilize to end/prevent Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). VAWG is a grave violation of human rights and bodily integrity, that not only affects the well-being of women, but their families, their community and country-causing greater healthcare/legal expenses, losses in productivity and overall development.
This conversation is a follow-up and a response to the following ongoing campaigns: #EndChildMarriageNow (Africa Union 2-yr campaign), #TimetoAct, #MenstruationMatters, #BringBackOurGirls, #JusticeforLiz, #WEA and #TheAfricaWeWant. This is also the first in our series to raise consciousness for gender equality using hashtags #Men&Boys to #EndVAWG.
We want to know how your country is engaging #Men&Boys to #EndVAWG | what the challenges are | why it is important to engage #Men&Boys? | And is violence against women and girls a #Men&Boys issue?
Join in from June 15-16 to engage in dialogue that illustrates the progress, challenges and solutions to #EndVAWG. Please use the hashtags: #Men&Boys and #EndVAWG on Twitter and Facebook. Find our social media toolkit here, and invite your friends on Facebook.
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Joanne Oport, MPA | @awuoroport
I applaud the 28th May initiative and ask God to permanently break the silence. My 1st menstrual experience was a horrible one. I was living with my sister and when I realized something that seemed abnormal then; blood on my under wear I was so scared! I could not tell her because I felt so ashamed. I got some old clothes padded myself but this caused more embarrassment because I think I used such a big clothe that I could hardly walk. My sister called me and asked if I was raped I was so embarrassed. I did not know what to tell her. Then I thought that may be it is to. I thought everybody is going to laugh at me just as it happened to girls at school then I would not go back to school again. My sister showed me what I should do but that made me feel more embarrassed. We need to break the silence.
I started my period at the age of 12 years-old. It arrived around three in the afternoon, while I was doing my chores. All I can remember is the vivid red spot on my panties and thinking wow I really need to tell someone. My mother wasn’t around so I told my Aunt Tudy a close family friend…I just couldn’t hold it in. My mom arrived a few hours later and before I could tell her my Aunt Tudy spilled the beans. My Mother walked away, called me into her room and asked why I didn’t wait until she got home first, for she was my mother and had the right to know first. She was disappointed in me and I was disappointed in myself. She stayed upset for a while, and then she proceeded with her chilling African style lecture on my new journey into womanhood. Essentially I was told if I even looked at a boy too closely let alone allowed a boy to touch me, I would get pregnant and ruin my life forever. There was no sex education, no hugs, no welcome to womanhood rite of passage pow wow. This is essentially how I remember my first period.
Well my experience is a bit different. I had older sisters that went through it and I knew what to expect. Plus, I was almost 15 when I got it and I already learned about it at school. The day I got it, I was so shy to ask for help but my sisters knew and they gave me the pads. And my sister (who is a nurse ) told me how often I have to change and what I had to do.
.. Yeah I remember after my first period not having period for a number of months and was completely freakin out about it, thinking I was pregnant (funny when you think about it, because we were told then not having period meant you were pregnant. Didn’t even think about the haven’t had sex part). I also remember when my period came back, it just generally a 6 DAYS pain ordeal. A lot of what I knew about period was learned from teachers in boarding school and class mates. I used to (well still do) have a ton of horrible cramps, back aches, sometimes fever, and just some crazy headache and stuff. We were taught to shower twice or more a day during our period then