Friday, January 21, 2011

More stories about starting to menstruate

I've gotten some wonderful emails as follow ups to my question about how it was for you to start your period.  Thank you to all of you who responded.

I think I'm noticing a bit of a shift from my generation to younger women.  The four people who are around my age who responded seemed to have suffered from intense embarrassment and shyness.  Those 30 and younger who've responded didn't have any huge reaction to it - it was more normal and fine.

That speaks well, I think, to the increased comfort we're having with our bodies, and perhaps our own experiences are helping us do it better with our own daughters?  I like to think that's true.

I believe this is a rich topic, and I'd be delighted if any others of you felt moved to share your stories with me.  Thanks.

Below are a couple of more stories I received.  I'll post more tomorrow as well.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing!

This 30-something woman posted her story as a comment on this blog, but I wanted to make sure it got a wider audience, so here it is:

You know what's funny about my first period? How easy it was to tell my mom! It's interesting to realize this, because it highlights for me in a new way how separate the physiology piece was from the sexuality piece in my family. Talking about my developing uterus? Easy. Talking about the development of me as a sexual, sensual being? No way in hell.

My mom was a childbirth instructor in the '70s and a natural birth proponent. Pregnancy and birth were everyday topics in our home and eventually I witnessed the births of my three youngest siblings. I can remember being three or four and seeing my mom change her sanitary napkins, and she explained what they were to me. My preadolescence was spent desperately wishing for breasts and my period.

When my period actually came for the first time, at 13, almost 14 years old, it was just one or two brownish spots on my underwear at the end of a beach trip. I remember being in one public restroom stall with my mom in the next, and telling her through the wall that I thought maybe this was my period (I was surprised, I had expected it to be heavier the first time), and that I needed her to buy me some pads. She was pretty matter-of-fact about it. Not congratulatory, not embarassed.

A month or so later when my first "real" period started, heavy and crampy, I was equipped with thick pillowy pads. I waited for the bus on the first day of my high school career with this mattress between my legs, feeling crinkly and certain that everybody could hear it or smell it or see the way I walked. I didn't comment on those worries to my mom, who was at the bus stop with me. They seemed more personal, less physiological.

This woman is closer to my age (around 50, I believe).  Her story is closer to mine, emotionally.

I was 11. I had seen The Film with my 5th grade class. Toward the end of The Film, I raised my hand to ask, "Does this happen to everybody?" The Lady leading the discussion said, "Well, pretty much. Every once in awhile, there's a girl whose body needs extra help from the doctor to start her hormones working in a way that makes her periods start." I remember sitting back with great confidence and comfort, thinking, "That's the path I choose. Why bother until you need your womb for making children?"

That year was the last time I remember being completely comfortable in my body all the time. But my mom must have seen the signs of impending puberty because, when I left for Girl Scout camp, she packed a package of Modess pads and a sanitary belt. I loved Scout camp--hiking, swimming, singing camp songs, playing with my friends. One morning, I woke up to see blood in my sheets. My distinct thought was, "Dang! I must really be scratching my mosquito bites! I'd better stop it." At breakfast, I shared this comment with the table and then saw the expressions of my counselor and table mates and made the connection. I was horrified and embarrassed that I had misunderstood the event and felt more than a little betrayed by my body, with whom I'd made a deal a few months earlier.

I remember not being able to relieve the Oklahoma heat by swimming twice a day (since tampons were unheard of for use by 11-year-old virgins), sitting by the side of the lake or pool feeling very sorry for myself. I remember struggling to make the belt and pads work right, including getting the nasty little hooks tangled in my pubic hair. I remember feel dirty as the only showers we had were cold water ones and the only bathrooms wooden latrines. When it was time for my parents to pick me up, Mom asked about my experience, saying that the camp director had called her and she'd thought about coming to see me, but decided that would be making too big a deal out of it. I remember this hurting my feelings as, in my world, it WAS a very big deal.

That's my story. Hope it's useful.

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