Did the title of this post make you uncomfortable?
I have a really weird internal/emotional relationship with periods. Every so often I’m in a position where I am forced to confront the discomfort I feel when I think about being on my period. I’m a Health Educator. Part of my job is to talk to classrooms full of kids and young adults about periods. It’s important. If no one had taken my 5th grade self, along with all of the other 5th grade girls, and sat us down to learn about periods and puberty in school I would have known very little about it. As I’ve grown up and become a more aware adult I have learned a lot about what would have helped me when I was younger that no one ever told me, so I try and make sure to tell all of those things to the groups of students I see. I do my best to normalize periods and make sure that I never connect any kind of shame with these discussions. Because for a very long time I felt very deeply ashamed of this natural biological process.
I just watched this BuzzFeed video about free bleeding that is trying to raise awareness about the fact that thousands of women in the US face their periods without a guarantee that they will have any kind of period products. Pads and tampons and Diva Cups, and the other methods of controlling and catching period blood are expensive. Take a minute to watch their experiment.
I sat here uncomfortable the entire time I watched the video. How did it make you feel? They showed the blood on the puppy pads from their chairs, and I cringed every time. Because I was taught, accidentally and unknowingly, to be ashamed of my period. My mom is amazing, and she did her best to get me whatever type of period product I needed to make me comfortable. But I think that she is also very uncomfortable with periods. This was projected to me. The whispered conversations about whether or not I needed more pads. Not even liking to say the word tampon. I internalized these things, and spent years dreading the seven to ten days every month that I had to deal with this awful thing that happened to my body.
I remember very vividly the fact that the upstairs bathrooms of my high school only had partial doors on the stalls. For some reason they had decided to use doors that had one whole corner missing diagonally. If you were sitting it was fine, but if you needed to stand up to replace a tampon every person who happened by could see. I would hold off as long as I could before going to the bathroom. This made my cramps worse and also made me feel slightly sick.
But I always had the products I needed. One time my mom left work and drove across town just to bring me tampons because I didn’t want to ask at the office.
As an adult I have embraced my period. I am no longer afraid of the noise a pad wrapper makes in a quiet bathroom. I am not afraid to carry a tampon in my hand as I go to the bathroom at work. (I work in an office composed almost entirely of women.) I can ask other women if they have a tampon if I’m out. I boldly buy my box of tampons, pack of pads, and bar of chocolate at the register regardless of whether the cashier is male or female. But this was not always the case. I learned to do these things as an act of defiance. An act of rebellion. Why should I be ashamed of this? Everyone knows that menstrual periods happen. I refuse to be ashamed. I refuse to suffer in silence. I reject the idea that being on my period makes me less myself. I will boldly bleed.
And I have that luxury. I am privileged enough to never know what it’s like to not know where I’m going to get pads when I need them. I am in a position where I can talk with groups of students and try and project this normalization of periods. I can talk with groups of girls about what makes them feel embarrassed. Because it wasn’t just me who grew up mortified by this experience. We have a tendency to teach most young girls that bleeding is secret. It’s a private act that needs to be dealt with silently. But I will not be a part of that. I will teach that periods are just another part of growing up. Yeah, they suck, but you can manage this. Being in excruciating pain every month is not normal. Being in so much pain that you miss school because you can’t stand up is not normal. Cramps happen. An internal organ is actively shredding its lining and pushing it out of your body. But you don’t need to suffer in silence. There are a number of medical conditions that affect girls and women that make their periods unusually painful, and there are treatments for these. But because we surround menstruation in this culture of silence so many people suffer needlessly.
Speak up. Speak out. Have your period loudly until the people around you aren’t weirded out by it any longer. Support others who are on their period.
And if you can, donate period products to a local homeless shelter. If you are going to give a bag of supplies to a woman asking for help on the side of the street include pads and/or tampons. This is a necessity. Not a luxury. And no one needs to be ashamed.