The ‘FIRST’ Series: Mary, 30

Mary’s account highlights that sometimes our parents/families can get it right and even throw a party into the mix!

Where it all began

Dressed within a bright pink Bon Bleu tracksuit I got up to change the television channel over and I heard the words I didn’t except or clearly feel to hear. “You’ve stated your period ” noted by that time of the month residue on my trousers. I ran upstairs to the toilet in embarrassment at only 10 years old how could this be occurring.

What follows next I am forever grateful to my family for, only recently appreciating their efforts as assumed everyone got this response. Initially my mum and oldest sister came upstairs providing me with comfort, reassurance and guidance. Helping me feel ok with placing that first pad on my underwear. Actually felt quite ceremonial, a rites of passage, a tiny step into womanhood.

By the time I come downstairs as my sister was giving me information and advice such as how long to use each item for, disposal and hygiene regime. My mum had enlisted my other siblings and next door neighbour who were like family (now the case via marriage) came around and we had a party with a KFC bucket, cheeky sip of Pink Lady, music and sharing stories of entering into womanhood. Both sexes present which only alienated any fears, doubts, distress or discomfort I could have felt with feeling different to men or awkward to discuss my period with.

The first but not the last…

The actually hardest and most difficult part was telling friends.  I was the first in my class or at least the one to state that I had started. My peers were amazed unknowingly looking at me differently, already being physically diverse to my whole class another tick to the list I felt.  I began to live within conflicting dimensions, at home confidently articulating any concerns or just stating facts about my menstrual cycle but within school I shied away not wanting to discuss it at all, feeling embarrassed and ageing too quickly.

Acceptance

Only once other friends started I began to feel ‘normal’ an identity shared I felt, being within an exclusive club as an alumni quickly began to form in class us (bleeders) verses them (non-bleeders) despite whole class being friends. We started supporting each other with pads when someone was too heavy that day or had forgotten to pack a few extra in their bag coupled with advice (not sure how much a 10 year old can give lol) and recognising the pain associated with our monthly scheduled  ‘friend’ and the beloved joy of being within a group of girls our periods all became in sync.

Passing on the B.A.T.O.N

Blessing
Acceptance
Talking
Overt advice
Never ending love

To my daughter: If or when I am blessed to have a daughter I hope to offer her the same support, advice, guidance and allowing it to be a family affair of celebration…. But of course within a sensitive way allowing her to be the driver within the path we take together.

Upon Reflection

With my mum and siblings reaffirming conviction I believe it allowed me to more easily accept ‘becoming a women’ and it has given me the confidence to talk about it so nonchalantly in my adult life.

Thank You 

I proudly thank my family for allowing me to loudly express that I am a women and yes so what I regularly bleed!!!

Mary 30

THE ‘FIRST’ SERIES: Dominique, 29

Welcome to the third instalment of the ‘FIRST’ series…. this week’s contribution is by Blogger Dominique from Melanin, Mind & Soul check out her content.

The Moment

I remember going to the toilet and seeing a spot in my pants that wasn’t normally there and I said to myself “I’ve started”. It was a Saturday morning, and my pops was at work. I was glad this happened at home and when the old man wasn’t home because I didn’t know how I was going to explain this to my mom.

When I started I was 11, nearly 12. It was a few weekends after I started secondary school.

I knocked quietly on my mom’s bedroom door; she was still sleeping because it was still early. I peeped my head around the corner and said mom I think I’ve started. Started what?! I’m not sure I really knew what was becoming of me.

It’s about time

Mom didn’t give any advice at the time. I had woken her up to tell her I started and I remember her reaching over to her bedside draw, taking out a pack of pads and saying its about time. The end. There was no advice or questions about how I was feeling or what to do next. I don’t even recall whether we had had ‘the talk’ in primary school. I do remember it in secondary school but by then, for me it was already too late.

Womanhood? What is this?

I felt scared about this thing and I wasn’t sure how to tell my mom. I didn’t understand that this was the start of becoming a woman. I knew it was something that happened but I didn’t really understand it.

Brookside

I was taller than the other kids in school and had big feet from a young age. As I grew a lot quicker than my peers, I used to get a lot of cramps or ‘growing pains’ but I didn’t know that this was my body preparing me for this new monthly experience. During an episode of Brookside, Gemma who lived with her single dad and brother was stealing money. Gemma had no one to talk to. My mom said she was using the money to buy sanitary towels. She then told me to bring a spare pair of pants to school. I had no clue what she was on about and why I needed to bring spare pants?! That was it, that was the talk prior to my first experience.

I was pretty close with my nan. One day when we were out shopping I complained that my stomach was hurting and she asked if I had period pain. I don’t recall how long it had been since I had started but this was my first understanding of period pain. I didn’t know this was a thing until my nan had asked me.

