When I was in my early teens, I found a book called ‘Have you started yet?’ in the house. Whether it had been put there for me to find, or more likely belonged to my elder sister, I didn’t know. It was the only information I was given about periods. I remember learning useful information such as the names of different parts of female genitalia, and how to clean blood off sheets using salt and cold water. Inherent in all of this, seemed to be a strong sense that it was a very private thing, to be hidden away and not talked about.
I remember being curled up inside with embarrassment and shame about all things ‘female’. All the messages around me, from family and society, seemed to confirm that there was something shameful and weak about being a woman. I had spent most of my childhood as a tomboy and becoming a ‘girl’ let alone a ‘woman’ was a painful transition. When I started secondary school, I began dieting & calorie counting furiously, I think it gave me a little bit of control in a life that seemed very out of control. I was underweight and started my periods fairly late. I was grateful for ‘the book’ it was a bible of information for me and I think I would have been lost without it. But the sense of shame and of needing to hide my period from the world, was never far away. I remember seeing another girl at school who had bled onto her skirt, and nearly dying of embarrassment for her.
Thirty years later I now love being a woman and having a monthly cycle. The more I understand the different seasons and tempos of my cycle, the more I feel connected to nature, my intuition and my female strength. I have daughters and we often talk about periods. I hope that their transition to menarche will be one not of shame, but of deep celebration.