My first menstrual experience happened in my third year in junior secondary school. On that fateful day, I felt something coming out from my vagina, dint know what it was until I went to the restroom to check, then I found out it was blood. It dawned on me that the time has come, LOL. So I went to the girls hostel to ask for sanitary pad but unfortunately no one had, so I had to use toilet paper. After school that day, I went home, told my mom what had happened and she gave me sanitary pad after our girl talk…lol
Long before I had my first period, we were taught what to expect. And yet, my first experience was completely unexpected. I was in Grade Six, and my mum had had a surgery in October that year, for a hernia and appendicitis. About two weeks after she was discharged, I’d begun having abdominal pain around my appendix, and somehow thought I’d had the same thing as mum. She took me to her surgeon, who then told her that this was just all the “growing up” pains that had begun to take root. In a month’s time after, I had my exams at school. I woke up on the morning of my first exam to a rather jolly bout of stomach cramps — I choose to use the word jolly, because the pain quite felt like it was dancing about in my tum. When I noticed the tell tale smear of red that had made its appearance, I was quite ecstatic. At eleven, I was among the last few in my class at school to begin menstruating, so the whole process felt quite liberating. I went about my first cycle quite normally – it didn’t feel like much had changed, this was one more natural process that I had to experience! In the culture I belong to, the attainment of puberty is marked with gifts and jubilation. I remember my grandmum made me these delicious sweet pancakes out of flour, jaggery and grated coconut, and my mother baked a fantastic cake. I was gifted new clothes and lots and lots of books!
Menstruating for the first time was a very daunting experience. It wasn’t weird because I knew nothing about it, it was weird because I was a bit too over grown when it happened. I was in Secondary school. An all girls secondary school. In my first year. Still a teenager, contemplating life and why I was alive at all. I hated my school, partly because it wasn’t the school I wanted to be at. My mother had forced me there because it was her alma mater and I was at serious loggerheads with her for sending me to that school. I was undergoing a serious sexual orientation issues and at some point in my life felt I was a boy trapped in a woman’s body. I couldn’t relate with many of the girls there because they had conversations I couldn’t have. They liked to have conversations about boys, menstrual cramps and Elle magazine. I wanted to discuss films, politics and literature.
So it was one of those days, a Monday to be precise. I had turned 17 about 8 months ago. It was time for math class. Oh how I hated math class. In fact, anything that had to do with numbers, I stayed away from. Mr Owusu was there rambling about an equation when all of a sudden I felt a huge lump travel from my tubes and sort of make its way down my uterus and stop. It felt funny, but I didn’t know how to react. Within a few minutes I felt wet and a slight sharp pain. Not sure what it was, I excused myself and run to the bathroom. I took off my underwear only to realize the horror. Red! It was blood. Oh My God! I shrieked. This cant be it, this cant be it. Not knowing what to do, I run back to class to talk to Victoria. Victoria was a no-nonsense girl, I have to say. She took crap from no one but had a very loving side to her. She was very slim with curly hair and was light skinned. When I informed Victoria, she immediately summoned her two side kicks, Sally and Sena. They lined up in front of me in the bathroom and took a serious look at me as if I were in the military. She ordered to see if it was true and when she did, she looked at me with such incredulity and said; ‘Oh Anita, what took you so long?’ Immediately, Sally hugged me so tight and so did Sena. They put me in the shower, helped me clean up and taught me how to use a sanitary towel. I had seen many women from Reproductive health organizations come to our school to tell us about how to use sanitary towels and all but I had never paid any attention to them because I just didn’t care. I hadn’t menstruated so why should I care?