Upon reflection

Later in secondary school, when ‘the period lady’ came in to talk to the girls, we got a really useful booklet which I kept for years and then passed down to my younger cousin because I didn’t want her to go through the same unknown as I did. Google wasn’t a thing in 1999, and I was quite shy and didn’t feel comfortable asking questions, especially to my mom.

In hindsight I would have asked more questions during that episode of Brookside because I really didn’t understand what Gemma was going through or why I needed to bring spare knickers in my school bag – I mean what if one of my friends saw them, I’d be mortified?!

If I could do it all over again, I would ask my mom or my nan to explain the changes my body was about to go through.

When I was having those cramps in primary school, it was a sign. Hence why mom said “it’s about time”

Dominique, 29

THE ‘FIRST’ SERIES: Kaye, 36

Welcome to the second instalment in the ‘FIRST’ series…where our contributors are sharing and exploring their experiences and emotions on starting their periods.

Only the Facts

I remember the panic….as I sat in what felt like the smallest cubical ever… Clearly I was dying, why else would I be bleeding from my “under carriage” ???

I packed as much tissue as my knickers could hold and made minimal movements for the rest of the day… Little did I know that what I thought was a one-off unexpected pool would be simply a drop in the ocean of my period journey. 

I sheepishly spoke to my mum when she came home from work and at this point I was given a brief and frank discussion. MY BODY was a woman now… she made sure to emphasise NOT MEjust my body….. this meant I could carry a child, be a mum at 10!!!

It was all a little too much to compute… I didn’t like it, I wasn’t ready, I was instantly different – But not in a liberated, empowered, look at the wonders of nature way…. I was odd, out of sync and emotional. I didn’t belong. I was a child but my body was a woman !!

Pending Signs 

Despite my cycle being irregular from day one, I always knew when “She” (The lady from Red Hill) was about to arrive. The tingles in my stomach, legs and back were signs that the real pain was coming and over the years the pain has changed and the space between her visits has continued to vary. 

And these signs would be accompanied a few days later with what can only be described as “the flood”. 

I was not the girl from the Always advert… I couldn’t climb mountains or jump from planes… I was floored, simply missing in action and often missing from P.E. 

My sense of smell would heighten and with that came the paranoia. I couldn’t smell me … but could you? ….Was I leaving a mark when I sat down? #anxiety.levels.at.ten

But I quickly learnt that you could not talk about it…. the looks I would get when I made reference of it to my dad with other elders in the room – It was a woman’s secret – a struggle not to be shared!

Upon Reflection 

It’s only as I look back I think that I was one of the lucky ones, my body knew I wasn’t cut for a monthly visit so my cycle ranged between 45 and 62 days and my immediate family were quite open to talking about the pain and stress of the often unannounced visits.

But it was always FACTS ONLY whether in school or at home (and limited at that…). I was given the pads but not told how to use them…. Not in terms of installation but how often to change it, what my flow was like, what that meant, that some pads contain chemicals. 

It was very much “Keep Calm and Carry On”

I knew I wasn’t who they referred to in the textbooks but it was only through sharing my experiences that I found that I was not alone. Many have had similar experiences and issues. It was through this open dialogue, I have acquired a lot of tips and tricks to cope. 

I have a young daughter so I am preparing. 

I want to be ready. 

I want her to be ready… making it a rite of passage rather than her thinking she is in a scene from a horror movie. 

I’m aiming for more than FACTS ONLY… 

Kaye, 36

#endFGM

Today is International day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation or #endFGM for the hashtag generation.

This is a subject area that has interested me and I am always seeking new forums to further my knowledge.

Last Summer’s bold portray on the emotional turmoil of a teenager who was a victim of FGM, brought the conversation to the stage. It also relayed the message that it is girls just like you and I who could be affected by such practice, a burden we carry into womanhood.

To discuss and enhance my views on the FGM issue today I attended FGM hub which was held at the offices of Southwark Council. I had an insightful conversation with Shani from the ‘Africa Advocacy Foundation’ whose passionate display of information and understanding of such a dark practice made the sheer importance of highlighting the issue even more evident.

endfgmboard

 

What is FGM?

Which is also known as female circumcision is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but where there’s no medical reason for this to be done.

It’s also known as “female circumcision” or “cutting”, and by other terms such as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others. – (NHS, 2016).

 

Who Does It Affect?

Worldwide between 100- 200million women, from infant to adult age have been affected (World Health Organisation)

The Highest number of women affected are of African Origin….

fgm-data(Unicef 2004 – 2015 data)

Whilst in London it affects

1 in 40 women in Lewisham

1 in 30 women in Lambeth

And shockingly 1 in 20 women in Southwark

(City of London via African Advocacy Foundation)

 

Why is it Done?

