Oh my gosh, my good friend Emilia asked a question of the day that inspired me to write a book in response, so I figured I’d turn it into a blog post. Her question was: how old were you when you got your first period? How did your family and friends react? Did anyone say anything weird? (Note to anyone who read my response on Emilia’s blog: I added on to my answer at the end of this. Scroll down to the asterisks!!)
I was twelve, almost-but-not-yet thirteen, in seventh grade. Oh my gosh. I had no idea what it was, but I wasn’t scared. I just thought, okay, whatever, I’ll roll with it. My second period lasted (as I recall) seventeen days. I don’t think my body was organized yet. Now I’m quite regular. My mom never prepared me nor gave me great advice. She was, being my mother, more likely to pull me aside and whisper, “You STINK! You know that, right? Do something about it.” And naturally, that would make me feel bad. I bled all over the place–in my ballet tights, through my pants at school, just everywhere. I had no guidance about how to prevent it. And one thing about my particular body–after the seventeen-day event, when my periods regulated, I started experiencing something that I now call my period’s regular hiatus: in the middle of my period, it disappears. As a middle school student, that fooled me time and time again into thinking my period was over, right? No, it’d come back in a day or two, and I’d be ill-prepared and I’d have to stuff my pants with toilet paper in the school bathroom.
Then there was tampon learning. Mother wouldn’t let me swim in Granny Franny’s swimming pool with a pad–it had to be a tampon. Fair enough, but she refused to show me how to use them, instead choosing to lock me into the bathroom until I could learn it myself. (To get technical, I locked myself into the bathroom. I really wanted to go swimming. But the point is that I was on my own with it.) And guess what? I learned wrong. I studied the instructions carefully, but I assumed that the cardboard applicator was supposed to stay inside the body with the tampon. In retrospect, it’s a miracle I didn’t get toxic shock syndrome. For a few years, the applicator stayed in me whenever I’d wear a tampon. Then, one time I was running late to ballet class, our tampons had plastic applicators, and the tampon kept coming out, right? I couldn’t understand what was wrong, because I thought the applicator was supposed to stay in there as part of the tampon. I wound up missing that ballet class, which was probably for the best because I was having some heavy flow. But eventually, that helped me realize what I was doing wrong with tampons. God bless, is all I can say. My mother wasn’t watching out for me, but some higher force always has been.
And one time, I had period all over Granny Franny’s bedsheets, and I felt so ashamed and guilty. But she was really nice and understanding about it. Score for an otherwise hard to get along with granny. Regardless, I still felt bad, so I spent all day listening to “Say it Isn’t So” by Hall and Oates. The song really jived with me that day.
A few well-intentioned adults tried to teach me how to get blood out of pants. I was a total mess. I only took a bath about once a week or once every other week. And I was embarrassed about having a period, but my mother insisted that my dad be told about it. Like she couldn’t have even told him in secret, or something? He never would’ve mentioned it. No, that wasn’t her style. Of course, this is the same mother who routinely read my diary and tried to force me to get naked for her. She wasn’t a sexual abuser; sorry if I put that wrong. But she enjoyed knowing that I was humiliated by nudity, and she was always trying to force the issue. Like, “The bathtub is dripping water into the basement!” when I was in the tub as a young teenager. “Unlock the door right now and let me find out what’s going on! Don’t worry that you have no clothes on.”
She never succeeded in getting me naked, though. At that point, I got dressed in five seconds flat before opening the door for her.
The following is added onto my original response to Emilia. (See how I wrote a book?) Another time she tried to get me naked was when I had a urinary tract infection. I kept giving her samples of my urine in cups for her to take to the pediatrician. But she kept saying, “The pediatrician wants to know what you’re doing to this urine! It’s not normal urine. Now get naked in the bathroom and show me that you can urinate without altering the urine somehow.” Um, as if I was altering the urine? I think she might have forced the issue that time, because I dimly recall peeing for her in the bathtub, into a cup. She was a bad, bad mother.