They told me that having menstrual periods was something to be had and not seen or known. My first encounter with menses: I remember I was in my rural home when I saw a packet of cotton wool on the bed. I have always been a curious child and I asked what the cotton was for. My aunt appeared momentarily stumped and at a loss for words and I wondered why and then she said that every month the doctor would collect her blood and that of other women. It sounded vampireish and I naturally asked if they used needles to extract the blood and she said yes. I was six years old and already I had a warped view of something to be celebrated.
My mother sat me down at some point, having realised I was past believing the stork stories about reproduction and she told me that as I was getting older my body would reach a point where it needed to rid itself of bad blood and that if ever this happened to me, no man was ever to know that I had reached this stage of my womanhood. Men are to be protected from such flimsy occurrences as the transition of a girl into a woman lest they be tempted to violate the just budded flower...
I must have been shocked into premature menses because my first period almost came immediately afterwards. I was away in boarding school when it happened and I was resourceful enough to find pads, thank goodness but when my period came instead of being happy I was terrified, it didn’t help that apart from having red, soiled underpants, learning new code words for identification and exclusion I also had to deal with excruciating cramps and having to bath every so often ( and not play in the dirt so much) a happening which no doubt confused my friends who knew me to be the all trees climber; if it was high enough all the better. Based on my upbringing, even worse was the realisation that I would have to deal with this sort of occurrence every single month for the next however many years I lived until the day of the blessed relief of my menopause. The awkwardness of having an invasion between my legs also meant that I walked differently and all the while trying to walk in a way that would not give me away.
As I write now I have a recollection of one particular day when I came from an agriculture practical having had been on my period on that day. And I had a pad inside of my jersey in case I needed to change the one I had on. The pad, unused, fell out of my jersey and I did not see it. In a little while there was commotion outside and we rushed outside to find out what had caused the melee. From the older girls there was much consternation that there could be such carelessness among the young girls, from the boys there was glee at finally seeing things otherwise hidden from their knowledge but overall there was embarrassment. I of course never owned up. And I don’t know what happened to that pad because I was too mortified to do anything about it. Fast forward two years later when I was in form four. A girl in my class had her first period in class and she messed up her light green uniform. The news was all over everywhere and I imagine what a dent was punctured into her self-esteem that day. I was embarrassed for her and looking back I want to go back and give my young self a talking to for not thanking God for the coming of age of this young woman to partake the privilege of this sacred release.
Why was I embarrassed when having a period is so fundamental to the female experience? It’s amazing how our society is so juvenile and repressive about what goes on in our “pee-pee” parts. If a woman does not have periods she is considered less of a woman because she cannot give birth, to men or women but somehow if she spoils her dress or skirt or pants she is considered dirty- and thank goodness we have transitioned from the time where women were quarantined for being women and considered unclean and woe betide whoever touched that dirty woman.
I imagine that over 4 billion people are women. I also imagine that every single day at least 300 million are on their periods. Why we have been made to think and feel that we are dirty because of a biological phenomenon over which we have minor control is beyond me and now that I am a woman and I understand my importance I celebrate the coming of my menses (even though we have a love-hate relationship). I do not feel dirty or worry about such inconsequential things as spoiling. I am woman