My Little Red Book

This is a great idea–we need to share these experiences in more open and honest ways.

MY LITTLE RED BOOK is an anthology of stories about first periods, collected from women of all ages from around the world. The accounts range from light-hearted (the editor got hers while water skiing in a yellow bathing suit) to heart-stopping (a first period discovered just as one girl was about to be strip-searched by the Nazis). The contributors include well-known women writers (Meg Cabot, Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, Cecily von Ziegesar), alongside today’s teens. And while the authors differ in race, faith, or cultural background, their stories share a common bond: they are all accessible, deeply honest, and highly informative. Whatever a girl experiences or expects, she’ll find stories that speak to her thoughts and feelings.

What’s your first period story?

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81 Comments

  1. InfamousQBert
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    sorry, forgot to add the funniest part, in retrospect at least.
    i was a very dramatic, over-thinking kid. i was an only child, with just my mom, and, like i said, we just didn’t talk about personal stuff much. i knew i had to tell her about getting my period, but i REALLY didn’t know how. i spent, like, an hour in the bathroom, practicing this speech. it went something like this:
    “mother, you know that there are several steps along the way to becoming a woman. i took the first a few years ago, when you and grandmama took me to get my first bra. well, today, i took the second.”
    at which point, she stared at me dumbly while i waited for a response. i’m sure she thought she had raised an alien.

  2. InfamousQBert
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    i just quit my BC because of various issues (depression, lethargy, etc), but i was on ortho-tricylin for several years and seasonique for the last few. i LOVED only bleeding for 3 days every 3 months. it was such a refreshing change from the years of 7 days of heavy blood. also, when you read up on it, until the days of family planning, women didn’t usually bleed every month for most of their lives. they were pregnant or breast feeding most of the time, so they didn’t get them. so, the whole “but it’s unnatural!” argument is a waste of breath.

  3. sfgirlives
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I had waited eagerly for my period since I was around 9, in 4th grade…… In 6th grade all my friends got their periods and I said I had gotten mine too. Finally, the summer before 7th grade, my brother, my sister, and I about to go pick my mom up at the airport ( my brother was already around 18 or 19.) I went to the bathroom right before we left, and was sitting there for a few minutes just thinking randomly. I was about to wipe and get up when I noticed a round red spot on my panties. I just sat there for a few minutes staring at it. Then I put on a pad, and went to tell my sister, who was like ” Oh. Do you know where the pads are?” and that was it. When we were driving, I was mortified by the smell, and assumed everyone could smell it. When we were back home with my mom, for some reason I didn’t tell her for about two hours. I was feeling strangly embarrassed. The next day, my sister, my mom, and I went on this super cool girls roadtrip up NorCal, and I destroyed about 8 pairs of underwear because my mom was convinced I needed only panty liners. My mom did get me a pretty scarf for my period, then my sister complained that she had never gotten one when she had HER first period, so she ended up getting one too. Then my mom got one for herself in honor of menopause.

  4. GatsbysLover
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I was 15 and in 9th grade, so I basically felt like the oldest girl ever to still not have it. When I was younger, I wished that I had it and was jealous of all my friends with their pink Always pads, but by the time was 15, I had pretty much gotten over it and didn’t think about it anymore.
    So I went to school one day wearing khaki (this was 1998) cargo pants and I remember feeling like I had this weird stomach ache all day long, but since I had never had cramps before, I didn’t know what they felt like. I ignored it all day, and miraculously didn’t have to go to the bathroom until the second-to-last hour of the day. I remember going into the stall and looking down at my underwear and think “holy crap!” It was a mess, but luckily it had only soaked through a tiny little bit of my pants, so no one had seen it. I also was totally unprepared, and all I had was a quarter to by a tampon from the machine in the bathroom. So yes, I used a giant, thick cardboard tampon the very first time I got my period, and it wasn’t even hard for me–I was so freaked out about stopping the blood from soaking through my pants, I didn’t even care.
    I had tryouts for the school play that day. I had to call my mom to bring me a pair of jeans. I was so distracted in the audition that I forgot to be nervous and I got a huge part in the play :)

  5. InfamousQBert
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    wow, as a mid/late bloomer, i cannot imagine how hard that must have been. i’ve read lots of stories of the early-bloomer being called a slut and such and just hate that our society does that. you seem, from your writing, to have come out fairly strong. just know that there’s a virtual hug for you for having to deal with all of that so early.

