A couple of days ago, I wrote about how I learned what enemas, prostitutes, and hemorrhoids are. Now, I’m going to share the story about how I learned about periods. Why? Because it has nothing to do with current events, and it’s kind of inappropriate. That’s how I roll. This post is kind of a rerun. I wrote about this topic on my old blog, but the post was from 2012, so I doubt anyone would have been reading it now, anyway.
So here goes… the story of how I learned about what it means to be a woman.
I was in the 4th grade and did not know anything at all about periods. I remember finding my mom’s maxi pads and tampons and playing with them. I had no idea how they worked or what they were for; but I came up with plenty of creative uses for them when I played. It was a big surprise when all the girls in my class were ushered into a room called “The Pit” at my elementary school. The Pit has since been filled in and is now used as a regular classroom; but back in my day, it was like a miniature indoor amphitheater. It was oval shaped with ugly brown carpeted steps that went all the way around that we could sit on. A teacher could stand in the middle of the Pit and facilitate a chat. We used it for music classes or watching films… or getting our class pictures taken.
I remember being surprised in the late 80s when I found out our high school, which was built in the mid 1970s, also had a “Pit”, only it was more like an actual amphitheater and had ugly puke green carpeting instead of brown. The first time I ever saw it was when I was a high school junior and had signed up for a weekly class/discussion on sex. I’m pretty sure I only signed up for it so I could get out of chemistry class.
Anyway, one day in 1981 (or ’82… can’t remember exactly when) all the girls were brought to The Pit to watch a film called “Growing Up and Liking It“. I remember the film looked like it was made in the early 70s. It was all about puberty and how menstruation works. They made it sound like it was sooo special. Checking out the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health Web site, I see that the accompanying booklet “Growing Up and Liking It” was revised many times. My friends and I got the 1978 version. We could also buy little goodie boxes with samples of feminine hygiene products made by Personal Products. I’m pretty sure one of my friends ordered one of those boxes. It had a lot of different maxi pads and pantyliners in it, but I don’t think they included tampons.
I recall being so excited after watching that film. All my friends were excited, too. I used to go to my best friend’s house and we’d talk about how we’d feel when we were all grown up and passed that rite of passage that every healthy woman deals with. It didn’t even occur to me how horrifying it is to bleed from the crotch every month.
I was sure that my first period was just around the corner and, once I got it, I’d be magically all grown up. My mom got her first period when she was only ten years old. By the time I was nine years old, I already had boobs growing, so I was sure I’d be one of the first to go on the rag. As it turned out, I didn’t have my first period until I was almost exactly thirteen and a half years old. It was New Year’s Eve 1985. And I didn’t have another period until July 1986. Unfortunately, I have only missed two periods since, and that’s only been in the past few years, as I finally approach menopause.
But I do remember how giddy we all were after learning about menstruation, even if now I think we were nuts and actually miss those innocent days. I wasn’t even grossed out about the prospect of bleeding from my privates every month. I was blissfully unaware of how periods can make women feel, how they mess up clothes, and what they smell like. I’m actually very lucky, though, because my periods are pretty low maintenance. They rarely last more than four days and aren’t painful. I don’t even really get PMS. The worst I get is cramps, mood swings, and that icky, unclean feeling. I have friends that have had to get hysterectomies because of their periods.
Seems like we had a couple more school talks over the years. I guess they did them just to be sure that there weren’t any Carrie moments at the school and we didn’t have 17 year old girls freaking out because they’d never heard of menstruation.
My mom never had a heart to heart talk with me about periods. I remember telling her when mine finally started. Her exact words were, “Don’t go out and get pregnant.” And I never have, not even after I married Bill. I have three older sisters, and none of them talked to me about periods either, although one has had a frank talk with me about menopause. I haven’t reached that stage of life yet, but I suspect it’s just around the corner. Frankly, I look forward to it, because I don’t enjoy periods at all. And as my hormones start fluctuating again, like they did when I was in puberty, my skin has become a mess. Wrinkles and zits… not the most appealing combination! And I’m sure my hands will soon get talon like and develop age spots and arthritis. I’m also starting to get looser skin on my neck and hairs growing in weird places. That’s what happened to my mom.
One time, when my niece was a little girl, my mom was pushing her on a swing. My niece introduced my mom, her “Grammy”, to her friends. One of the kids said my mom didn’t look old enough to be her grandmother, but then her big brother said, “Sure she does. Look at her hands!” I guess the hands are the one part of the body that defy anti-aging efforts. Not long ago, I saw a video starring Christie Brinkley, whose face looked as beautiful as ever. But she wore a high necked dress with sleeves that conveniently covered her hands.
I am grateful that I grew up at a time when personal products were convenient and relatively comfortable. I have never been able to wear tampons. They’re too uncomfortable for me. But I do remember that when I first started having periods, pads were very thick and uncomfortable, and they didn’t have “wings”, so they’d shift and bunch and sometimes I’d experience bloody “blowouts” because they didn’t stay in the right place. Today’s pads are much thinner, more comfortable, and offer more coverage where it’s needed. And the wings are revolutionary, because they help stabilize the pads and prevent messes. There are also other methods of dealing with that monthly business, too… like menstrual cups, which I’ve never tried. Some women take birth control and skip having periods altogether. I have never had a need for birth control, so I haven’t used that myself.
I think my older sisters had to deal with less sophisticated products that required belts and pins. And when they learned about puberty, they probably watched a film like this one…
Today’s kids probably might enjoy a film more like this one…
Well, anyway, it’s amazing how fast 35 years can pass. I, for one, am glad my days of having periods are going to be over before too long. No more “not so fresh” feeling ever month or bloody underwear and sheets. And some of you who are cringing as you read this post are probably glad it’s now come to an end!