A woman’s period is a sign of the gift of life, It is a confirmation of fertility, the female body’s miracle like ability to bring forth life from within. It is something that should be celebrated not demeaned and cloaked in shame. I’m not saying we should paint our bodies in blood and march around a fire chanting, or anything extreme or radical, rather I’m saying that we shouldn’t shy away from frank discussions of the facts and realities of menstruation.
I grew up in a house filled with suppression and over loaded with shame. No bodily functions were open for discussion, crying wasn’t socially allowed and discussion of sexually related topics banned. What little sex education I received at home came from an old and tatty copy of Every Woman and a few other midwifery text books my mother had in her library. I would covertly borrow them to read late at night, hiding under the covers with a tiny torch light, returning them by morning so that she wouldn’t notice them missing. I also borrowed Judy Bloome’s ‘Are you there God? It’s me Margaret’ from the library too many times to count. As informative as these books were they raised more questions that they answered
My family has a history of uterine issues and all of the women who came before me in my family tree had hysterectomies. I think my mother had hers when I was 4 or 5 years old. I have this very vague memory of her going from the bathroom to get something from her dressing table and returning to the bathroom. When I asked her what she was doing she fobbed me off and told me she’d explain when I was older – but she never did. I guess shortly after that she had her hysterectomy and so there was never a menstruating woman in my household – not that I think that would’ve changed my mothers harsh, no bodily discussions regime.
I was incredibly lucky to have a close friend who’s mother, also a mid wife, who was very open about all topics regarding the female body with her two daughters. She openly discussed with us what periods were, what product options we had, I even recall her giving us some tampons so that we could dip them in water to see how they actually worked. I will never forget that wonderful woman, I often find myself following some of her parenting styles and wish that she were still alive so that I could thank her for trying to show me how there should not be any shame about the natural functions of our bodies.
My first period came at around age 12, when I was in year 7 – my first year of high school. It should of been a proud moment in my life, a rite of passage that deserves celebration. Instead I was terrified and to ashamed and embarrassed to even tell my mum. She’s not the most approachable person in the world. I recall trying to work up the courage to tell her. Day after day I tortured myself trying to find the right words, but I never did. I used toilet paper for my first one and ordered tampon samples out of magazines for the following month. One day whilst I was at school my mum found a pair of ‘accident’ knickers hidden in a drawer along with the samples. She hit the roof. Screaming at me, telling my dad all about it and just lumping further shame onto it all. She told me how dirty I was for trying to use tampons, insinuating that doing so made me a slut – like WTF? She then insisted on me using these dreadfully old fashioned thick, surfboard like pads that were uncomfortable and very ineffective in doing their job. I could just cry for that poor, little scared girl.
After my parents divorced I lived with my father for a short while between 13 and 14. I felt bad and awkward for him having to deal with a menstruating daughter. If I needed to get supplies I had to go to the grocery store with him as he couldn’t face buying them for me. It was like my mother had injected him with shame as well.
Like all females, especially young teenage females with crazy and irregular periods I had the occasional accident. Be it limited to just my underwear or the bed sheets. This I was chastised for and further shamed. One day he even showed my stained, raggedy underwear to my boyfriend with a comment like “Do you see what a filthy, dirty girl you are dating?” I could’ve died. Thankfully that boyfriend was far more mature than my father and shrugged it off, he even apologised to me for the awkward situation my father created.
What I experienced was the kind of bullying I would’ve expected to happen at school where I was surrounded my immature teenagers rather than at home with the people who were meant to love me, nurture me and educate me about what was happening with my body.
I hate that I had to live through that. It is something that really shaped the person that I am today, but in a positive way. It took me years to recover, but I like to believe it has made me into a better parent. I’m far more open with my child and would never lay such shame on him. I vowed to be the kind of parent he could come to and ask even the most awkward of questions, something I feel I’ve done successfully.
Perhaps the way I was brought up contributes to my strong opinion that there’s nothing shameful about periods. Whilst I know that my experience is an extreme example of the kind of taboo that’s placed on menstruation, it still remains a socially unacceptable topic for discussion. It is an everyday occurrence, a simple bodily function, one that signals one of the most beautiful aspects of being a woman. It shouldn’t be shameful and unmentionable, rather it should be treated with the same kind of candour and acceptance afforded to other bodily functions such as Orgasms and vomiting. Whilst it’s not a topic everyone’s going to want to talk about whilst sitting around the dining table, it deserves a place in our social dialougue.
So today I ask of you was there a time when you were made to feel shamed or embarrassed because of your period? What was it like when you were growing up? Did your parents teach you well or did they try to keep it in the closet?