I didn't realize how under-prepared I was for menstruation until the bright red blob visited me in 5th period
My period first graced me with its presence during lunch break in high-school, I was 12. I started to have some cramping feelings and thought to myself, “okay, this is either diarrhea or my period”. Flashbacks to the 30 min video I saw in primary school about periods came to my mind. So did every movie I ever saw where someone shat their pants at school. Needless to say, I panicked.
Period scenes from a high school movie
So I went to the bathroom (you know, the one with 20 stalls, and a big gap under them aka no privacy) and pulled down my tights and underwear. As I was confronted by this big red blob any actual information from that 30 minute video faded away. Having not had any other information about menstruation since those terrible videos, concern washed over me. There was this gross, bright red and blob-like substance suddenly hanging out in my underwear- and we did not have cellphones in our pockets back then.
I was confused and also kind of worried. This was neither the blue liquid from commercials or non-threatening little red ketchup stain like the educational cartoon. It was a jiggling dark red BLOB. I wasn't prepared for any of this. I thought that something bad was happening to me. Here I was, about to die a 12-year old alone in a bathroom stall. I had lost an organ. I was in pain and I was alone, with my pants down, in a stall which has so many cracks it’s almost like being in an open football field.
My concern moved straight into panic-town and I started to get light-headed. It's amazing how our brains can cause all kinds of physical symptoms when we're emotionally charged. I started swearing below my breath as I began low-key convincing myself that something was really wrong, that I might be seriously ill.
I had only one friend who had already started hers and we didn’t talk about it much. No one really did back then. Periods were quiet things that you didn't talk about; you hid your products, avoiding the pad wrapper crinkling, periods were
and hushed. Having no reference point, I was alone both in that room and mentally but also knew I couldn’t live in the bathroom forever. So I wiped the blob away, placed a wad of toilet paper on top of my wet red underwear, and left the stall with one person in mind: My cousin.
My older cousin, my saviour to-be, was a senior at the time, and would know exactly what to do... Except that I couldn’t find her anywhere! As time passed I was feeling increasingly crampy and embarrassed (what if I was leaking?!), confused (what was going on?!), uncomfortable (I had the worst quality, least absorbent toilet paper wad bunched up in my knickers) and was still coming down from my panic in the stall.
My friends spotted me and were pretty concerned when they saw me. Thinking back on it now, I must have looked like a deer shocked and caught in the headlights. I waved but continued on my mission to find my cousin, but seeing the look on my face, they started to follow me. I kept assuring them I was fine but needed my cousin. Still not finding her and still needing help, I started to make my way to the "nurse's office". I was looking for an idea in this moment, the kind nurse I had seen in movies, but this person didn't exist in my school. We had an office for a nurse, but no actual nurse was on our school staff.
To her it was just a period, she’d had a bunch by then, but it was my first and I had effectively soiled myself and was wearing wet blood soaked underwear.
At this point, I'm not really sure who I am looking for and am getting increasingly worried that Niagara falls are about to break their way through the toilet paper dam in my knickers. On my way to nowhere I passed our female assistant headteacher. And while that sounds like an ideal person to turn to, I didn't particularly like this woman. Actually, I was a bit scared of her. However, at that moment this woman was my lifeboat, so I headed straight toward her and asked to speak to her privately.
Much to my dismay, she actually dismissed me in a rushed state saying she was busy and to come see her later. I repeated that I REALLY needed to talk to her and I think that's when she noticed my panic and softened a little. I whispered to her that I had started my period and she looked back at me blankly and said, 'so what?' Like I said, not the best person, I think that 'softened look' is only how I remember the moment. So I continued, “it’s my very first one, miss” and it finally clicked for her. She told my friends to go away and got the keys for the nurse’s office where she bustled about in a cupboard.
In the end, all she could find was an extra long night time pad for me to wear (why were those even stocked?!). I wasn't asked how I was feeling, if I knew how to put on a pad, if I wanted to call or go home, I wasn’t asked if I had questions, nothing. To her it was just a period, she’d had a bunch by then, but it was my first and I had effectively soiled myself and was wearing wet blood soaked underwear.
I went to the bathroom and took out this pad that was fit for a hippo-sized period. Once it was installed, I left the bathroom walking like a John Wayne off-a-horse comedy impersonation. I had never had to bother with anything aside from panties between my legs and now I had a 2cm thick wad of diaper foam. It forced my tiny legs apart and I couldn't ignore it whatsoever. But life continued and I went to my afternoon classes.
What class? No idea. All I remember is sitting there, being confused and in pain and having to wait 3 more hours before I walked the 20 mins home to the comfort of my mum. She immediately ran me a bath and sent my dad out to get me appropriate sized pads. I don't remember anything that she or him said. Though I do remember at this point feeling proud, like I was a woman now (a problematic narrative for sure, but I was 12 and had just survived a major life moment).
What I learned from my first period
It wasn't the most traumatizing first period but it highlighted to me so many errors:
- I was so underprepared. Why is no-one telling 12 year olds they might get their period and what this might actually look like? And that blobs are normal and that blue liquid is definitely not!
- My school was under prepared- we had no nurse, no pads, and no policy that period pain is a feasible reason to be sent home (oh hey, menstrual equity!)
- The attitudes that being a woman hurts and just get over it
- The idea that getting your period makes you a woman. Doubly problematic as it is harmful to those who have periods who don't identify as female; and for me my 'woman' status hyper-sexualized me at a young age
- The etiquette of it all being a secret - why is menstrual etiquette a thing?! To the point where I could not even tell my friends what happened or feeling the need to hide the pad up my sleeve (even though it was basically the size of my forearm)
- Boys not learning about periods. We were separated the year before for the talk, and that afternoon when I had cramp and a male student seen me wince and grab my stomach he asked if I was ok. I blamed a stomach ache from something I ate. I 'knew' that periods weren't discussed in 'polite' conversation and that you certainly didn't tell boys - which is just not right!
I will be sure to be more open with the young people around me in the future and will always advocate for clearer and more accessible information on periods for the rest of my life!
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