  6. sangetencre
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    It was near the end of 7th grade; I had just turned 12.
    I’d been feeling what I thought was flu-ish most of the day. Kind of achey in my legs and back and really warm in the belly area.
    When I got the chance to go to the bathroom, there it was, looking not unlike coffee sludge.
    I shoved some toilet paper in my underwear (which made walking home that afternoon loads of fun) and made it through the rest of the day.
    Funnily enough, this happened on the day of the evening I’d planned to de-hair my legs for the first time. And while my mom was helping me rinse the Nair off, I told her I’d gotten my period.
    She seemed proud.
    I felt proud.
    Until the cramps got bad. (And later on I realized what a nuisance my period could be.)

  7. kaytlun
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I remember my first period as being a pretty big disappointment. My mom had always been very open with me. Her belief was that if I was old enough to ask I was old enough to know. I asked her when I was 3 and she went out and bought me Where Did I Come From (which led to slightly awkward results for my mom when I told my entire preschool class what I had learned). I was fascinated by the whole thing from then on and couldn’t wait to get mine. When it finally came on the Friday before Halloween in 8th grade I just saw the blood and kind of stared for a minute.
    “Oh. Okay then.”
    I grabbed a pad and told my mom what had happened. Her reaction was about as exciting as the event itself and it didn’t take me very long to realize periods were not nearly as exciting to have as I had previously thought. I’ve been on birth control and without a period for a year now and I don’t miss them a bit. Mostly I was sick of my favorite undies being ruined, you know?

  8. UhOhitzSaro
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I was 9 (one month before my 10th birthday) and the day before I got it, I skipped my Tuesday gymnastics class because I was inexplicably tired and threw a temper tantrum about not wanting to go. The next morning, I awoke to find my sheets, blankets, pajamas, etc. all bloodstained. I ran and told my mom what was happening, convinced I was dying. My mother had a full hysterectomy because of cancer before I could remember, so she hadn’t had her period in years and semi freaked out because she didn’t have any “lady products” (as she called them) handy. She sent my (traumatized) 16 year old brother to the 711 and he had to buy me Kotex (which I used once and promptly traded in for always with wings, because they were marketed towards teens and seemed ‘cool’.) My mom damn near immediately started the phone chain, telling everyone she has ever met that I had ‘become a woman’ and sharing their dismay as to how young I was.
    Next month, for my 10th birthday, I refused to open my presents because my sisters teased that they were going to wrap up maxi pads as gifts at my Rollerrink birthday party and when I opened them everyone would know I had my period. Oh sibling rivalry.

  9. Entomology Girl
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    A little off-topic, but that’s not what “cisgendered” means. Cisgendered means that your gender matches your sex. In the case of transmen, their gender DOES NOT match their sex. So you can say that transmen were born with a female body, but they are not “cisgendered as women.” If they were, they’d be, well, women.

  10. Geneva
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    My first period came about halfway through 8th grade, ever so helpfully on the first day of my mom’s 3 day trip, so i was stuck with my dad all weekend. Luckily I’d already had all the “Family Life” stuff in school and knew what was happening and knew where the pads were, but i felt awful all weekend and didn’t want to tell my dad what was going on, even though I had to spend the day with him working at the farmer’s market in San Francisco. I’m pretty sure I spent most of the day curled up in the car with a “stomach” ache. When my mom came home I was so embarrassed, but I knew I should probably tell her, and I think I whispered something like “Mommy… I got my period,” and tried to walk away, but she caught me in a hug. :)
    Eventually I remember being excited to tell my friends, and I distinctly remember giggling with my friends about “laying eggs.” Hahaha.
    Also in “Family Life” they taught us that if we got our periods at school we could go to the front office and ask for oatmeal and nooooone of the boys or male teachers or anyone would know what that meant and the lady in the office would bring us a pad or a tampon. Of course we thought this was hilarious and were constantly asking each other “Have you had your first… erm… bowl of oatmeal???” :)

