Today is the first day of my period. I know this for obvious reasons. But I also know it because the amazing app on my phone told me so. It also told me five days ago to expect the raging PMS that arrives like clockwork, just before my period does. So when I got up this morning and discovered that I’d come on, I ran a bath and put my menstrual cup on to boil as usual, no drama.
It might seem obvious, but my first period couldn’t have been more different from this experience. Partly because, you know, it was my first period! And clever apps like Clue didn’t exist back then. But also, it was stressful and somewhat traumatic. Nothing especially bad happened. I was just so underprepared, scared, and full of shame. And I was 12 years old.
My best friend and I were staying at her mum’s boyfriend’s house for the weekend and he had one of those fancy baths with jacuzzi jets in it. Amazing, right? My friend and I hadn’t brought our swimming costumes so we just decided to jump in wearing pants and a t shirt. I bet you can tell where I’m going with this.. I got my period that afternoon, sitting on the toilet in a sopping wet t shirt and with no spare pants to go home in. I remember it so vividly because I was absolutely gripped with horror. The rest of the day was a blur.
The friend I was with was one of my besties, and she had two older sisters and a very cool mum, so in theory it should have been easy. But none of that mattered because I was too paralysed with shame and fear to tell them or ask for help. My mum had always been very awkward around the topic – no doubt because of the shame she was taught to feel around periods too – especially growing up in 1960s Lancashire. About a year earlier she had given me a 90’s library book about ‘girl stuff’ that she airily suggested had some good ‘hair care tips.’ Of course, this was just a cover for the section about periods but the whole thing completely went over my head.
Luckily around the same time she had crept into my room, showed me a packet of pads and stashed them away in my bottom drawer, taking care to cover them up with a t shirt. So there they had lived for an entire year, like a dirty secret that I didn’t understand. When I got home from my friend’s house I gingerly retrieved the pads which thankfully came with instructions. I knew, however, that I would still have to tell my mum what happened. But I couldn’t face it, or her. So I ended up waiting until it was just the two of us in the house and squeakily called downstairs ‘Mum! I got my period!’. I was so relieved. Now she knew and hopefully we would never have to discuss it again.
I didn’t tell any of my friends for months. Eventually one of them confided in me that they had gotten their period so I told them about mine. Two days later, my group of best girlfriends cornered me in the playground and told me off for not telling them all as soon as it had happened. More shame.
Unfortunately, having a bad experience with your first period is not unusual. Though there are plenty of beautiful tales to give us hope and inspiration! Ask a good friend to tell you about her first period – and share your story. As I later learned, talking about periods is a sure fire way to combat shame and negativity about periods.
Luckily as the years have gone by, my relationship with my period has improved dramatically. In that time, I discovered that period shame is a feminist issue, and I have worked hard to change the way I think about and talk about periods. I’ve realised that talking about periods is the one thing I never did when I was younger, and that was probably the single biggest factor in perpetuating the shame and horror that I felt about them.
Getting a menstrual cup was a turning point in this journey for me. It turned my period into a much more positive, waste-free experience that I feel more in control of than ever. It also helped me get to know my period and my body better than ever before. Menstrual cups might not be the answer for everyone, but I feel certain that more conversations and more information about periods are good for everyone, and not just those who get them every month. If we are to improve the lives of women and girls, we need to educate our men and boys about periods too.
You can be part of this bigger and better conversation about periods by signing up to The Cup Effect newsletter. Learn self care, how to have a more ethical period, and how we can all support each other to have happier and healthier relationships with our periods.
Lauren is a Northerner living and working in London. She currently works in the tech/travel industry after previously managing campaigns for a political party. Her biggest loves are food, feminism, swimming, politics and reading about all of these things (and crime fiction) whenever humanly possible.