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.
I had injured myself badly when I broke a glass cup while washing dishes. My mother (who was a nurse) was not home so my father did his best to patch up the injury. Unfortunately the cotton balls became entangled in the wound and when I later removed the dressing at school the next day, it started bleeding again. My Dad came to pick me up to go home to get the wound looked at. That evening I noticed some spotting in my under garment. As the third bleeding occurrence in under 24 hours, I truly freaked out. Thank God for my dear mother who helped to pacify me reminding me that they two occurrences, the injury and my first menses were unrelated and that everything would be ok.
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.
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.
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”.
Join us! On Father’s Day (June 15th) and the Day of the African Child (June 16th) to highlight ways in which men and boys are engaged in and can mobilize to end/prevent Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). VAWG is a grave violation of human rights and bodily integrity, that not only affects the well-being of women, but their families, their community and country-causing greater healthcare/legal expenses, losses in productivity and overall development.
This conversation is a follow-up and a response to the following ongoing campaigns: #EndChildMarriageNow (Africa Union 2-yr campaign), #TimetoAct, #MenstruationMatters, #BringBackOurGirls, #JusticeforLiz, #WEA and #TheAfricaWeWant. This is also the first in our series to raise consciousness for gender equality using hashtags #Men&Boys to #EndVAWG.
We want to know how your country is engaging #Men&Boys to #EndVAWG | what the challenges are | why it is important to engage #Men&Boys? | And is violence against women and girls a #Men&Boys issue?
Join in from June 15-16 to engage in dialogue that illustrates the progress, challenges and solutions to #EndVAWG. Please use the hashtags: #Men&Boys and #EndVAWG on Twitter and Facebook. Find our social media toolkit here, and invite your friends on Facebook.
Importantly, to help us stay in touch with you, and improve the sustainability of #EndVAWG via #Men&Boys as allies, take 2 minutes to participate in this survey.
We look forward to engaging with you on Twitter and Facebook.
Joanne Oport, MPA | @awuoroport