  11. Geneva
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    My first period came about halfway through 8th grade, ever so helpfully on the first day of my mom’s 3 day trip, so i was stuck with my dad all weekend. Luckily I’d already had all the “Family Life” stuff in school and knew what was happening and knew where the pads were, but i felt awful all weekend and didn’t want to tell my dad what was going on, even though I had to spend the day with him working at the farmer’s market in San Francisco. I’m pretty sure I spent most of the day curled up in the car with a “stomach” ache. When my mom came home I was so embarrassed, but I knew I should probably tell her, and I think I whispered something like “Mommy… I got my period,” and tried to walk away, but she caught me in a hug. :)
    Eventually I remember being excited to tell my friends, and I distinctly remember giggling with my friends about “laying eggs.” Hahaha.
    Also in “Family Life” they taught us that if we got our periods at school we could go to the front office and ask for oatmeal and nooooone of the boys or male teachers or anyone would know what that meant and the lady in the office would bring us a pad or a tampon. Of course we thought this was hilarious and were constantly asking each other “Have you had your first… erm… bowl of oatmeal???” :)

  12. Okra
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    You’re right, I meant to say that people who were born female but *not* cisgendered as such still have periods and can likely benefit from discoursing on the subject. If menstruation were fraught for ONLY transgendered people, that would be enough reason for us to have a thread discussing first periods.
    Actually, even pretending that everyone’s periods were 100% angst-free, I still don’t see how the criticism “why are we talking about X” is useful or even remotely cogent.

  13. Pendragon
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I was half-way through 9th grade and closing in on my 15th birthday. I was on an airplane flying home to the U.S. from 2 continents away to go to school. It was very awkward timing because I had no pads, I was alone, and there were no women around with whom I spoke any common language so I couldn’t bum a pad from anyone! And there were 6 hours to go on the flight, to be followed by a ten hour lay over in a European airport, to be followed by another ten to twelve hours of traveling. So I had to rough it. It was very unpleasant, but at least I never had any discomfort or symptoms.
    Since I was by myself, I never actually told anyone. I never mentioned it to my friends because they had already had their periods years earlier. I never mentioned it to my mother, because she was always uncomfortable talking about any “gross” bodily functions. As far as she knows, I have yet to start menstruating and I am almost 40!

  14. Tiffany
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I was one of those kids that never wanted to grow up, so naturally, I was the first one of my friends to get my period. I was just a little over ten years old, knew what it was right away, told my mom (who took it in stride and bought me the necessary accoutrements), and that was that. Despite having a totally crap memory, I have remembered the anniversary–May 2–every year for twenty-two years. Maybe this year I will through a party, with red tableware, of course.
    My daughter got hers last year, and kept denying it. I did the laundry, so of course I knew, but she kept saying that it was not her period and she refused to admit she needed any sort of feminine hygiene product (she was using wadded up tissues). Finally, I bought her an array of items, put them in the bathroom cabinet, and didn’t mention it. They’ve just started to disappear in the past couple of months; I quietly restock. Hopefully it’s just a weird teenage embarrassment issue that will pass with time.

  15. Entomology Girl
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m not saying discussing periods is unnecessary, I just wanted to point out that calling transmen “cisgendered women who identify as men” is inaccurate at best and patronizing and demeaning at worst.

  16. Okra
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Etymology, my “thank you” was to you.
    The second paragraph was returning the conversation to the subject of the post/comments (periods), and as such was directed to Naomi. Sorry I did not make this clearer.

  17. smerdmann
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t have time to read through all the comments to see if anyone else mentioned this, but I was really horrified by the NYT book review of this book. You can read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/health/views/24book.html?em.
    I know that this female reviewer was ultimately praising the book, but there were so many sexist remarks that I couldn’t possibly get past in order to figure out her opinion.
    Take this excerpt:
    “At this point, male readers may want to go outside and toss a ball around for a while. No matter how sympathetic, how curious or how deeply interested in life’s little yuck factors you are, this collection is unlikely to hold more than the mildest intellectual appeal for you.”
    Seriously? As a woman, I can honestly say I resent my period being referred to as a “little yuck factor,” and as a girlfriend, I can say I resent the suggestion that all men would a) be made uncomfortable by this subject and b) be unable to handle that discomfort in any other way than by tossing a ball around in the back yard.
    Or this one:
    “Most pieces are a few crisp paragraphs that manage to avoid both the chirpy “You are a woman now” song of the Tampax box and the lugubrious musings on blood, moons and fertility of the feminist academic.”
    And the reviewer is a doctor! Not the attitude I’d expect from my female physician, I can tell you that much…

  18. Okra
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    As if I needed any more proof that the New York Times editorship is either actively anti-feminist or supremely indifferent to feminist concerns.
    The New York Times sickens me three times as much as Fox News because the former pretends to have three times as much objectivity and attention to marginalized issues and communities.
    I haven’t been told to expect any better of Fox News or CNN, so their sins don’t anger me as much.

