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
.. 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
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
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!
I created this video for the Red Elephant Foundation (REF), a wonderful organization based in India and fighting for the rights of young girls and women around the world. I am inspired by the founder, Kirthi Jayakumar who is also a mentor and sister. Although we are yet to meet in person, I believe we are related from a different planet. It’s a beautiful feeling when women work together, in solidarity to achieve goals-large or small.