. Menstruation Stories .
"When they start menstruating, modern girls routinely reach for a sanitary napkin before they reach for their mother." ~ Joan Jacobs Brumber. The Body Project (1997).
The stories included in this section come from women in the Kenyon College WMNS36 (Women's and Gender Studies) Seminar (Spring, 1998), and their friends and relatives. We tried to include stories from women of various ages and backgrounds. The stories vary tremendously in their viewpoints and the feelings these women have about menstruation. Some of them are most interesting for the details that emerage about mother-daughter relationships when it comes to menstruation.
Age 20 - I started menstruating in the spring of sixth grade, I was 11 years old. The first day I received a small drop of blood on my underwear, I was puzzled but not enough to tell my mother. I just figured it was nothing, and didn't worry about. The following day I wore white shorts to school, and stained through my underwear and shorts. My teacher was the one that noticed and then brought me to the school nurse. Nurse gave me a huge pad that felt like a diaper. I was uncomfortable and embarrassed the rest of the day. I had to wear my sweatshirt around my waist all day because they couldn't reach my mother to bring an alternative pair of shorts. On the bus later that day the boy from next door asked why the teacher had to take me out of class to the nurse herself, because the teacher usually gives you a hall pass to the nurse. I was so embarrassed that I turned all red, and started crying. When I came home my mother asked me why I was crying, and I flipped my sweatshirt over and showed my mother my ass. I yelled that you were not home to bring me another pair of shorts, and I had to have a horrible first menstruation. My mother replied that we received free Maxi pad samples in the mail from the doctor's office that day so we could try out which size I felt most comfortable with and then we could go to the store and buy some of my own, and then we would go out to dinner where ever I wanted.
Age 22 - A good friend of mine had been developing more rapidly than the other girls in the 6th grade class, so it was really no surprise when she started her period one day in school. Instead of receiving support from her friends at a confusing time, she instead was ostracized and cut out of the "popular group" immediately because they felt that she "must be a whore." They were also insanely jealous. When the leader of "the group" started her period later that year she was hailed as awesome and toted her pink tampon case with glee.
Age 53 - I learned about the menstrual cycle after my 12th birthday. My mother and I were reading on our porch when she told me something would happen to my body, that I would bleed each month, and that it just meant that I was growing up into a woman. When I wanted to know if boys had to bleed too my mother said, "no, boys grow beards." I was annoyed by this revelation. My mother then gave me a sanitary belt with napkins and explained what I would have to do with them. I started my menstrual cycle in June of my twelfth year. I will always remember wondering if anyone could see the outline of the belt. If I didn't feel well my mother would ask me, "is your friend coming to visit?" I think she thought we had a secret code that my father and brother could not understand. Perhaps it was our little secret.
Age 12 - has not menstruated yet: I'm not particularly looking forward to it, and I'm worried it might happen somewhere unexpected. None of my friends talk about it and I don't know anyone in my class who has started yet. Oh, at a slumber party someone might ask if anyone has yet, but that's about it.
I'm not sure how it's going to feel. I don't know if I'd like tampons or pads. Once it starts it will probably be more common and then I'll be used to it.
I like my some parts of my body changing. It's interesting but I'd rather leave out pubic hair. It would be neat if menstruation didn't have to be part of growing up.
Age 46 - I started my first menstrual period in seventh grade. I was in school and discovered blood on my underwear. I remember going to the school nurse and feeling terribly ashamed. My mother came and took me home so I could change clothes and buy some pads, but also so that I would have the excuse of illness to tell the rest of class the next day. I'm sure that I told no one what had happened, not even my two best friends. And because my menstrual periods were rather irregular throughout high school, I was always afraid of that happening again (although it never did). I remember being very confused about the whole process. We had seen the Disney movie but I really didn't pay much attention to it.
Age 22 - My period started (unfortunately) in the middle of 4-H camp. I remember going to the bathroom and being shocked at the blood was on my underwear. After a few minutes I realized what was happening. I waited and waited, and finally went to the nurse after dinner. I was extremely embarrassed, and the fact that she gave me jumbo sized pads with wings didn't help matters. When my mother came to pick me up three days later, I didn't know what to say. I went home and went straight to my room, confused and wondering what to do. As my mother was sorting my laundry in order to wash it, she of course saw my stained underwear. I remember her coming in to talk to me, but I didn't want to listen. So, she didn't force the topic, and I later brought it up when I felt like it.
