#MenstrualNarratives: The Story of Neelam (38yo, Los Angeles (USA) ): “She told me that the first three days I was considered impure and couldn’t go to the temple or touch the altar in our home. This information didn’t really jive with my new found superpowers, but I didn’t say anything.”

My mom is an obgyn so I grew up with her magazines laying about and her speaking to patients over dinner about vaginal discharge. Still, I felt unprepared. She told me what was coming but it seemed unreal, especially the bleeding part. I remember by breasts forming, the acne, and my labia growing. At the time, I thought my enlarged labia meant I had super powers! I never told anyone but I held on to the belief… And who knows, I was probably right!

The day my period came I was home with my dad. Mom was working and so I had to tell him. He became flustered and immediately called my mom to come home. I had flashbacks to the incredibly outdated video we watched in school about tying napkins to menstrual belts. Why were we watching a video about menstrual belts?? I guess being informed and feeling prepared wasn’t the goal of that particular educational movie.

My mom came home twenty minutes later. I waited for her in the bathroom. She seemed excited as she helped me put on my first pad (a very large monstrosity). Then her face turned grave and she said I could get pregnant now. I’m not sure I fully understood but I nodded. Then she told me that the first three days I was considered impure and couldn’t go to the temple or touch the altar in our home. This information didn’t really jive with my new found superpowers, but I didn’t say anything. Getting to stay home from trips to the temple seemed like a good thing at the time. More time to attend to the very serious business of recording my own MTV show and practicing to be Janet Jackson’s back up dancer.
We left the bathroom and the day proceeded at usual. But it wasn’t just any other day. The world had changed for me and I couldn’t wait to tell my friends!

#MenstrualNarratives: The Story of Irene (58yo, Durban, South Africa) “My mother however was not as open as my Dad and she did have certain prejudices towards menstruation that it was something to be borne and endured and it was a hassle”

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I remember having a very serious talk with my dad about the special gift that ladies had to give to a man and that was one’s virginity. I remember then getting into discussion about sex and pregnancy and babies and marriage, but I was not yet menstruating. However I did have an older sister with whom I shared a bedroom so I had first hand experience of her first menstrual period.

So when it came to mine although it was a shock and I felt afraid of what was happening to my body I had a sister, mother and father with whom I could talk. My mother however was not as open as my Dad and she did have certain prejudices towards menstruation – that it was something to be borne and endured and it was a hassle and men were more fortunate that women etc.

It was a scarey experience but I was able to get support and assistance both at home and at school so the adjustment was quick and easy.

However, much later on in life I came across a book that suggested a totally different perspective on the menstrual cycle in that one should celebrate one’s fertility and it had a prayer that one could say in thanksgiving for the privilege of being able to be fertile. If I can find it I will share it on this site.

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.