  19. Meggy B
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    The only time I have EVER been excited to get my period was the two times when I thought I was pregnant (hint, I wasn’t). I wrote a poem about the joy of “feeling that familiar ache.”
    Back to the beginning: 7th grade in the bathroom of a Kingdom Hall (which is what Jehovah’s Witnesses call church.) Around this time, I had already begun to doubt a lot of my mother’s chosen religion and getting my period there really solidified my feelings of uneasiness and distrust. I told her I felt sick, went to the bathroom, saw the unholy site, then came back and said something like “I don’t think it’s my stomach…I think it’s something else.” I have never been comfortable discussing bodily functions, except for sex, and so we left. She was trying to show me how a pad went on underwear and I was really, really embarrassed/ annoyed and just took it from her and walked off. I saw the 5th grade video and pad commercials are pretty detailed and plus, I’ve always been a little smartass.
    I was having a period every 2 weeks for like 3 years and thought it would never “regulate itself” like my mother said it would. BAD CRAMPS that would make me vomit. Got on birth control at 16. Life’s better now. I still hate getting my period. Except for when I means I’m not knocked up.

  20. rustyspoons
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I had begun getting breasts and curves at 8, so my mother had already explained this to me in anticipation, but I didn’t get the period until I was 11. I woke up one Saturday morning and went to use the bathroom and there was blood on my panties. I got a clean pair, put a pad on them, and went to watch cartoons. When my mother woke up I told her and I forget what she said.
    I guess that was a pretty anti-climactic first period story.

  21. anitasaber
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Mine was kind of the same way. I got mine at 13, and was like O, ok and told my mom. I do remember being annoyed with it because I had hoped to start high school before it started, so that I wouldn’t have to figure out when and how to get to the bathroom to change pads when starting a new school.

  22. justasgoodastheboys
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I agree – I was so scared about getting my period because I just didn’t know what to expect and I was afraid to ask. Being able to read others’ stories would have really lessened my fear… and my anxiety related to asking someone about it was mainly because I saw it as a very private thing that you just don’t talk about. I’m glad to see it becoming OK to talk about!

  23. mary.menville
    Posted February 28, 2009 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Here here! I’m an ally, and I think it is really great that you mentioned that. My period is nice, but it wasn’t until I realized that my gender was more than my period and various other items on an imaginary checklist that I was able to degross and demystify both my gender and my period :-)

  24. alissa
    Posted February 28, 2009 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    I got my first period during summer vacation between 5th and 6th grade. I had learned about periods in 5th grade health so I knew what was happening but I was really embarrassed. I refused to tell anyone. We had a family reunion that weekend and we were all going swimming so I taught myself how to use a tampon. I remember finally telling my mom that I had my period when about six months later I overheard her talking to one of her friends saying that I hadn’t gotten mine yet. Imagine my mom’s response when I told her in front of her friend that “yes, I have gotten my period, and I’ve had it for the last 6 months.” Not pretty.

  25. TxnPride
    Posted February 28, 2009 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    I had mine the summer before 7th grade. I started on the first day of a 14 hour car trip. And thanks to my aunt, I always wrap up dead pads in toilet paper before I throw them away. I remember the first time I had to throw one away and she told me to do that. I don’t know why she does it but now it’s kind of habit.
    Anti-climatic, I know.

  26. Sarah
    Posted February 28, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    I got mine the day I happened to have a dentist appointment and subsequently got to miss school. I discovered it in the morning and stayed silent about it til the end of the day where I wasn’t even able to tell my mom vocally, I just said I had something to tell her then pointed to my eye, made a ‘got’ kind of sign, a ‘my’ sign, and pointed ‘down there’… haha then my mom preceded to tell me I was too young for tampons and I spent the next 4 years in misery using only pads. ooh the shame of sticking something into your vagina indoctrinated so young.