Victoria, being the boss of all of us, assumed her role and taught me step by step how to wear a sanitary towel and what it means when I don’t menstruate. She taught me how to walk and what to do when I experience menstrual cramps. In that moment, I missed my mother. Not because I wanted to share with her this ‘joyful’ discovery, but to let her know that I am sorry. That I was sorry for hating her so much. In that moment, I needed her to assure me that there was nothing to fear, that there was nothing to worry about. That I will be fine. I felt she didn’t understand me, that she didn’t understand how I felt. Now, as I write this, its another time of the month. I am experiencing menstrual cramps as always, but I am grateful to Victoria, Sally and Sena all three of whom spent the remaining two years of High School with me, teaching me about boys and how to take care of myself and how to appreciate my womanhood. For me, menstruating was one major turning point in my life, in that it will be a constant reminder of two things, that I am not pregnant and the fact that I was a woman.
How do people do that? All I can remember is that I was terrified and disappointed. My mother sent my brother to buy pads and he played with them as if they were a soccer ball..oh my, I didn’t know how to use them so I removed everything and was left with cotton….and of course blood was everywhere. I thought i was going to grow to be a boy later…so, my menses were such a disappointment and I saw it as a complete disaster, future plans ruined. I wouldn’t miss it anyway…too much stress
I really didn’t have a menstrual cycle. I would get my period maybe three to four times a year. I was told I would get a hysterectomy because when I did get my period, I had to get shots or use really powerful pain meds. Needless to say, I didn’t believe the report of man and sought God and eight blessing (children) later, I give God all the praise. I also want to mention that while in college, I had the opportunity to have an Asian doctor who treated me with a Medication called Prover, which regulates the cycle. I never got the correct effect of that medication as my cycle is still irregular, but I did have relief with the pain. His side joke was ” the side effect is pregnancy”. I was only treated for the medication for one week but with prayers and belief, I rejected what was spoken to me about dealing with my menstrual pain.
Growing up was fun, but I was afraid because of the stories I have heard concerning the menstrual cycle especially with the pain. I was not too sure of what to believe, Although some people say it is painless, others say menstrual pain is similar to what happens when one goes into labor- these stories escalated my fears. Unfortunately I was not able to get the right information from my peers or Parent but I was courageous to handle the menace, whichever ways it comes. My first experience was so painful, at first I thought I had eaten food poison, because it made my stomachs so uncomfortable, I came to realize that my menstrual stage had begun when I saw blood dripping from my private part, it was not pleasant and I was not prepare for it as at that time, I was also too shy to talk to my parent about but when it became bearable I had to open up for help.
It was definitely a moment of confusion for me. I thought my liver had busted because I kept seeing black spots and not red spots on my panties at the age of 10 or 11. I saw the spots for like 3 days and was scared to tell anyone. I started thinking maybe I had a disease. I was in a boarding school and I knew when people had their period it was red, but I was seeing brownish stuff and was terrified. I used tissue through out that month. The following month, I saw red instead of the brownish stuff and I was more comfortable telling my friends and my family. I decided to send a letter home to my mom through my guardian counselor at my boarding school to inform her about my period. She came to school a few days later with my older aunt and they asked me if I was sure. I said yes, they asked if anyone touched me, I said no. I was very small with no breast, So they were shocked that I started my period early…. yeah damn! I had to manage my pad, and had no chance to shower often because I was a Junior in boarding school. The Seniors could take showers twice or thrice a day when they were on their periods because they got Juniors to fetch water for them for free. I had to wear one pad for a long time- I don’t remember taking showers except in the morning. I also never knew when my next period was coming, nobody taught me so I went through that whole getting stained experience. I had my sweater in my locker Just in case it happens- that saved many of us LOL. It was very disturbing at first but I got used to it after months. It is crazy, I know students who couldn’t afford pads. They brought pieces of Ankara (rags) to school.. and washed it. The advise I received about menstruation was just don’t let any boy touch you. I thought I was pregnant when I saw the blood the first time. All kinds of thoughts I don’t even know But I got used to it…
The world celebrated the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, 2014, and we are very happy to be part of this groundbreaking event because it’s been long overdue. The silence and taboo surrounding menstruation not only impedes the rights and dignity of women and girls protected under international law, it sends a dangerous message to young girls that their unique bodies are peripheral, and subordinate to the universe they equally inhabit with the boys/men in their lives.
