When I was in 4th grade I was handed this little pamphlet called “Your Body and You” – or was it “Your Changing Body and You”? Hmm. Either way, I remember being fascinated about the changes I was going to experience (even though at the time I had no true concept of what it really meant). I examined diagrams of my reproductive organs and read (to the point of memorization) the explanation of what a menstrual cycle was, even though I didn’t comprehend a single word of it.
I desperately wanted to talk about it with my mom but didn’t know exactly how to bring it up. One night I devised a plan and headed into the kitchen where I knew she was (pretending to read the pamphlet in hopes my mom would notice) to try to bait her into conversation. Her reaction was not at all what I expected. She asked what I was reading but after catching a glimpse of the title she pulled the pamphlet out of my hands in surprise and proceeded to flip through it in shock while my dad looked over her shoulder.
I remember feeling so embarrassed. I retreated back to my room regretting ever wanting to bring it up. I don’t recall what happened the rest of that evening but I do remember what happened the next day when I got home from school.
My mom was waiting for me in the living room with a big anatomy book. I don’t remember what was said between the two of us but I do remember sitting on her lap in our big tan recliner while she educated me on sex, menstruation and all the fun stuff that comes with puberty. It was nice. I felt respected. It was one of those rare moments where you transcend childhood and feel like an adult, even if it is a fleeting moment. I ate up everything she said and couldn’t wait to tell my friends at school what I had learned.
I truly believe it was in this moment my passion for sexual and reproductive health began. I talked about it to any of my friends who would listen and read everything I could get my hands on. But no matter how much you read about what a period is you are never quite prepared for it when it actually happens. But, I looked forward to getting my period. To me, it represented a rite of passage into womanhood, and I so wanted to be a woman.
I didn’t get my period until the beginning of 6th grade. By then my parents had divorced and of course it happened for the first time on my dad’s weekend. It was a Saturday morning. The sun was out and I had just finished breakfast. I went into the bathroom and when I wiped, there it was: a small, pinkish, reddish, clearish streak on the toilet paper.
I was stunned. I remember freezing and not knowing what to do. All of my book learning about periods and I had no thought on how to proceed from this situation. In that moment I burst into tears. I felt something I didn’t expect to feel: I was afraid. Suddenly, everything changed. I was a woman. It actually happened. I was filled with so many emotions I couldn’t sift through them fast enough. I don’t know how long I was in the bathroom but I eventually was able to compose myself. I wadded up some toilet paper, stuck it in my underwear and emerged into the hallway for the first time as a woman.
I remember feeling absolutely embarrassed to tell my dad so I snuck to the phone in the kitchen to call my mom. There was little privacy and I could tell my dad was lurking so I tried to remain calm but the minute my mom picked up the other end I began to cry again. I managed to stutter through my sobs that I had just gotten my period. I don’t remember what she said about it but she asked to speak with my dad. I sat there completely mortified. I knew what she was telling him and I couldn’t bear to look him in the face.
Next thing I remember was my dad leaving to go to the store and coming home with a travel sized green package of “Always with wings.” Oh the horror. Eventually my mom came to pick me up and I’m pretty sure I spent the rest of the weekend crying. Crying because I was in uncharted territory, crying because I didn’t know if I would have to stop playing with my toys, crying because, well, I was experiencing hormones.
Like many women who have come before me I survived that harrowing day and lived to tell about it. The transition from BP (Before Period) to AP (After Period) was confusing, exciting and a little frightening all at the same time. My friends who had already gotten their periods were an amazing source of comfort and my friends who hadn’t were in awe of me. I am thankful my mom did what she could to prepare me because it empowered me to treat my body kindly.
Let us never forget our periods are one of the many things that give us power as women and it is so important to pass that wisdom down to those who come after us. I would encourage you to think about your unique First Period experience and seriously consider sharing it with all the lovely young girls in your life – or right here in the comments!