  27. gemma
    Posted February 28, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I got mine the day before my fifteenth birthday. I can remember the day before that being at my dad’s house and being ravenously hungry. I thought “maybe this is PMT”! I am kind of proud for guessing this.
    A few months before I had had a weird brownish green discharge for a day, which I now assume was a pre-cursor. I’d been getting the “you’ll start your period soon” white/clear discharge for several years and had almost given up on ever “coming on”.
    I think I was back home at my Mum’s house before my period actually started. I stole a pad from the supply in the airing cupboard. It felt awkward to tell my Mum, but I made myself do it later that day. We were walking to the bus stop (timed so I didn’t have to look her in the face) and said told her “since we’re going to town you might need to know to buy some more pads”.
    My Mum was against the idea of tampons when I started. I can remember being shocked when she refused to give me a stamp so I could send off for a sample tampon with a coupon in a girls magazine. (This was before I’d ever started.) She never refused me access to information or banned me from doing things. I still think it was weird and somewhat out of character.
    I satisfied my tampon curiosity at a later date (this is still before my first period) by stealing one of my sister’s. I took an antique glass bottle from my bookshelf (nothing valuable!) which had an elongated neck. I cut open a cartridge from my cartridge pen and poured the ink into the bottle, diluted with some water. (It would be no fun if I couldn’t *see* the liquid!) I then put the tampon inside the neck of the bottle, tipped it on its side and watched the tampon magically expand sideways to plug the gap!
    I was less enamoured of the idea of periods when I went to the loo one day and found that my sister had forgotten to flush. I was horrified by what I now recognise as the mess that having a heavy period while using pads will cause.
    I had felt pretty strange not to have “come on” yet when all my friends had–it was a relief to finally get it. Then of course I quickly changed my mind! They have always been as regular as clockwork from the very first time. I used pads at first (cheap ones, all very messy and unpleasant). Then applicator tampons (uncomfortable, I don’t think I ever got them in far enough, and prone to leaking, difficult to get out if dry, etc etc). Then back to pads (more expensive ones, still messy). Now I am a total convert to the Mooncup. I still leak sometimes (working on my technique!) but it’s *so* much less smelly and messy. My period is no longer an absurd, disastrous mess every month. Hurrah!

  28. MsM
    Posted February 28, 2009 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    My first period taught me where my vagina was.
    I had it when I was about thirteen. My older sister had told me about tampons and, curious as I was, I’d tried to insert one, but I didn’t exactly know where it was supposed to go. I always figured vaginas were somewhere at the front, so I pushed and expected something to miraculously open. I was really disappointed when it didn’t and the tampon wouldn’t be swallowed by whatever that ‘vagina’ thing was.
    When I first saw the spots I was incredulous, because it was not the color I expected it to be. I didn’t quite believe that this was, in fact, It, and I was a bit scared that something was really really wrong. So I grabbed a mirror to trace where that junk came from, and voilà! Found my vagina.
    My sis wrote me a note to congratulate me. I was so embarrassed.

  29. Napalm Nacey
    Posted March 1, 2009 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    I had been hanging out in my bedroom with my sisters and I’d been coming out in a bit of a cold sweat. I felt clammy and dizzy, and I thought I had low blood sugar. I went into the kitchen to get some chocolate and then talked to my Mum.
    “Mum, I don’t feel right.”
    “What’s wrong?”
    “I’m all dizzy and weak and feel weird.”
    “Eat something.”
    “I did!”
    I went to the toilet, hoping the chocolate would lift my energy levels a little. I pulled down my pants and there it was. The Big Red. I knew it would be coming one day, and I was sort wondering when it WOULD hit because I was fifteen and a half! This weird feeling gripped me. It was excitement, fear, pride, dismay, all those things at once. And then I let out a long groan as I realised I’d have to start wearing pads.
    “Great.”
    Periods have always been a bane in our family, and mine would be no different (I have endometriosis. It was the start of monthly hell for me). So I got up, cleaned myself up as best I could, stuffed toilet paper down my pants and then waddled over to Mum. There’s a line I’d heard on some TV show or movie, and I used it now.
    “Mum, I’m haemorrhaging.” She gave me an alarmed look and I realised she didn’t get my reference. “My period, Mum, I just got my period.”
    I could see a sparkle in her eyes and I could tell she was trying not to smile. She directed me to the ladies supplies and grabbing a new pair of knickers, retreated to the toilet to change.
    Upon exiting the toilet, two of my sisters, Lisa and Helen, were standing outside the bathroom with big crazy smiles on their faces. Mum must have told them.
    “What?”
    Leaping forward, they threw a blanket over my head, grabbed me and lifted me up and started running me around in the house making a sound not unlike Xena’s warrior cry. A tribal sound, they were celebrating my womanhood. I laughed and I tell you, it felt special.
    Didn’t get to do it to my little sister, she kept it a secret deliberately so we wouldn’t do it to her. I reckon she missed out.
    No, I didn’t have to sit on a bucket for days.

