I remember having a very serious talk with my dad about the special gift that ladies had to give to a man and that was one’s virginity. I remember then getting into discussion about sex and pregnancy and babies and marriage, but I was not yet menstruating. However I did have an older sister with whom I shared a bedroom so I had first hand experience of her first menstrual period.
So when it came to mine although it was a shock and I felt afraid of what was happening to my body I had a sister, mother and father with whom I could talk. My mother however was not as open as my Dad and she did have certain prejudices towards menstruation – that it was something to be borne and endured and it was a hassle and men were more fortunate that women etc.
It was a scarey experience but I was able to get support and assistance both at home and at school so the adjustment was quick and easy.
However, much later on in life I came across a book that suggested a totally different perspective on the menstrual cycle in that one should celebrate one’s fertility and it had a prayer that one could say in thanksgiving for the privilege of being able to be fertile. If I can find it I will share it on this site.
According to my community, the age of 16 was too late to get menstruation. Therefore, I have already aware of menstruation from my mother’s instruction and it was a part of my education in intermediate level. I told to mother when I got my first menstruation and of course it was a celebration in my society. I was not allowed to see any men from outside and I was not allowed to go out for a month. I kept in side my room and fed by healthy and nutrition food. Then after a month. I had puberty ceremony, where so many relatives attended.
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.
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!