Ah periods. The glorious gift of menarche. The momentous day when you wake up, or pull down your pants, and find a bloody surprise that you’ve never seen before.
Periods are Normal
They represent our ability to create life, as well as being a symbol of vitality and fertility. Despite this, menarche comes with a myriad of feelings for everyone. Feelings that can interfere with our ability to celebrate and show gratitude for what our bodies are capable of.
Maybe you were eleven, or fourteen, or even sixteen. We all reach menarche at different ages, and through different circumstances. But one thing is for sure- periods bring people with vaginas together- and we all have our stories.
We are Storytellers
Part of celebrating the gift of menstruation is storytelling. Storytelling is, and has always been, a vital way for humans to connect, find common ground, and provide warning or information.
I asked a few people to reflect on their first period, and here’s what we came up with…
I’ll start. I first got my period a couple of weeks before my twelfth birthday. In my family, I was the first one, and our mom started the tradition of giving us period gifts. She gave me a new bikini that I had been coveting, that beforehand she had deemed a bit too risque for a sixth-grader.
Similarly, my mom had a menopause party. It’s easy to understand why I’m a reproductive health writer.
“The first time I ever used a tampon was in seventh grade gym class. My female gym teacher was coaching me through the bathroom door on how to put it in. It was a super tampon, and I was thirteen. I obviously didn’t do it right and then I jumped in the pool and it turns out the tampon was halfway in.
It expanded half in, half out. It was painful and scary, and I sat out of swimming the rest of the week.”
“My mom was super supportive, so that was lovely. It was summer, and I was an avid swimmer, so I had to immediately learn how to use a tampon.”
“It was a really awful experience. Worst cramps I’ve ever had. I started it in the middle of the night at my friend’s house who lived with her dad. I woke up in the middle of the night in a pool of blood- which was traumatizing. I had to clean it up, wash the blankets, and try to hide it from her dad.”
“It happened on Halloween when I was 13. I was with my friend who was so chill and took good care of me- she was experienced!”
“I was embarrassed and thought something was wrong with me because I didn’t get mine until I was sixteen- when everyone else seemed to have it. It happened after swim practice, and wasn’t terrible.
I did have a lot of fear around periods after seeing my mom hospitalized twice for endometriosis.”
“I honestly don’t remember when I got my first period. I do however remember, my first time getting cramps. The first week of eighth grade,
I was walking to school, and had to stop every few feet to bend over cause I was in pain. I was so confused.”
It Starts with Education
From this short collection of stories, we can see an equal variety of shock, support, horror, confusion, and excitement. Part of celebrating our periods is having a basic understanding of what’s happening with our bodies.
I have heard far too many times that some people had no idea what periods were when they first got theirs. Imagine that surprise!
We see the patterns here. Those who felt supported, with an understanding of what was happening with their bodies, felt much calmer and relaxed around their first period. Those that didn’t have that were left with confusion.
If you have a young person in your life who is close to menarche, or recently started their period, show them your support. Without being overbearing, and compromising their comfort, convey to them that you are there as a support system.
Offer them resources, from practical to emotional.
Outright celebrations and period gifts may not be appropriate or welcome by every bleeding person- but there are always ways to show them that they’re not alone and that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
Discussing and sharing your own stories for newly bleeding people can be a seamless way to open up the conversation, without putting them on the spot.
It’s Never too Late
Maybe it’s been quite a while since you’ve had your first period- it’s never too late to start celebrating! Celebrating will look different for everyone.
It may mean reflecting on your own period story or treating your body and soul to some much needed TLC during your period. It could mean finally coming to terms and healing around any residual trauma or shame you have around menarche and menstruation.
Developing gratitude for your period can drastically change your relationship with it. It can transform shame and disgust into acceptance and peace.
We would love to hear in the comments any reflections or short stories you have around your first period- or when your child got theirs!
Talking about our stories creates community-based education, that is so necessary for normalizing and destigmatizing our feelings around our bodies- and all that they do.
Natasha (she/her) is a full-spectrum doula and health+wellness copywriter. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, health, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more education and empowerment. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.