There are various reasons why it is carried out. Some believe it is more hygienic. Others believe it is a tool used to assure fidelity in women, make them more virginal or to control their pleasure (or lack of) during sex.

 FGM and Your Period

One of the most shocking things about FGM that people never mention is the impact it can have on your period.

There are four types of ‘cutting’ see here however, stage three is the severest which is known as Infibulation which narrows the vaginal opening by creating cutting and sewing over the outer labia (or vaginal lips) with or without removing the clitoris.

                                                         cof

There is a hole left at the bottom for the passing of urine and mensuration blood. The scarring means that periods are often prolonged and extreme pain is felt.

Moreover, the hole itself tends to be too small for sexual intimacy and childbirth (doeve.org) meaning the vaginal will eventually have to be cut up in the future.

 

Help and Support

The experience is not only painful it exposes women and young girls to ongoing health risk and even death. Also, there is a psychological impact after such a procedure with many women feeling shame, depression and isolation it is important that services that provide emotional, physical and advocacy support are highlighted in as many platforms as possible.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 999.

If you are worried that this may happen in the future to you or someone you know please speak to a teacher, school, doctor – someone you trust.

http://www.dofeve.org

 http://www.africadvocacy.org/

 https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/

http://www.endfgm.eu/

 http://forwarduk.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ‘FIRST’ SERIES: Betty, 32

Welcome to our FIRST SERIES where our contributors will be sharing and exploring their experiences and emotions on starting their periods.

Start of Things to Come

I will always remember that it was around Christmas that I started my Period.  As I hid my Pads in an empty celebrations container under my bed – I was that embarrassed.

Unlike other girls I did not start in a public place – thought of doing so at school or at church, standing up from a chair and looking back to see blood – sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

I was Lucky.

I woke up one morning went to the toilet and there I was my first ‘monthly friend’ as I have grown accustomed to calling it.

I remember feeling in shock and a sense of disbelief.

At 14 I had happily deluded myself that it wouldn’t happen to me… unlike my friends who had fallen prey to the deadly ‘period’ at such ages at 10!  And 11!

I had managed to get into my teens unscathed.

I didn’t know 

Until that moment I had literally had ONE lesson in school aged 11 and a total of ZERO conversations with mother – the sums didn’t add up.                                                                       My mother wasn’t home but luckily, she kept her pads under the bathroom sink which I used. For the rest of the day I became a paranoid wreck, double checking everywhere I sat did not leave a tell-tale sign that I was now ‘a woman’. The paranoia stemmed to how often I changed the pad which was every hour because of my fear of leaking and having no concept on what light and heavy flows were.

Differences

The worst thing about starting my period is that I realised that I was different from my brothers. Until then, I had enjoyed playing football and pretending to be my favourite wrestler (the Undertaker) whilst play fighting with my brothers.

From that day on I realised that I was far from one of the boys (I had no sisters) and the fact that I bled made me an ‘other’ in my eyes and I believed (wrongly) in time my brothers too.  This saddened me.

The Talk that Never Was

When my mother finally came home from work – I rushed to her talk to her about my day and that I had started my period. I hoped that her words would soothe me and affirm my hopes that nothing had to change.

On my announcement, my mother inspected my closely and simply told me that If I had sex I would become pregnant. In a single sentence my mother had added an additional annexe of fear to my already transforming body.

The feelings of dread and embarrassment stayed with me for many years and it is only when I arrived solidly into my mid 20s did I learn to embrace my periods and all the treasures of being a woman.

Upon Reflection

I am now 32 and wish I could have told my 14-year-old self not to spend a decade carrying around self-imposed shame on what is a natural process of the body.

Although I cannot go back in time – I hold hope that I can be a beacon of support to my daughter when that time comes.

Instilling her with the confidence to embrace all the gifts that her body gives.

Whilst still having the limitless belief that

as a girl,

as a woman,

who bleeds,

she can still achieve all things.

stuffmomnevertoldyou-podcasts-wp-content-uploads-sites-87-2015-08-periodpride-600

Let’s talk about it…

I’m really surprised by the fact that “Periods” are considered a dirty secret that we whisper about and the only real reference in mainstream media is about the “Angry PMS Lady”

We need to do better…. Share our experiences, it’s the only way we can fully develop. It is also a good way to create a benchmark if you feel something many be wrong… 

Our advice is Track it all…. doctors will take you more seriously, if you can give accurate dates and strong accounts of what’s going on

#WeStandTogether

Photo cred: @girlrising