It was only a few drops but it changed my life. I was 11 years old. Why me? Why now? One look at the blood had me bawling like a baby; not cool. My mum arrived on the scene and I knew it was bad news when she locked the bathroom door behind her. Her expression was a combination of embarrassment, pity and sorrow, as she said: “Its just the start of your period.”
I hated that she felt sorry for me. I hated that she had already been through this and hadn’t warned me. I hated that she couldn’t make it go away; she did too. As she showed me how to wedge the vile, brick like sanitary towels between my legs, I couldn’t help myself asking: “What do you mean, for a whole week once a month? Every month? For the rest of my life?” I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over the shock, even to this day. Every month I still think: are you fucking kidding me?
“I know what it is!”
Looking back, I think I was in denial about that side of growing up. I remember getting changed after PE when I was nine and a boy in my class looked at me thoughtfully. I was wriggling around trying to hide under a t-shirt when he said: “You’ll be needing a bra soon.” I knew he was right; I’d been putting it off. Other girls were super excited about buying their first double AA but I wasn’t ready. I didn’t like the way boys pinged girls’ bra straps and was happy in my vests. And then, one day, when I was a full on B cup and couldn’t put it off any longer, there it was, left in a plastic wrapper on my bed.
My first bra
M&S, of course. Mum had guessed my size, crept up to my room and placed it there when I was out; minimum fuss, minimum chat.
“Does it fit?”
This was our first and last conversation about the whole ‘incident’. Mum made moving into the world of bras painless; shame she couldn’t do the same for the periods. They were heavy; I sometimes needed to wear two vile sanitary towels at the same time. Agonising, and – who knew? – every month. I remember lying around; spotty, pale, in agony and begging for Feminax. My friends, secretly jealous because they wanted their own period, would stand around my bed as I writhed around, morbidly fascinated, as if they were watching me undergo some live ‘growing up’ surgery before their very eyes. But, they also hid Tampax up their sleeves, smuggled them into the loo for me, and covered my frequent trips and monthly stomach pains with tales of food poisoning. I wouldn’t have survived it without them.
Fast forward 20+ years and it won’t be long before I have to go through it all with my own daughters. I’m just about over the shock of my period every month (c’mon, it’s gotta be some sort of joke, right?) but I’m looking forward to helping them: calmly, wisely and without fuss. I’m going to take a leaf out of my mum’s book – leave the stuff on the bed, check they are okay and then leave them to get on with it.
Esther Harris is a writer and tweets @writer29