  30. Lady W
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    I got mine on February 17th 2002. It was rather uneventful – the only reason I remember the date is because there was a TV special I had been waiting for on that night.
    It depressed the hell out of me. I’ve never reacted well to change, and I hated the idea of being a slave to this bodily function for the rest of my life. I was also horrendously embarrassed by the concept and I hated having to ask my mom for pads.
    I think my primary issue was that I was very self-conscious about my body in my early teenage years. I mean, I felt the same way about wearing a bra! Open communication about these kinds of things would have helped me a lot, but I was the kind who covered my ears and yelled. For some reason I always felt like it had to be a big secret – but I was not a normal kid. I came into life with preconceived notions about what is fair, and the unpleasant parts of being a girl weren’t! Took me 4 or 5 years to adjust.
    I’m still not normal though! ;)

  31. ameliasera
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    I have a bit of a rant about why I hate & resent periods. Apologies in advance. This is a long rant. I have a lot to say about my periods! Please just scroll straight to the end if you can’t be bothered reading. I will post about my first period, but also about my experience of periods in general. I really want to talk about it somewhere, and I haven’t yet found a blog post that is about period pain. I’ve always been surprised by society’s focus on the emotions of periods = PMS (I’ve never had it); but not on physical experience of periods = painful cramps (which to me has seemed the most important). My education about periods & the help available to me should have been much better than it was. I still feel like I can’t talk with my Mum or friends about how difficult (& painful!!!) periods used to be for me. It is something I want to talk about because they have had a big impact on me, but they are still something I feel pressured to not mention. I am a Christian, raised in a Presbyterian Christian home, in New Zealand. I am now 22.
    1. HOW I FIRST LEARNT ABOUT PERIODS
    - and sex: from conservative Christian man Dr James Dobson, from reading his book when I was 10 years old, “Preparing for Adolescence”. That book was my first ‘sex education’ (I don’t remember ever asking about where babies came from before that, I guess I either knew it was meant to be “secret” or else I just wasn’t curious). The only thing I remember from that book is reading that “some girls may experience mild pain/discomfort” when they get their periods. Well, I thought I was a pretty tough girl. I could withstand chinese burns for longer than any of my friends or my brothers. So I thought that it would be unlikely that I would have any period pain when I got my period – and if I did, it would probably only be very mild.
    2. MY FIRST PERIOD: Christmas Eve, midnight, soon before I turned 14. I had cramps & noticed watery browny blood when I went to the toilet. I sure hoped nothing bad was happening. It didn’t look like blood (= my period) to me. In the morning there was more of it & I realised I had my period. I used toilet paper because I raided the bathrooms but couldn’t find any pads. I was too embarrassed to tell my Mum. It was holidays, my brothers & Dad were around, and it was hard to find Mum alone. She found out when she found a pair of my undies, a few days later.
    3. MY PERIODS EVER SINCE
    - I’ve always used pads. I like pads. I’ve tried tampons many times but trying to wear them is always excruciating for me, even when I try hard to relax & go slowly.
    - The blood never bothers me at all. I’ve never found it gross. I don’t like my periods. They are just a (rather inconvenient) bodily function. I don’t feel like they make me ‘womanly’ or anything. I don’t hate them. What I really do hate is the pain. Periods are normal. Severe pain is not normal. Since my first period, my period cramps increasingly became more and more painful, quite quickly. I never passed out, and many other girls get worst cramps than I did, but they were the worst pain – I have yet ever had to endure. I threw up sometimes, not because I felt nauseaus, but because my body was doing everything it could think of to ‘expel’ the pain. Painkillers never helped. The pain was just in my lower stomach region, never in my back or legs.
    - when I had painful periods I would just toss & turn on the couch with a hot water bottle & tell my family “I had a sore stomach” (hoping they would realise I had my period, but too shy to say it myself. My Mum knew). My Mum treated my severe pain as if it was normal. She never took me to the doctor or anything. So I believed that my cramps were normal and that I was just being very weak and pathetic – that my pain was ‘psychological’. I thought that I must be a very weak person to be experiencing this much pain, because no one else seemed to. Or perhaps they did but everyone else was tougher than me and could ‘soldier on’ with life as usual. I needed my Mum to treat my severe pains as not okay, as not “normal”, and to take me to the doctor to find out solutions. My health nurse also treated my severe cramps as “normal”, giving me panadol, but no information on other pain remedies for cramps. I didn’t know that there was anything else I could do to help with the pain.