As Gloria Steinem articulated, “If men could menstruate… menstruation would be an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much. Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with religious ritual and stage parties. Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out monthly discomforts. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free.” As funny as this sounds, it is absolutely true- it reflects the current state of affairs on women/girl’s rights to bodily integrity.
For many girls around the world, life stops, and education halts when menstruation begins. For example, Nigeria’s student to toilet ratio is 500:1, and of the toilets available, they are poorly maintained, lack privacy and changing areas are unsafe. This undermines the social inclusion and educational enrollment/performance and capacity of girls, especially when they are menstruating.
Today, as part of our ongoing journey and exploration of menstruation and menstrual hygiene narratives through storytelling, we asked women to share their first menstrual experience or what they remembered of it.
These stories will debut as individual or thematic blog entries, we welcome you to explore and celebrate the courage, and humor of these women as they share some of the most intimate parts of their lives. If you are interested in sharing your stories and experiences, please contact us.
As you read, take the pledge to Break The Silence on menstruation and help stop #Stigma:
Say it loud and proud:
- I will break the silence on menstruation
- I will not feel shy; I will take pride
- I will spread the word outside and inside the home
First story: Chioma Nwosu, 35yo- Los Angeles
Getting my period at the age of 12 left me feeling very awkward and confused. Growing up in a traditional Nigerian household as the oldest daughter, I had the tasks of scoring highly on schoolwork to, helping my mother with housework chores and setting a good example for my siblings to follow. When I noticed my blood spotted underwear, I knew this was not part of the prescribed program. I hurriedly shared with my mother the horrific news. Instead of taking me to see the doctor, she looked at me with bewildered sternness and caused me feel the type of nervousness one never forgets. Her only words to me were, “Now if you sleep with a man, you’ll be pregnant.” I still remember the chill that ran up my spine and the resounding, “What?!” that fell from my lips and echoed in my mind. What did she mean “sleep with”? Like, in the same bed? What if my baby brother wanted to lay with me (as he often does during the multitudes of summertime thunderstorms)? How could that make me pregnant?! I had so many questions. However, as my mother shrugged and left me to ponder my new circumstances, I knew that I could not rely on her to uncover the answers. This was obviously a topic that made her uncomfortable. Luckily that faithful night, the TV gods supplied me with a re-run of Darlene Conner starting her menses on Rosanne. I remember it like it was yesterday. I saw Darlene struggle with the ‘weirdness’ brought on with change in her body, just as I had. I eagerly listened as Roseanne explained to her second daughter the beauty of nose-diving into womanhood, like I wished my mother had. Suddenly, the chaos that had been introduced into my world by my body’s maturation was put into order. That night and the four days that followed, I marched myself into womanhood. With the help of Roseanne, I better understood this milestone event and realized that as unprepared as I had been about having the conversation regarding menstruation, my mother must’ve been just as petrified.
Second Story: Deborah.A (25yo)-Los Angeles
My experience with menstruation has been one in which I have never felt shame or fear. My parents both completed post-secondary school in America in medical fields and so because of that they didn’t shy away from those types of topics. It also helped that in elementary school by the time you are in the 5th grade (11 years old) you begin taking a class called family life that introduces you to what a “period” is and how families come about. So by the time I started menstruating I was well aware of what was going on. It helped that my parents were knowledgeable about it, I could talk to my mom about what was going on with my body and my dad never protested, like some men might, against being sent to pick up pads for us from the store. Though my experience. I even took it upon myself to desensitize my brother to it! Anytime he tried to be mean to me during my menses I would remind him and he’d get all grossed out and say he didn’t need to know that but I’d say “why not? it’s natural!” The environment in which I grew up went a long way to creating a space in which I could be so comfortable with menstruation. Though my experience with that has been ideal, I can understand how the women and girls in different situations may feel without such a space. In school it was still something that could be a cause of embarrassment, God forbid you leaked through your clothes!