#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 I had flashbacks to the incredibly outdated video we watched in school about tying napkins to menstrual belts.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 Ukhengching (21yo, Chittagong, Bangladesh) “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 “

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.

#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.

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”

The story of Amaya (16yo Bangladesh; Dinajpur) “I just couldn’t accept the fact that menstruation at the age of twelve was normal”.

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 Teresa. H ( 27yo, Glendale (California)): “My dad asked me what it was, and I said that I think I started having my period today”

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.

The Story of JerseyNai Chic (24yo, Nairobi): “I decided to do my research.. and learn about this mysterious womanly function”

It had finally come. I was in the eighth grade, stick thin, flat ass, a member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee (IBTC), with badly permed hair that sat atop of an almond shaped face framed with crooked glasses. Needless to say, I had not had my transition from ugly duckling to beautiful swan. And yet, it seemed all the other girls in my class had. Many had already began their journey into womanhood, curves starting to show, boobs starting to sprout, boys starting to take interest. I was keen to unlock the secret to their womanhood. I was determined to learn why I was behind and they were ahead.

And soon I had figured out what it was they had that I didn’t. They had started their period! The menses, the monthly flow, the big red dot. By thirteen, most of the girls in my class had gotten their period, and like all other child developmental milestones, I was last in line.

But once I figured out the key to my eighth grade “Fly Girl” success, I decided to do my research, and learn about this mysterious womanly function that seemed to be the answer to all my awkward teenage angst. For months, I had been scouring books on puberty– mostly procured from the pre-teen section at my nearby public library–that graphically illustrated the functions of my female anatomy, both inside and out. All those icky things that made me cringe but also intrigued me at the same time. I read magazines, watched movies, and kept by my side at all times the bible for prepubescent girls at the time “The Care and Keeping of You” by American Girl.

So by the time mine decided to come, I was fully prepared. With all the knowledge I had digested, I began to create this grand image of the day I finally would get my period. Trumpets would blow, confetti bursting from thin air, my mother would cry tears of joy–finally her baby girl is a woman. I would be taken out for a special “Just Got My Period” dinner at my favorite restaurant, “Fun Buffet”, on Danforth Avenue, where you can get all you can eat lobster legs for $10. It would be the best day of my life.

But sadly, it did not turn out that way. When D-Day (or should I say P-Day) finally came, it was the most underwhelming event. I was sitting in front of the television, watching my favorite show “As Told By Ginger”, when I felt a peculiar wetness in my nether-regions. I shot up from the couch like a canon, and ran to the bathroom with haste, as if I had just found hidden treasure, and had to run to a secret spot to open it. When I got into the bathroom, I pull down my pants, and low and behold, a brownish, crimson dot sat boldly on my K-mart, fruit of the loom panties. I was ecstatic, and began to think of the grand reaction my mother would have. “Fun Buffet here I come!” I thought as I walked boldly to the living room, panties in hand, and turned to my mother and said “Mommy, I think I just got my period. Silence. She then stood up, grabbed the stained panties from my hand, took a keen look, and with the uninterested flare of a chemistry teacher said plainly, “yes, that is your period.” She then handed me back my panties, and nonchalantly walked down the corridor, back to the kitchen, where she was preparing our meal for the evening: ugali, with cabbage and stewed chicken. No congratulations, no grandiose pouring of affection, no instructions. Just a simple confirmation, “yes, that is your period.” I guess being the daughter of a single African mother, whose main concern was the constant collection of A’s on my report card, did not lend itself to open discussion or celebration of a basic, expected biological turning point as my period. So, dejected by the celebration that never was, I unceremoniously took my stained undies, threw them in the garbage, grabbed a fresh pair, got the “Always Teen” pad I had been given by my school nurse at our last sex-ed class, put it on, and went back to the couch to finish my “As Told by Ginger” episode. As the show’s theme song played at the closing credits—Someone once told me the grass was much greener, on the other side—I sat thinking to myself, the grass is just the same. Fun Buffet another day.

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.