    - I “soldiered on” as much as was physically possible when I had my periods. I didn’t miss a day of school for the first 3 years, even though I couldn’t concentrate in class so class was pointless. Eventually my pains got so bad in one maths class that I was terrified I would not be able to stand when the bell went. I was imagining myself trying to stand up, but then falling, and I was imagining the embarrasment of having to be carried out by some of the guys in my class. I felt slightly better when the bell rang & I did manage to walk out myself.
    - Since then I developed a completely different attitude to my periods. I realised that my extreme pain was not something normal that most ‘other’ women just dealt with. I realised that the worst thing for my body was to just “soldier on”. I realised that I was not being weak or pathetic when I said I had cramps or lay on the couch, or missed school. I started to treat myself completely different when I got my periods. I stayed home if I needed to. I went to the sickbay before my pains got too bad. I nurtured my poor body when I had painful cramps. I respected that when my body had painful cramps it was telling me to “slow down”. None of this made the cramps less painful. But it was much better for me than “soldiering on” (and pretending I wasn’t in pain) had been.
    4. FINALLY, MEDICATION THAT STOPPED THE PAIN!
    - In my last years of high school my Mum brought home some over-the-counter period pain medication (Ponstan). I had no idea such a thing existed! It was incredible. It took away almost all of my pains. I was incredulous & angry that no one had mentioned to me before that such a thing existed. It was such a ridiculously simple medication, and it really worked. I had been sure that – if such a thing had even existed – I would have needed my male doctor to give me a prescription. If me or my Mum had known of it any earlier, we would have darted straight to the pharmacy!
    5. WHAT I WISH HAD GONE DIFFERENTLY FOR ME
    - I wish that I had never had the understanding that “periods” should not be kept secret. If I knew all along that periods should not be embarrassing or shameful I would have asked my Mum – the Health Nurse – and other people about why mine seemed so much more painful than my friends periods, and if there was any medication I could take. I just would have asked. Also, if periods were treated at my home as normally as headaches or anything else my Mum would have taken me to the doctor to get help for my periods [and I could have had the courage to talk to a male doctor]. I am angry that my headaches & migraines made my parents quickly take me to the doctor but my severely painful periods never did. My period pains were so much worse than any migraine. Interestingly, both my headaches/migraines and my severely painful cramping were related to my period – but only the headaches were deemed important enough to my mother for a visit to the doctor!
    - my “sex education” should have started before I was 10, in case I got my period when I was younger. Also, Dr James Dobson should not have taught me about periods. A woman should have taught me about periods, a woman who tells the plain truth (that it is not just “some” women who get “mild pain” with periods, but actually “most” women, and for 1 in 3 of these women they experience “moderate to severe pain” – like me! I was normal!! And I was not just being weak and pathetic!!). My “sex education” should have included information about all the types of pain relief available, and also about all the period related medical conditions that some women experience. This information is extremely important for girls to be taught, because many (like me) will have a lot of trouble directly asking for it due to the secrecy & embarrassment associated with menstruation. Also, my health nurse should have shared this information with me.
    6. HOW HAS MY BAD EXPERIENCES WITH PERIODS CHANGED ME?
    - I am now terrified of severe pain. I am now terrified of childbirth. Period pains are the worst pains I have ever had. They were very hard to endure, but my body managed to do that somehow. I would be shattered, exhausted, after my period cramps had left me. I can’t imagine willingly volunteering for that – but 10x worst – by having a child (I plan to adopt instead). I used to think I was a tough little girl who could withstand pain. I have changed my mind. I hate pain & I will run from it. I don’t have the energy or determination to be a “tough girl” or a “tough woman” anymore when it comes to pain. I haven’t had sex yet. Having sex for the first time sounds terrifying. Some friends have told me it is excruciating (though I understand that isn’t true for every woman). I feel like there is a lot of pain associated with reproduction for women, and no equivalent for men. We have period cramps (which for many, are excruciating) (and because of hormonal changes we are more likely than men are to get headaches/migraines), sex for the first time is painful for us, pregnancy is uncomfortable, childbirth is painful, breastfeeding is painful, menopause is uncomfortable or painful.

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