Age 19 - I was really young when I got my first period - a month after I turned nine. It was on a Sunday. I remember coming back into the house after playing outside for the afternoon with my sister - who, ironically enough, was almost 12 at the time she reading "Are You There God? It's me, Margaret," and eagerly awaiting her own "journey" into womanhood. I told my mom I'd be right back (my sister and I were supposed to set the table for dinner) because I really needed to go to the bathroom. On my way there, I realized that something was going on down there that had never gone on before. I didn't need to pee, but something was leaking out of me. When I pulled down my pants I saw a huge brown stain and began screaming for my mom and aunt. They asked me to tell that what was wrong (it's considered very rude to disturb a Filipino woman while she's cooking), but I couldn't for the life of me get the words out. My aunt showed up first, looked down at me, and said something in Tagalog ( I think the word was "Hisos!," which means "Oh my God!"), and ran for my mother. Mom walked in thirty seconds later and flipped out. She had absolutely no idea how to handle the situation - I mean, the entire household was awaiting my sister, Chloe's first menstruation, and there I was, barely nine years old, the baby girl of the family, just bleeding away.
So while I'm hanging out on the toilet and my aunt and mother are just looking at each other figuring out what to say or do, the absolute worst possible thing happened: my dad came home and called out, "Where is everybody? What's going on?" My father is a great guy and all, but he was the type of dad who didn't believe in hugs or show affection. He farted out the melodies of songs and sang Frank Sinatra's "I Did it My Way" at the top of his lungs in the shower. My mother called him the typical "immature, machismo, unrefined Filipino boy." So when he showed up I wasn't thrilled. My mom yelled something at him in Tagalog and he did three things: appeared in the doorway, laughed at me for two seconds, and went about his business. I was so embarrassed.
While my highly religious aunt went to go pray for my soul or something, my mom put me in the bathtub, washed me down there, and prepared some underwear. She showed me how to use a pad, and took me into the garage for a "Chinese ritual" (my Mom's father was Chinese and she practiced a lot of the superstitions). What happened next was the strangest thing: she made me jump down a flight of three steps, over and over again. She said that it would make my period last three days or something.
I remember thinking I was going through the single most
unique and crazy period experience. Now when I look back on it, I think it's kinda cool because it was, for lack
of a better word...multi-cultural. But at the time, I wanted nothing more than to be an American girl experiencing
the American version of a first menstruation.
Age 19 - My mother had prepared me for beginning to menstruate, and during a routine physical my pediatrician had told me it would be happening soon. Yet when I finally did experience menarche a few weeks later, I felt I was caught completely of guard! I must have changed my underwear at least ten times before my mother caught on and dragged me into the bathroom. After explaining to me all the finer details of feminine hygiene, my mother then instructed me not to tell anyone and keep my new womanhood to myself. I was so excited to have reached this milestone - especially since I was the first person I knew who had begun to menstruate. But now my mother was telling me not to tell anyone! I stuck to her advice as long as I could but when all my friends called the next morning to ask me to go swimming with them, I had to spill it. Instead our day was spent discussing the particulars and for once I was the center of attention.
Age 20 - I had my first menstruation at the age of twelve. When my parents were out to dinner on a Saturday night, and I was with my older sister it came. After going to the bathroom and finding blood on my underwear I immediately knew what had happened. Even though I had three older sisters who I would always hear talking about their bodies, and knew what kind of changes my body would go through, I was scared about what was happening to my body. My sister helped me calm down, got me a pad, and explained the inside information about periods to me. The next day when I saw my mother, and she found out that I was having my first menstruation, I realized that she was very sad that she was not there with me when it first came. To this day I wish I could have made it wait until the next morning so she would not have felt so bad about being out to dinner.
