#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.

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 Blackbeauty (28yo, Accra): My mum was so happy… She offered [me] a boiled egg

I remember being a little anxious because most of my friends had started menstruating and I hadn’t. It was a bit of a taboo subject in my family, we never really talked about it. One day in middle school I went to the bathroom and discovered blood in my panties. I didn’t know what to do, so I stuffed a lot of toilet paper in my pants. I walked out of the cubicle, terrified that all the bloodied tissue will fall out for everybody to see. I was relieved when the day was over and I went home. My mum was so happy when I told her. She offered my a boiled egg, I wasn’t sure what the significance was, but I said “no, thank you” politely.

Menstrual Narratives: The Story of Sophie (38 yo, Nairobi): “I ‘knew’ that ‘bad girls’ got their periods early so I was happy I was not among the bad girls “

I knew it would come but somehow it found me unprepared. I had been told by my teacher to expect it, I had been told that once it comes it would mean I can get pregnant! Mind you it had not even crossed my mind to engage in sex yet that was a real fear. I still recall that day which was a public holiday in Kenya, possibly October 20th so I was at home. I went to the toilet and felt ‘funny’. Checking I realized my panties had blood. I felt sad, and the thought that went to my mind is “I can get pregnant”. The fear of pregnancy was more than anything else. I didn’t know who to tell, I did not think I was meant to tell anyone! Somehow I was among the last girls who got their first periods but I ‘knew’ that ‘bad girls’ got their periods early so I was happy I was not among the bad girls. Still there were some girls who had not got their periods, so I didn’t feel that much achieved. I needed to have it remain a secret! It did remain a secret. I was in primary school and since there is no pocket money for primary school students I looked for tissue then later cotton wool that was cheap. It took going to secondary school to have ‘shopping list’ where sanitary pads featured. I have never ever spoken about this, let alone write! Yes I wish I knew that this was the time to celebrate womanhood.

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 Anita Afonu (27yo: Accra): A huge Lump Travel from my Tubes and….Down my Uterus and Stop!

Menstruating for the first time was a very daunting experience. It wasn’t weird because I knew nothing about it, it was weird because I was a bit too over grown when it happened. I was in Secondary school. An all girls secondary school. In my first year. Still a teenager, contemplating life and why I was alive at all. I hated my school, partly because it wasn’t the school I wanted to be at. My mother had forced me there because it was her alma mater and I was at serious loggerheads with her for sending me to that school. I was undergoing a serious sexual orientation issues and at some point in my life felt I was a boy trapped in a woman’s body. I couldn’t relate with many of the girls there because they had conversations I couldn’t have. They liked to have conversations about boys, menstrual cramps and Elle magazine. I wanted to discuss films, politics and literature.

So it was one of those days, a Monday to be precise. I had turned 17 about 8 months ago. It was time for math class. Oh how I hated math class. In fact, anything that had to do with numbers, I stayed away from. Mr Owusu was there rambling about an equation when all of a sudden I felt a huge lump travel from my tubes and sort of make its way down my uterus and stop. It felt funny, but I didn’t know how to react. Within a few minutes I felt wet and a slight sharp pain. Not sure what it was, I excused myself and run to the bathroom. I took off my underwear only to realize the horror. Red! It was blood. Oh My God! I shrieked. This cant be it, this cant be it. Not knowing what to do, I run back to class to talk to Victoria. Victoria was a no-nonsense girl, I have to say. She took crap from no one but had a very loving side to her. She was very slim with curly hair and was light skinned. When I informed Victoria, she immediately summoned her two side kicks, Sally and Sena. They lined up in front of me in the bathroom and took a serious look at me as if I were in the military. She ordered to see if it was true and when she did, she looked at me with such incredulity and said; ‘Oh Anita, what took you so long?’ Immediately, Sally hugged me so tight and so did Sena. They put me in the shower, helped me clean up and taught me how to use a sanitary towel. I had seen many women from Reproductive health organizations come to our school to tell us about how to use sanitary towels and all but I had never paid any attention to them because I just didn’t care. I hadn’t menstruated so why should I care?

Victoria, being the boss of all of us, assumed her role and taught me step by step how to wear a sanitary towel and what it means when I don’t menstruate. She taught me how to walk and what to do when I experience menstrual cramps. In that moment, I missed my mother. Not because I wanted to share with her this ‘joyful’ discovery, but to let her know that I am sorry. That I was sorry for hating her so much. In that moment, I needed her to assure me that there was nothing to fear, that there was nothing to worry about. That I will be fine. I felt she didn’t understand me, that she didn’t understand how I felt. Now, as I write this, its another time of the month. I am experiencing menstrual cramps as always, but I am grateful to Victoria, Sally and Sena all three of whom spent the remaining two years of High School with me, teaching me about boys and how to take care of myself and how to appreciate my womanhood. For me, menstruating was one major turning point in my life, in that it will be a constant reminder of two things, that I am not pregnant and the fact that I was a woman.