The Story of Ms Achivo (26yo, Atlanta, USA): “I noticed some spotting in my under garment”

I had injured myself badly when I broke a glass cup while washing dishes. My mother (who was a nurse) was not home so my father did his best to patch up the injury. Unfortunately the cotton balls became entangled in the wound and when I later removed the dressing at school the next day, it started bleeding again. My Dad came to pick me up to go home to get the wound looked at. That evening I noticed some spotting in my under garment. As the third bleeding occurrence in under 24 hours, I truly freaked out. Thank God for my dear mother who helped to pacify me reminding me that they two occurrences, the injury and my first menses were unrelated and that everything would be ok.

The Story of Teresa. H ( 27yo, Glendale (California)): “My dad asked me what it was, and I said that I think I started having my period today”

I went to a Catholic private school. They started what was supposed to be sex-ed in the 4th grade. We were given workbooks – “Family Life” was what they were called – which had chapters covering anatomy, sex, marriage, etc., and after each chapter was covered in school, we had to take home the workbook, read through the chapter with our parents, and have them sign a page saying we went over the content together. Usually my parents just turned to the last page of the chapter and signed it. In any case, it was around this time, the 4th grade, that I learned about menstruation.

I was a competitive gymnast until I was 14 years old. On June 1, 1998 I was at one of my practices, and went to the bathroom to pee. When I took off my leotard (ya, I was rocking my FAVORITE leotard – a plushy, teal, tie-dye work of beauty that actually accommodated my growing breasts), I noticed a red spot in the crotch area. I remember just ignoring it because I felt that something like menstruation couldn’t possibly happen to me. Puberty was for “older people,” and I never considered myself to be older (I know, that’s not how it works.). I think I tried to reason my way out of it – maybe I cut or scratched myself sometime in practice – did I straddle the beam at some point? I finished practice and went home, and when I changed to go take a shower. I put the leotard in the laundry hamper, just as I always did. After showering, I just thought that I would ask my mom about it, since it did seem a little out of the ordinary. She was a nurse, so I trusted her. I showed her the red spot that had grown a little bit over the course of the evening. I don’t remember exactly how she reacted, but it was something to the extent of her telling me that it means that I started my period. I remember her being very calm, but I know she probably wanted to cry – she always got emotional when we exhibited any sign of “growing up.” The WORST part, get this, was that she MADE ME TELL MY DAD immediately. He was in the home office, at the computer. My mom said, “Teresa needs to tell you something,” and stood in the doorway. My dad asked me what it was, and I said that I think I started having my period today. I don’t remember everything that he said after that, but he eventually said, “Well, it’s June 1st. That’s easy to remember.” And I guess he was right, I never forgot the date of my first period.

The Story of JerseyNai Chic (24yo, Nairobi): “I decided to do my research.. and learn about this mysterious womanly function”

It had finally come. I was in the eighth grade, stick thin, flat ass, a member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee (IBTC), with badly permed hair that sat atop of an almond shaped face framed with crooked glasses. Needless to say, I had not had my transition from ugly duckling to beautiful swan. And yet, it seemed all the other girls in my class had. Many had already began their journey into womanhood, curves starting to show, boobs starting to sprout, boys starting to take interest. I was keen to unlock the secret to their womanhood. I was determined to learn why I was behind and they were ahead.

And soon I had figured out what it was they had that I didn’t. They had started their period! The menses, the monthly flow, the big red dot. By thirteen, most of the girls in my class had gotten their period, and like all other child developmental milestones, I was last in line.

But once I figured out the key to my eighth grade “Fly Girl” success, I decided to do my research, and learn about this mysterious womanly function that seemed to be the answer to all my awkward teenage angst. For months, I had been scouring books on puberty– mostly procured from the pre-teen section at my nearby public library–that graphically illustrated the functions of my female anatomy, both inside and out. All those icky things that made me cringe but also intrigued me at the same time. I read magazines, watched movies, and kept by my side at all times the bible for prepubescent girls at the time “The Care and Keeping of You” by American Girl.

So by the time mine decided to come, I was fully prepared. With all the knowledge I had digested, I began to create this grand image of the day I finally would get my period. Trumpets would blow, confetti bursting from thin air, my mother would cry tears of joy–finally her baby girl is a woman. I would be taken out for a special “Just Got My Period” dinner at my favorite restaurant, “Fun Buffet”, on Danforth Avenue, where you can get all you can eat lobster legs for $10. It would be the best day of my life.

