What I wish I’d known about starting my period
by Hayley Doyle
“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. Gretchen, my friend, got her period. I’m so jealous God. I hate myself for being so jealous, but I am. I wish you’d help me just a little. Nancy’s sure she’s going to get it soon, too. And if I’m last I don’t know what I’ll do. Oh please God. I just want to be normal.”
Chances are, you read Judy Blume’s absolute rockstar of a book, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, when you were around the age of 12. Published in 1970, this was Blume’s third novel, but her first real novel, saying that it was “the book where I just let go. I didn't know what I was doing. I just did it — and this is what came out.” And hallelujah! For us girls, this book was a bible during our pre-teen years. Margaret had thoughts and feelings like we did, and just as we were perhaps too ashamed to speak out or ask questions, she spoke to her version of God. She was 11 years old; no longer a little girl, but not yet a teenager. Something called, A Period, was at the forefront of her mind. Nostalgically familiar? Blume has said, “"To me there was nothing wrong with thinking about getting your period…It wasn't controversial in my mind. It was just true.”
True indeed. And yet, the book has continually been banned over the years, believing girls around sixth grade are too young to be reading about the issues raised. Never mind the fact that many sixth graders have already started their periods and developed breasts. Parents have been known to be afraid that the book might encourage their daughters to raise awkward questions. Well, hello! What’s the alternative? Let them just start bleeding one day? And when they ask what the hell is happening to them - like traumatised Vada Sultenfuss in our pre-teen-movie-bible, My Girl - shrug and say, “yeah, that’s what happens to all girls eventually…oh, and it will also happen to you every month for about 40 years.” Judy Blume was right. Periods and thinking about them is not controversial. They are just true. And it’s every girl’s right to understand this.
My story is probably not too dissimilar to yours. The period chat started long before a chat with my own mother. My friends who had older sisters were the first to bring it up, and these older sisters were full of terrifying anecdotes about girls who’d sat in a pool of their own blood during maths class and stained their school skirts. I used to idolise one of my neighbours, a girl who was five years my senior. She loved New Kids on the Block, which meant, so did I. I remember her saying something about a little egg inside us being released every month and then we bleed, “from down there.” To say my mind was blown was an understatement. If she’d told me pigs could fly, I’d have believed her, but this? How was this possible? Or fair? Life, until this information, had suddenly seemed rather blissful. Now I had to wait until I started bleeding? Every single month?
By the time I reached secondary school, period chat amongst my friends was The Chat. It usually occurred when we were huddled together with no boys in earshot and we always spoke in whispers, anxious we would get caught. A safer space was the changing rooms during and after PE. It was girls-only, but it also sparked curiosity about what on earth we’d do during PE when we “started”. How could we ever get changed in front of one another if we were “on”? What would happen in the shower? And could you still run? Jump? Straddle the old gym horse?! If any girl had a note to allow them to skip PE that day, the first thing we’d think was, wow, she’s started.
My Big Day arrived when I had just turned 13. I’d endured two whole years of intense menstruation chit-chat, but the majority of that had been hearsay. I’d learnt about the blue bins in the girls’ toilets at school and how we should use them if we needed to. I’d scoured the pages of Just Seventeen and More, educating myself in every way a tween can without plucking up the courage to ask an adult. But nothing prepared me for the Big Day. Because I’d already started…or, so I’d thought. My first ever period came and went quite undramatically. I proudly told my mates (discreetly, barely moving my lips) and thought, cool, I’m in the gang now. Until my second ever period arrived. And it was so heavy and bloody that I screamed for my mum as if I was dying! We had family visiting at the time, and all I remember thinking is, they know, they know. I was no longer smug. I didn’t tell another soul other than my mum. And I felt absolutely dreadful.
Now, I have a daughter. She’s still tiny, but the day will come around fast when it will be my responsibility to tell her about periods. So how do I want it to be different for her? What do I wish I’d known that I know now? What will I tell her?
1. It’s nothing to be ashamed of
The number one rule of periods. Every female gets them. Don’t be pressured into hiding your tampons up your sleeve as you slip off to the bathroom. Don’t make excuses if you’re in pain. Periods are not a secret, they are normal. It’s simply part of being a woman.
2. You might behave differently
Periods create hormone fluctuations, and even a minor imbalance can cause significant effects. Right before your period, the progesterone hormone increases which can make you feel stressed or down. You might feel like you’re going crazy, that this change in behaviour is all in your head. But again, it’s totally normal. It’s science!
3. Periods can be irregular
Although on average, the menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, it’s completely normal for a woman’s cycle to be shorter or longer than this. Even if it varies from month to month, this is not uncommon. Also, irregularity of periods don’t only happen during puberty, but also menopause, another conversation that should be out in the open. Of course, if periods suddenly become irregular or significantly change after your cycle has regulated, then yes, best to get it checked by a GP just to rule out a possible problem.
4. Don’t be pressured into using certain products
So your friends use tampons? That’s great. But it doesn’t mean you have to use them if you don’t want to. A wide range of sanitary products are on the market now, including cruelty-free and vegan ways to stay dry and comfortable. Menstrual cups can give 12 hours of protection and you can sleep with one in. Plus they are reusable with an average lifespan of three years. Period pants have also been a game-changer; this absorbent underwear can be washed after each use and reused. Perfect for those with irregular periods, period pants can be worn on days you’re not sure whether you’ll get your period or not because they’re so comfy.
5. You might feel gross
But it’s not gross. It’s the lining of your uterus falling from your vagina, which means your body is functioning normally. Your period is just another bodily fluid. Maybe you’ll feel like you want to freshen up more often or wear certain clothes to make you feel more confident, but rest assured that all of this is okay. Take a painkiller if you need to. Eat the damn chocolate! Curl up and watch your guilty pleasures (with zero guilt!). Periods might last for decades - or as young Alice in Netflix’s Workin’ Moms says, “What?! Forever?!” - but they do get easier and will become part of your routine. You are a woman, and this is a fact; women are amazing.