To mark International Women's Day, "Two Women Blogging" features a post about Jay's first period. I know it's a bit late, but reading about hers made me want to write about my experience.
My story is almost a non-story. My mom was one of those that believed you should constantly be talking to kids about how their bodies worked from the time they are born. She can draw really well, but the only time she'd actually do it is when she was explaining how the parts of the body work. I remember her drawing pictures of the uterus and fallopian tubes and talking to me about the amazing way that sperm cells and egg cells came together to form an embryo. To be honest, I didn't want to hear it. It felt kind of embarrassing to have a mother who wanted to have such in-depth talks about this stuff.
By the time I hit adolescence, I knew all about my period. My friends and I read all sorts of books about it and still had a few misconceptions but, overall, I knew what to expect. One of my best friends had started hers when she was nine years old. She had told me all about how it was for her, so when I went into the bathroom one day and saw blood on my panties, it wasn't really a surprise.
When it finally came, I was at home. I was in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet when I looked down at my underwear. There was blood on the crotch, not much, just a thin line of red down the middle. I remember thinking, "Oh, okay. It's started." It was very anticlimactic. My mom had company over at the time and I didn't want to interrupt them, so I called one of my friends and told her about it. I rolled up a few paper towels and put them in my panties until my mother's friends were gone and she could help me figure out how to put on a pad.
My mother was much more excited about my first period than I was. She wanted me to see it as this great thing. I just wanted her not to tell anyone about it. My mother has five sisters and all but one of them lived in New Orleans, so they were very close and talked about everything that went on in their lives. I suppose it's not really necessary to say that she didn't keep her promise and when we went to my aunt's house later that week, she pulled me aside and said "So, I heard that you are a young lady now!" I was so embarrassed and mad at my mom for breaking her promise. When I questioned her about telling my aunt, she seemed honestly surprised that I was that upset about it.
Looking back, I can understand why she wanted to tell my aunts. I was my grandmother's oldest female grandchild, which is a pretty special position in my family and it gave my mom all sorts of bragging rights. Being the first one to have a daughter with a period was a part of it. I'm six or seven years older than the next female grandchild, so my aunts would have to wait years before their daughters reached puberty. I was the first grand-daughter to need a bra, the first to enter junior high school, the first to graduate from high school.
That first night, my mother helped me to put on my first pad and showed me how I could hand-wash my panties in cold water with a drop of bleach in it. She told me to wrap my used pads in newspaper and throw them in the trash. I remember giggling because, this made them look like little wrapped-up Christmas presents. In the years that followed, whenever it was my moon week, I'd tell my mom that Santa Claus was in town to let her know that I needed her to buy some pads from the store.
Each of the pads in the box came in its own little plastic wrapper and when you're changing them, you can simply put the used pad in the wrapper of the next one you're about to use. The wrappers were opaque and completely covered the pads, so it's not as if my brothers would even see inside of it. However, I never asked her why it was necessary to wrap it in newspaper, too. I remember being told something to the effect that people shouldn't even be able to see the wrappers in the trash. Even when I had to change my pads at school, I wrapped it all in layers and layers of toilet paper before putting them in the trash. I wonder how many trees died just so that I could put wads of paper around my already wrapped pads.
I never imagined that other people might not find it necessary to hide every single scrap associated with menstruation until I was an adult. In fact, it wasn't until I had to throw something away in the bathroom garbage can at The German's house that I first began to question what I was taught. He lived with his mother and two younger sisters. They simply put their used pads in the wrappers they came in and put them in the trash. I remember being more than a little shocked that they'd just put them in the garbage like that where The German might see them.
I asked The German about whether they always did that and he just shrugged and said, "Yeah, I guess so". I asked him if it bothered him and he said it didn't. In fact, he wondered about why I thought it might bother him. I didn't have a good answer for that. At his house, he was the only guy, so things tended to revolve around what was convenient and comfortable for women. He never had things like pads and tampons hidden from him. I think it helped to make him into a better man. He doesn't have any of the weird hang-ups that many other men have. It's very freeing to know that I don't have to go through the whole newspaper wrapping ritual for his sake.
She wasn't perfect, but I can see that my mother did her very best to give me a healthy view of menstruation. She wasn't perfect. After listening to many people's experiences, I think she did a better than average job. I hope that my own daughter will be able to say the same thing when she grows up and looks back at how I raised her.