But sadly, it did not turn out that way. When D-Day (or should I say P-Day) finally came, it was the most underwhelming event. I was sitting in front of the television, watching my favorite show “As Told By Ginger”, when I felt a peculiar wetness in my nether-regions. I shot up from the couch like a canon, and ran to the bathroom with haste, as if I had just found hidden treasure, and had to run to a secret spot to open it. When I got into the bathroom, I pull down my pants, and low and behold, a brownish, crimson dot sat boldly on my K-mart, fruit of the loom panties. I was ecstatic, and began to think of the grand reaction my mother would have. “Fun Buffet here I come!” I thought as I walked boldly to the living room, panties in hand, and turned to my mother and said “Mommy, I think I just got my period. Silence. She then stood up, grabbed the stained panties from my hand, took a keen look, and with the uninterested flare of a chemistry teacher said plainly, “yes, that is your period.” She then handed me back my panties, and nonchalantly walked down the corridor, back to the kitchen, where she was preparing our meal for the evening: ugali, with cabbage and stewed chicken. No congratulations, no grandiose pouring of affection, no instructions. Just a simple confirmation, “yes, that is your period.” I guess being the daughter of a single African mother, whose main concern was the constant collection of A’s on my report card, did not lend itself to open discussion or celebration of a basic, expected biological turning point as my period. So, dejected by the celebration that never was, I unceremoniously took my stained undies, threw them in the garbage, grabbed a fresh pair, got the “Always Teen” pad I had been given by my school nurse at our last sex-ed class, put it on, and went back to the couch to finish my “As Told by Ginger” episode. As the show’s theme song played at the closing credits—Someone once told me the grass was much greener, on the other side—I sat thinking to myself, the grass is just the same. Fun Buffet another day.

Menstrual Narratives: The Story of MaDube (40yo, Harare): “I tore the centre page of my exercise book and crushed it and used it to absorb blood”

I was in primary school in grade 7. I did not tell anyone. I had been told that people who have blood coming from underneath there have been naughty with boys. I was scared. I was not prepared for it. I was afraid boys would laugh at me as was the case with others who had had their menses at school. I tore the centre page of my exercise book and crushed it and used it to absorb blood. I remember how i smelled during that time. I stayed away from everyone. I did not play sport. I faked illness the next few days to skip school. The trick worked the first month, in subsequent months mother forced me to go to school thinking i just didnt want to go to school. She didnt know what i was going through, she was a busy woman, widow, left home very early and came back home after dark as she worked as a house help. I had abdominal and back pain. I was afraid of telling anyone because it was associated with sleeping around, children were not supposed to have backache. I used crushed newspaper till the following year when i went to boarding school and could afford to buy myself cotton wool using my pocket money. This meant that I could not buy myself biscuits and sweets like other children as I had to save money for cotton wool. I did not tell anyone I was menstruating for two years. My mother discovered that I was menstruating when she found a soiled pantie I had hidden under the bed one time and I was beaten for that. I could not tell my siblings why I was beaten because I was afraid they would find out I am menstruating and think I have been sleeping around. I did not know what menstruation meant as I had not been told about it. I leant about it at school in biology lessons.

Menstrual Narratives: The Story of Louisa O. Eikhomun (40yo, Nigeria): “I had by bath and washed very well thinking the flow will stop and went to school”

I woke up from sleep one morning and saw blood stains on me and on my sleeping mat. I did not know what it was as I have not been told about monthly period, not at home nor in school.
I dashed to the bathroom and quicly had my bath trying to see if I had a wound or something.I did not see a scratch on my thighs. I squatted to look into my vagina but could not see exactly where the blood was flowing from. I washed and washed to stop the flow. I had by bath and washed very well thinking the flow will stop and went to school. I was wet with blood before closing. I wrapped my cadigan around my waist as I hurried on the the long treck home to wash again. I was too embarrased to share this experience with anybody. Not even with my mother or elder sisters. I just could not breath a word of it to any one. I suffered for many months in pain, torment and shame hiding it from everyone until one night I was wet all over with blood and and my mother finally noticed and sent for sanitary pads for me.
That was where it all ended. It was not discussed and neither was I asked how I was feeling. Till date I find menstrrual discussion embarrassing.
I have only been able to share this experience with my teen daughters, telling them to confide in me always.

Menstrual Narratives: The Story of Blackbeauty (28yo, Accra): My mum was so happy… She offered [me] a boiled egg

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.

Menstrual Narratives: The Story of Sophie (38 yo, Nairobi): “I ‘knew’ that ‘bad girls’ got their periods early so I was happy I was not among the bad girls “

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.

Menstrual Narratives: The Story of Joyce (37 yo, Nairobi): “It used to soak through my pad even if I wore two. I had to sleep with a towel on my bed”

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.

Menstrual Narratives: The Story of Aba E. (30yo, Tema (Ghana): “Mama I have an infection, the bottom of my panty is stained brown”

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”.

Menstrual Narratives-The Story of Akyaa N. (29 yo, Accra): I was very sad and devastated by the fact that it had come

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