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 Rubo (22yo, Gaborone (Bostwana)): “she saw it, called me and had me go to the office where I put on some pads and rinsed off my dress. I am forever grateful to her for saving me from the embarrassment”

It’s funny because even though I knew of periods and that women menstruate at some point in our early adolescence, I didn’t know what it was when I first had it. The first day, I saw a drop of a reddish thing on my underwear, I thought it was just some liquid from my vagina and ignored it. The second day, there were two drops, so I showed my mum. She told me “You need to go buy ‘those things'” that women use at that time of the month” I can’t remember what I felt like; maybe relieved because I thought it had been something worse or awed that I had finally started my period. So I bought some pads and used them for two days. On the morning of the 3rd day, I woke up and there was no flow (I’ve come to learn that sometimes the monthly period won’t flow early in the morning but starts some time after you are awake). So I went to school thinking that I was done with my period. By “break time/recess”, I knew something was wrong because I felt really wet. We had just finished out English lesson and the teacher was female, thank God!! I let everyone go out of the class before I stood to leave; she saw it, called me and had me go to the office where I put on some pads and rinsed off my dress. I am forever grateful to her for saving me from the embarrassment. That was my first menstrual experience.

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.

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 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”.

The Story of Phillomen N. (31yo, Uganda): My Sister Called and asked if I was Raped, I was so Embarrassed.

I applaud the 28th May initiative and ask God to permanently break the silence. 
My 1st menstrual experience was a horrible one. I was living with my sister and when I realized something that seemed abnormal then; blood on my under wear I was so scared! I could not tell her because I felt so ashamed. I got some old clothes padded myself but this caused more embarrassment because I think I used such a big clothe that I could hardly walk. My sister called me and asked if I was raped I was so embarrassed. I did not know what to tell her. Then I thought that may be it is to. I thought everybody is going to laugh at me just as it happened to girls at school then I would not go back to school again. My sister showed me what I should do but that made me feel more embarrassed. We need to break the silence.

The Story of Victoria A. (34yo, Los Angeles): I was told if I looked at a Boy or Allowed a boy to Touch me, I would get Pregnant and Ruin my Life Forever

 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.

The Story of Hikmet (30yo, Long Beach): I was so Shy to ask for help but my sisters Knew and they gave me the Pads.

Well my experience is a bit different. I had older sisters that went through it and I knew what to expect. Plus, I was almost 15 when I got it and I already learned about it at school. The day I got it, I was so shy to ask for help but my sisters knew and they gave me the pads. And my sister (who is a nurse ) told me how often I have to change and  what I had to do.