Age 47- Growing Up and Liking It! I chose this title because that was the title of the pamphlet I was given to read by my mother. She had explained the whole process to me briefly and basically, so when I was in the eighth grade at thirteen years old and started my period, I was not afraid of bleeding to death as my mother had thought when she first stared menstruating. Back then, most of the girls did not experience their first menses as early as girls today do. Most of my friends got theirs in the eighth grade. It was a whole different ball game then! NONE of us ever used tampons! The rumor was that you couldn't if you wanted to stay a virgin. No one freely discussed cramps or PMS (the term was never even used then) even among the girls. There were no ads on t.v. for any type of feminine protection at all. I did not call my mother from school on the first occasion, but neatly placed a pad (which came with two safety pins included) to my underwear. When I got home, I told my mother that I had gotten my period and she gave me an elastic sanitary belt and a bulky Modess sanitary pad. No tampon discussion ever transpired-- even when five months later we had our eighth grade graduation beach trip and, you guessed it, I had my period! For that delightful occasion, I was given an even lovelier underoutfit. It consisted of these crackly, white, plastic underwear. Well, these treasures had an envelope like device in the crotch, which accommodated the Modess pad. So, if I decided to swim, I must quickly emerge from the water and run to the ladies room or risk leaving a pink trail (the result of the heavy, leaking, wet sanitary pad which was entombed in my plastic panties). Just so you get the full picture here-- these beauties were full underpants! No bikini, french cut or thong. Full plastic pants!
It was not until I was a senior in high school when I took the plunge (no pun intended), and switched to tampons. My mother nearly had a heart attack! I felt so sophisticated when I bought my first box of Tampax. I didn't ask permission (far out of the norm), I just used my baby sitting money and declared my independence-- Virgin or not.
Age 45- I got my period at the end of seventh grade, I was twelve. I was prepared by my mother and at the same time received my "facts of life" talk at the beginning of my seventh grade year. Right after the talk, she took me shopping. I got my first training bra and the Kotex starter kit. We have come a long way baby! My kit consisted of a nice, wide elastic belt with a hook in the front and one in the back. The pads included with the kit had long tabs on either end to hook onto the belt. The whole thing put together had the effect of a great big wedgie. It was lovely, the pads leaked and if you wore a tight skirt or pants you could see the outline of the belt. When we were in grade school, the girls didn't talk about it at all. Taboo subject. I only knew who had started either from my mother (It was a hot subject on the "mother's network") or from the back of the uniform skirts (accidents were common). When mine started I guess I had some mixed feelings. I sure thought it was gross and inconvenient, but it was also a big ticket to growing up and I sure wanted to grow up! There was certainly something in the physical event that made you even at twelve feel like a woman.
By the time we got to high school, the girls weren't so shy about talking about their periods. None of my friends had used Tampax, the "virginity theory" being universally accepted among mothers. I set them straight and instructed at least half my class from outside the lavatory door on the proper technique for insertion of Tampax. The mothers were appalled! My mother received quite a few phone calls.
Age 29 - Why do teens refer to a woman's menstrual cycle as an entity or even a friend. Perhaps it's actually adults who inform young women about this identity, fearing young women's actual menstruation. Or perhaps, it's adolescence anxious about growing up? Who knows? "Brenda" is my friend and has been for over 15 years. I smirk as I reflect on how this identity was created. It all started with Brenda Vacaro; if she only knew. Many years ago she did commercials for either Playtex or Tampax tampons. She had this incredibly deep, alluring voice that attracted me. Anyway, I found myself trying to imitate her doing theses commercials with my older sister. We used to laugh about it like silly young girls. In fact, I thought I was pretty good at imitating her voice. My voice can be deep and scratchy, alluring I am not so sure of. Thus, somehow the name Brenda stuck as my and my sister's reference to our periods. Brenda's visiting, my sister and I would say. We passed this identity on to other family members and friends. We expected others to fully understand and even adopt our friend, Brenda's identity. She became a very powerful part of my life. I must admit however, I have just recently noticed that I have begin to refer to my monthly menstrual cycle as my period. Where has Brenda gone? Possibly, I have simply grown up - I do not seem to be aware of the level of her power now. This memory and the memory of my sister instructing me on how to use a tampon are more vivid than actually getting my period for the first time.
For further information on similar subjects visit the following:
a first menstruation poem by Ellen Bass
For advice on talking to your daughter about menarche and menstruation:
Menstruation: A parent's guide for preparing daughters (written by the Mayo Health Clinic)
If you are interested in hearing the stories of other women and their experiences with first menstruation, look for
Period Piece by Jennifer Frame and Jay Rosenblatt
a 30 minute documentary about first menstruations from women age 8 to 84 from diverse cultural backgrounds.