#MenstrualNarratives: The Story of Ukhengching (21yo, Chittagong, Bangladesh) “we could not think to share this thing with our male teachers. In My Family I am so lucky that this thing is not stigmatized “

My first menstrual cycle experience was not bad as i was taught by my mother and she is nurse. She first taught me when i was in class 6 about this fact which every girl has to experience. That day i was in school and i was in class 7,i felt something wet in my underwear and i rushed into bathroom. Then i saw that ! But i was not freaked out and i went to my female teacher to take permission. During that time we could not think to share this thing with our male teachers. In my family i am so lucky that this thing is not stigmatized. I have seen my aunties who are not allowed to cook and touch any food during this time because they think they become impure this time. I think this condition about being impure or stigma about mensuration should be changed.

The Story of Sharon (19yo Nairobi; Kiambu) ” I was dying…well…I thought I was. I was so embarrassed but didn’t understand why”

‘Well…here I am in the bathroom. A tear in my right eye. It must have been that puddle of water I stepped in outside the house. I could have sworn it had a tadpole. I am going to die…I should tell mum…I will probably bleed out by the time I get to her room. Why me? My science teacher never told us bilharzia spreads this quickly. How can such a small animal carry such a deadly disease? He never mentioned there would be so much blood. It’s time to tell mum.’
My first time was too scary for a girl that was just about to turn thirteen in two days. One could say it was a gift from Mother Nature but for this little miss…it was a nightmare! It was a sunny Sunday. The clock had just stroke eight and I was stuck in the washroom. I was dying…well…I thought I was. I was so embarrassed but didn’t understand why. We had just had a class on water-borne diseases the previous Friday thus my conclusion for the blood would have been accurate. The teacher said victims would bleed out and eventually die. I got on my knees, said my duly prayers and called out for my mother. My tone must have petrified her as she rushed into the room in a jiffy. I could not believe it when she laughed and gave me a hug. I had just handed her a blood-stained pair of knickers…I was dying! What was more astonishing was that she left me to bring back a piece of padding. It was unbelievable. Any minute I would drop down and never wake up again and here she was looking amused.
“Sweetheart…don’t be frightened…you’ve just gotten your first period. You’re a woman now!”
Oh well, figures why I’m still alive and writing this huh.

The story of Amaya (16yo Bangladesh; Dinajpur) “I just couldn’t accept the fact that menstruation at the age of twelve was normal”

I remember waking up one morning and noticing little brown stains on my undies. Despite the fact that we still weren’t taught about periods in school, and that I never had a discussion about it with my mom yet, I knew about menstruation from textbooks (thanks to my inquisitive nature). However, being somehow bizarrely sure that I’m not going to have my periods at the ‘early’ age of twelve, I simply ignored the signs and went to school without any sanitary napkins; save for a wad of tissues. You know, just in case.

I ended up spending my entire day at school sitting down and hoping that minimal movement would somehow decrease the blood flow. When I finally did return home, I was appalled by the sheer amount of blood and informed mom.

I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t accept the fact that menstruation at the age of twelve was normal. The facts that mom didn’t share much about the ‘taboo’ subject and that even girls my age were embarrassed to discuss it openly, didn’t help much either. Hence, my initial disgust towards periods lasted for many upcoming months; until I learned more about it by stalking several discussion forums online regarding these.

The Story of Blessing (22yo, Los Angeles (USA)): “I am grateful for the resources I have… I have relatives in Nigeria whom are less fortunate”

About a month after my 14th birthday, I was at home practicing one of my dance routines from school. I began feeling a slight aching in my stomach. I went to the restroom. As soon as I pulled down my panties, I saw red dots of liquid drop down from my body and stain the cloth. I immediately believed I was going to die. I reached for tissue paper and vigorously wiped my self over and over in the hopes of stopping the bleeding. After a few moments, I wondered if this is the “period” that my friends talked about in school. I did not expect the experience to happen so suddenly and painfully. I called out to my mother who was down the hall. She saw my condition and smiled, telling me it was ok and normal. Then, she handed me a couple of pads and told me to be downstairs in 5 minutes for dinner.

Since I got my period much later than girls around me, my menstruation was expected yet the experience was surprising. The thought that I will now bleed from my bottom area once a month for a great portion of my life seemed like one of the worst punishments that could be handed to me. Most months I experience cramping, vomiting, and fatigue. However, I am grateful for or the resources i have to make my periods more comfortable for me. I have relatives in Nigeria whom are less fortunate. Feeling awful about menstruating effects how I view womanhood and my role within it. I learned to deal with my menstrual episodes the best I can.

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 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.