I remember being sat in school, genuinely desperate for someone to turn the hand dryer on because I was terrified someone would hear the crinkle of the pad. Mainly because I’d seen the looks on girls faces when, god forbid, they heard someone rustling in their bathroom stall.
When you get your first period, it’s already the worst feeling in the world. I remember the feeling of dread running through me every month, knowing that I was going to bleed and have to worry about leaking, know I was going to ruin all my favourite underwear and the shameful trips to the bathroom. I felt like I was cursed into eternal damnation by the period gods, and the fact this was going to happen every month until I die (I didn’t quite know that menopause was a thing back then,) was terrifying.
I didn’t actually tell any of my friends when I first started because I knew I was the first of my friends to get it. I was taller, older, and already I felt ashamed. I hid the pads away and figured that if I didn’t have to acknowledge that I was the first, I definitely didn’t have to be the first person to talk about it.
And looking back on it, I was also ashamed that I didn’t wear tampons. Everyone said that tampons were so much easier, less mess, less fuss but I couldn’t do it. Every time I wore a tampon, I was in excruciating pain, like bend over the desk, clutching my ovaries pain. The one time I tried to sleep with a tampon in, I woke up in the night and was sweating, I vomited, prized it out of me and I felt like my dreams of being one of those girls who would fling around a tampon were far from my future. (In hindsight, tampons are full of chemicals and perfumes to stop them from smelling, so I was probably having a reaction to that, but 13-year-old me didn’t know that.)
Maybe it’s also because our only lessons on periods were a quick 15-minute talkdown by a female teacher, who really couldn’t care less about telling a bunch of teenagers that they are going to bleed monthly. Thrusting the biggest, bulkiest pack of pads and tampons I’ve possibly ever seen, was in retrospect the dumbest thing to do.
High school is already the worst nightmare for teenagers. When you pair that with sexual education, which is next to nothing at UK schools, you’ve got a recipe for flustered teens who don’t know about safe sex, who don’t know about their own bodies and who don’t know about periods. Plus, at my school you had to wear a skirt, so even a slight leak was a recipe for disaster. And despite all the girls going through the same experience, you never spoke about it to others, or reminisced in the struggles. These sorts of conversations make sure you know that everything is ok and normal, and all the panicking and the worries, others were also sharing too.
But you are thrust in the world of womanhood without any knowledge. I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t had a period horror story, and it will for sure be because of the lack of education. A quick talk about bleeding from your mum isn’t enough to know about periods, nor is it enough to know about safe sex, birth control or anything that a teenager girl should know.
This isn’t even mentioning the whole panic of not knowing when your period is even coming every month. I didn’t know that tracking apps existed, so I waited patiently, only to forget and panic over irregularities in my cycle lengths. I can’t recommend Flo enough if you haven’t tried it before, its great at answering questions and giving insights into period predictions (plus it’s free!)
No girl should be learning about their period from google. No girl should be wondering if wearing pads isn’t normal. No girl should be learning herself on her own how to correctly insert a tampon. No girl should feel ashamed to have their periods.
The line will end when you educate your daughters. It doesn’t matter if you are embarrassed, if they are embarrassed, but using regular terminology throughout their lives will ensure your child knows and feels comfortable asking you things when the time arises.
Nowadays, I don’t feel ashamed to have my period, I know it’s a really natural and not the best time of the month, but I know how to cope with it. But when you are a teenager looking for guidance and not receiving it because everyone is embarrassed, how are you supposed to not be ashamed. Society constantly is telling you that they are a bad thing, of course you are going to relate to it being a bad thing. It’s time to break the cycle.