Raise your hand if you have ovaries. Raise your hand if someone you love has ovaries.
Oh look, that’s all of you.
Raise your hand if you feel like you were properly prepared for your first period.
Oh look, that’s fewer of you.
I don’t think I was properly taught what to expect about my upcoming first period so when it happened, it was less than an ideal situation. And it’s amazing how many women I’ve spoken to about this subject that had a similar, unprepared situation. Now, we’re all resolved to teach our daughters better than we were. And not JUST our daughters; our sons will be taught, too. Because every living person needs to understand how bodies work and change.
I want to explain my thought process when I got my first period, and I was about to start it with, “This will be TMI, sorry.” Then I thought, why? Why does something so natural need a warning? I won’t be graphic, I won’t be disrespectful, and this is a bodily function half the world’s population experiences. So why are menstrual periods so stigmatized and awkward to talk about, to the point where a study showed 52% of 1,000 girls surveyed would rather be bullied than talk to their parents about their periods? This isn’t right and we need to help change this. So I’ll share my experience, just as many others have now done, and feel no embarrassment over it.
I got my first period when I was 10, so on the earlier side of things. By that point, I had only seen one maturation video at school (you know, where they separate the boys and girls so we can watch our own gendered video that explains how our bodies work during puberty?) and only one mainstream movie scene where the actress’ character had her first period and her step-mom came to help. That’s it. That’s the extent of what I remember being taught in preparation for the massive flow of blood coming to me soon. It started at school, with cramps sending me to the bathroom to find a tiny bit of…something (now I realize it was dark brown blood) in my underwear. It was light enough that I was able to make it the rest of the day and get home in time for it to not soak through my pants, thank goodness. Others weren’t this fortunate on their first bleeding:
“My first period came in like a lion, soaking through my pants before I realized it. A boy I fancied saw the blood on my chair when I stood up and he announced loudly to everyone within earshot what was going on. I’ll never forget my embarrassment and the beginning of my period-related shame, because of him.” –Sarah, age 50, first period age 13.
Once home, I quickly changed into a fresh pair of panties and then snuck to our trash cans outside to throw away my ruined old pair. I didn’t want anyone to know because I honestly thought I had pooped myself somehow, since the blood was more dark brown than the brighter red we’re all used to. I was confused and ashamed.
That night, I had to go to a church youth activity. The entire time, I was scared of what was happening. I made frequent trips to the bathroom, used lots of wadded toilet paper, cried as the blood turned from brown to bright red, and kept changing my underwear. In my shock, I had forgotten the vague maturation video lesson, and was so convinced I was abnormal that I was too embarrassed to reach out to my mom or sister. This isn’t unheard of in young girls who haven’t been given a repetitive heads up about what’s coming:
“I had two older sisters that could’ve counseled me, but I was scared to ask. They teased me relentlessly about everything else; they would definitely bully me about this, right? They seemed so clean and obsessed with their image, I was sure they had never bled out their privates before like I was. Even as adults now, we don’t ever talk about girl issues, and that’s incredibly sad.” –Tasha, age 25, first period age 10.
Finally, I ran out of clean underwear and was forced to talk to my mom about what was happening. I remember being so nervous; scared she would be mad at me for throwing away so many sullied pairs of panties. She was about to leave for an all-day date with my dad, something that they had been planning and looking forward to for a long time, so I felt like it was bad timing. I cried as I told her I thought I was pooping myself or that something was injured. It’s crazy how many women felt this same sense of dread when asking for period help the first time:
“Our school nurse was the first person who helped me with my period. My mother had died the year before I got my first menstrual cycle and my poor dad was lost when it came to my changing body. Why didn’t anyone teach him? The nurse is the person who explained to me what a tampon was, how to insert one, etc. I’m so grateful for her help but I remember sitting in her office before she came in, scared and embarrassed. And no way was I asking my dad again, after his awkward first reaction.” –Charlie, age 32, first period age 14.
“I felt like I was supposed to just magically know how my body would change and what to do about it. Like I was supposed to innately know how to pick the right pad length and density for my flow, right off the bat. So when I finally asked my aunt for advice, she laughed. At the time, I felt like she was laughing at me for not knowing already.” –Leah, age 30, first period age 11.
My mother didn’t react the ways I had scared myself into imagining. Her face softened into the most empathetic, loving look I’ve ever seen. She hugged me tight, then brought me up to our bathroom where she uncovered menstrual pads that I had never noticed were there before. Since she had to leave for her date, she woke up my sister and asked her to explain everything to me. My only sister showed me how to put the pad on my underwear, gave me tips, answered my questions, and then left me to it. I *think* my mom and I had a short conversation about it when she got home that night but I can’t quite remember.
Finally, I was validated in my worries. Finally, I understood why I had such bad cramping and what to expect next time. But I still wish I had had these conversations before the bleeding began. Maybe I did get a few explanations beforehand but the point obviously didn’t stick. So I’ll make sure to teach my kids multiple times before that maturation class they’ll get at school. And I’m not the only one:
“Someday, my 2-year-old daughter will get her first period but she will be ready. She won’t have to guess, like I did. Yeah, she will have Google, like I didn’t, but I want the information to come from me. I’ll start early, teaching her about her body, what body parts are actually called and how they work together. Most of all, I’ll teach her there’s no shame or embarrassment in her menstrual cycle. I’ll teach her twin brother, too. He’ll probably have a wife someday that he should know how to support.” –Monica, age 29, first period age 9.
The takeaway from all these experiences is simple: Please teach your kids, especially your daughters, about their bodies early on. Don’t wait for her to find out stigmas from society or get teased from mean kids at school. Don’t let her be scared of her own body because she doesn’t know what’s going on.
And there are easy, dare I say fun, ways to prepare your girls! I just discovered a Kickstarter for a period board game designed by Daniela Gilsanz and Ryan Murphy, called “The Period Game.” Check it out because it’s actually very well thought through and will help your kids remember all the parts of a woman’s menstrual cycle.
And if you have a daughter nearing period age, why not send a period preparation kit with her to keep in her backpack or locker? It’s easy to assemble and will be a lifesaver if Aunt Flo comes knocking during school. Mom With A Prep gives a great example of a DIY kit you could follow.
Did you feel adequately prepared for your first period? If so, explain what was done right in our comments below!