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.
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.
.. Yeah I remember after my first period not having period for a number of months and was completely freakin out about it, thinking I was pregnant (funny when you think about it, because we were told then not having period meant you were pregnant. Didn’t even think about the haven’t had sex part). I also remember when my period came back, it just generally a 6 DAYS pain ordeal. A lot of what I knew about period was learned from teachers in boarding school and class mates. I used to (well still do) have a ton of horrible cramps, back aches, sometimes fever, and just some crazy headache and stuff. We were taught to shower twice or more a day during our period then
My first menstrual experience happened in my third year in junior secondary school. On that fateful day, I felt something coming out from my vagina, dint know what it was until I went to the restroom to check, then I found out it was blood. It dawned on me that the time has come, LOL. So I went to the girls hostel to ask for sanitary pad but unfortunately no one had, so I had to use toilet paper. After school that day, I went home, told my mom what had happened and she gave me sanitary pad after our girl talk…lol
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…
The world celebrated the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, 2014, and we are very happy to be part of this groundbreaking event because it’s been long overdue. The silence and taboo surrounding menstruation not only impedes the rights and dignity of women and girls protected under international law, it sends a dangerous message to young girls that their unique bodies are peripheral, and subordinate to the universe they equally inhabit with the boys/men in their lives.
As Gloria Steinem articulated, “If men could menstruate… menstruation would be an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much. Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with religious ritual and stage parties. Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out monthly discomforts. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free.” As funny as this sounds, it is absolutely true- it reflects the current state of affairs on women/girl’s rights to bodily integrity.
For many girls around the world, life stops, and education halts when menstruation begins. For example, Nigeria’s student to toilet ratio is 500:1, and of the toilets available, they are poorly maintained, lack privacy and changing areas are unsafe. This undermines the social inclusion and educational enrollment/performance and capacity of girls, especially when they are menstruating.
Today, as part of our ongoing journey and exploration of menstruation and menstrual hygiene narratives through storytelling, we asked women to share their first menstrual experience or what they remembered of it.
These stories will debut as individual or thematic blog entries, we welcome you to explore and celebrate the courage, and humor of these women as they share some of the most intimate parts of their lives. If you are interested in sharing your stories and experiences, please contact us.
As you read, take the pledge to Break The Silence on menstruation and help stop #Stigma:
Say it loud and proud:
- I will break the silence on menstruation
- I will not feel shy; I will take pride
- I will spread the word outside and inside the home
First story: Chioma Nwosu, 35yo- Los Angeles
Getting my period at the age of 12 left me feeling very awkward and confused. Growing up in a traditional Nigerian household as the oldest daughter, I had the tasks of scoring highly on schoolwork to, helping my mother with housework chores and setting a good example for my siblings to follow. When I noticed my blood spotted underwear, I knew this was not part of the prescribed program. I hurriedly shared with my mother the horrific news. Instead of taking me to see the doctor, she looked at me with bewildered sternness and caused me feel the type of nervousness one never forgets. Her only words to me were, “Now if you sleep with a man, you’ll be pregnant.” I still remember the chill that ran up my spine and the resounding, “What?!” that fell from my lips and echoed in my mind. What did she mean “sleep with”? Like, in the same bed? What if my baby brother wanted to lay with me (as he often does during the multitudes of summertime thunderstorms)? How could that make me pregnant?! I had so many questions. However, as my mother shrugged and left me to ponder my new circumstances, I knew that I could not rely on her to uncover the answers. This was obviously a topic that made her uncomfortable. Luckily that faithful night, the TV gods supplied me with a re-run of Darlene Conner starting her menses on Rosanne. I remember it like it was yesterday. I saw Darlene struggle with the ‘weirdness’ brought on with change in her body, just as I had. I eagerly listened as Roseanne explained to her second daughter the beauty of nose-diving into womanhood, like I wished my mother had. Suddenly, the chaos that had been introduced into my world by my body’s maturation was put into order. That night and the four days that followed, I marched myself into womanhood. With the help of Roseanne, I better understood this milestone event and realized that as unprepared as I had been about having the conversation regarding menstruation, my mother must’ve been just as petrified.
Second Story: Deborah.A (25yo)-Los Angeles
My experience with menstruation has been one in which I have never felt shame or fear. My parents both completed post-secondary school in America in medical fields and so because of that they didn’t shy away from those types of topics. It also helped that in elementary school by the time you are in the 5th grade (11 years old) you begin taking a class called family life that introduces you to what a “period” is and how families come about. So by the time I started menstruating I was well aware of what was going on. It helped that my parents were knowledgeable about it, I could talk to my mom about what was going on with my body and my dad never protested, like some men might, against being sent to pick up pads for us from the store. Though my experience. I even took it upon myself to desensitize my brother to it! Anytime he tried to be mean to me during my menses I would remind him and he’d get all grossed out and say he didn’t need to know that but I’d say “why not? it’s natural!” The environment in which I grew up went a long way to creating a space in which I could be so comfortable with menstruation. Though my experience with that has been ideal, I can understand how the women and girls in different situations may feel without such a space. In school it was still something that could be a cause of embarrassment, God forbid you leaked through your clothes!
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.