It was the middle of the night when I first got my period. I quietly sneaked into my mother’s room and whispered, “I’m bleeding.”
“Go put a band-aid on it.” she groaned, half awake.
“No, Mom! I’m bleeding down there.” I pointed.
“Go get a pad from under my sink. The instructions are on the package.” And she rolled over.
While it seems simple, I struggled to determine exactly where to place the pad on my underwear. I carefully stuck it to my panties according to the pictures on the box and went to bed.
I was unsure of what was happening to me. I had learned in health class that women had a menstrual cycle, but it was a quick description from the teacher drowned out by nervous snickers from my classmates. She certainly hadn’t covered how to use menstrual products.
That night, I was nervous, ashamed and a tiny bit proud. I knew that this meant something had changed inside of me.
My friends sometimes teased about “PMSing” if they said or did something mean. They would blame intense emotions on the fact they had been visited by “Aunt Flo.” I hadn’t comprehended that along with the physical cramps and obvious mess of blood, hormonal changes would be a regular part of my life. Menstruation came with a list of symptoms that could all be used against me.
For years, my very conservative father wouldn’t allow me to use tampons. I was invited to go swimming my sophomore year of high school, but it was “that time of the month” so naturally, I had to make an excuse as to why I couldn’t go. My sweet mother brought me a box of tampons and told me to go swim with my friends.
I felt unimaginable freedom and happiness. I protected that box for the next year like it was gold. I used it for track meets and even wore near white khaki pants during my cycle. I had gained back a small bit of control over the “crimson wave.”
On the back of the Kotex box was a 1-800 number to call if you needed help. I used that number to get answers to many of my reproductive questions. Thank goodness for the patient phone operators who did their best to read from a provided script and offer me products from the Kotex company as answers to my queries. I’m sure I wasn’t the only little girl, prior to the internet, that used their blunt knowledge to get effective answers.
I started driving when I was 17. That meant I could purchase my own feminine products. I was embarrassed about buying them and made my selections as quickly as possible just in case I saw someone I knew while shopping. I made sure I purchased a book or magazine to cover the package and only went to the female cashiers. I would keep my head down and look busy until I got out of the store. I was ashamed, even though I knew that it was a normal and healthy part of being an adult woman.
My college years offered an expansion of knowledge concerning menstruation. Friends shared with me their favorite brands, women in my dorm would cycle together, and I knew that for many ladies the arrival of “Aunt Flo” was a relief rather than an affliction. I became accustomed to it.
After graduating, I met an open minded and free-spirited woman that forever changed my outlook on menstruation. She always treated herself to a reward on the first day of her period. It was her way of celebrating the incredible honor of being a woman and having the ability to create life. I had never considered the terrible burden of bleeding as an honor, nor had I imagined that the flow of blood was a harbinger to power and life.
So, I started to secretly reward myself when my period arrived. I would buy myself french fries even though I was on a diet. I would rent a sad drama so I could freely cry. I would buy flowers or a pair of earrings.
It felt better to embrace it. It made me start to look forward to it; to welcome it and celebrate it. I began to feel strength in the fact that I bled without injury. I could face horrible cramping and pretend that I was fine. I was strong.
I have come to accept and honor this regular visit from “Aunt Flo” as a part of life. And, I am no longer ashamed. When I look at my daughter, I know I have the beautiful task of discussing the changes that will strike her as she becomes a woman. I do not want her to face this event with shame or fear.
I want her to know this…
We have the ability to grow life and participate in creation. We cycle with the moon, and the waves, and the seasons. The cost of this amazing gift is blood. Every month, until you no longer have the magic, you will see red. Reward yourself. It is a reminder of the fact that the ground must be tilled before a seed can be planted. All things come at a price and this gift is the greatest of all. There is nothing to be ashamed of. You were made this way for a glorious purpose.