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.
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.
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.
I started my period at the age of 12 years-old. It arrived around three in the afternoon, while I was doing my chores. All I can remember is the vivid red spot on my panties and thinking wow I really need to tell someone. My mother wasn’t around so I told my Aunt Tudy a close family friend…I just couldn’t hold it in. My mom arrived a few hours later and before I could tell her my Aunt Tudy spilled the beans. My Mother walked away, called me into her room and asked why I didn’t wait until she got home first, for she was my mother and had the right to know first. She was disappointed in me and I was disappointed in myself. She stayed upset for a while, and then she proceeded with her chilling African style lecture on my new journey into womanhood. Essentially I was told if I even looked at a boy too closely let alone allowed a boy to touch me, I would get pregnant and ruin my life forever. There was no sex education, no hugs, no welcome to womanhood rite of passage pow wow. This is essentially how I remember my first period.
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.
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…
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.