Periods. There, I said it out loud.
The fact that the most famous sanitary napkin brand is named Whisper says a lot about the way we look at menstruation in our country. It is both sad and annoying that more than half the population is afraid to talk about this totally natural phase that women go through every month. Channels are still changed, conversations turn into murmurs and pictures are removed from social media websites when people talk about periods in the open.
Case in point being the recent incident in which Rupi Kaur's picture of her bleeding as part of a photoseries project for a visual rhetoric course was taken down by Instagram citing violation of the 'Community Guidelines.'
This got us thinking. Why are we so afraid to talk about something that is as normal as life itself?
Talking about it is the only way to get rid of the taboo that menstruation has become in our country. Let's talk about it till we don't have to hide sanitary pads in black polybags, let's discuss what we go through every month till TV channels are not changed when a sanitary napkin ad is playing, and let's treat this "abnormal" thing just like we would treat anything else.
We talked to women about their first period - their reaction, how they coped with the discomfort and how it has changed ever since. We hope that these accounts will encourage you to make a dialogue and not keep mum about this.
The very first time I spotted, I was around 10 and living with my naani . So, I went running to her with what I had convinced myself was a case of bleeding to slow death after a particularly eventful day of horse riding. Of course, she assured me there was no door to heaven waiting at the end of this incident, but she did look really disgusted and packed me off home saying "Ja, ma naal gal kar." ( Go talk to your mother.)
I had my first proper encounter with Mc Spotty during my time at boarding school. I was 13. I cramped, ended up spotting my school bed sheet, got yelled at by the warden, but got excused from PT and sports for the next two days. I was miserable, missing mum, and clueless. I remember feeling very embarrassed (despite being in a girl-only dormitory), uneasy in my skin, dirty, irritable, and just plain crampy and cranky. When I look back now, I wish we were taught to embrace the change better.
I was 13-years-old and it was crazy painful. I woke up to feel odd pain at the bottom of my belly and felt wet in a non-horny way. I passed out in the bathroom and when I came back to my senses, I dragged myself out and to the bed somehow. Called mum. It was the first day of navratra and the timing kind of annoyed her a little. She gave me an ST, showed me how to use it and then told me to rest. I walked into the kitchen and she told me not to touch the milk. I was all whoa, what? And thankfully that became the last time she told me to not do something because I was down.
Later in the day when the pain subsided, and I noticed my stained underwear that I had left in the bathroom, I asked my mum if she had washed it and she said she hadn't. Dad sat me down and said he did, because he saw it lying there and gave me a 'now you are growing up' chat, and that I should feel comfortable in talking with him like a friend. And when I asked why he washed it, he said because it was my first time, and I was sleeping and mum had told him I was in a lot of pain and he didn't want me to worry about that.
I was in 7th standard and one of the last girls in my class to get my periods. Not having my periods when everyone else was having it, made me feel umm...left out? One day, I went to the loo, and found a brown stain in my panties. I freaked out because I thought it was poop. Then, being my overthinking-self, I decided to really put some thought into it and think about whether it could possibly be poop. I mean it. I sat in the loo philosophising over the stain in my pants for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, my mum came looking for me and asked me if I was ok. So I let her in and told her my entire analysis of the situation. I don't remember what I had come up with, but it must have been hilarious because she couldn't stop laughing. She sat me down and told me that I'd gotten my periods and gave me the whole this-is-how-you-handle-this-thing lecture. I was grinning like a creep through out, because I was so fucking happy I'd finally got in on Team Red. I actually went around declaring " ab main bhi badi ho gai hun" to all my friends proudly.
I was in the 7th standard when I got my first period. I was upset and in a lot of pain. The worse part was that it was my younger brother's birthday and my daadi didn't let me go and play with him and his friends. I cried for an entire night because of being excluded from the gang and didn't speak to my grandmom for at least 2 days. However, my mom was very supportive and loving about it and explained the entire process to me and how it was absolutely healthy and normal.
My period was pretty uneventful. My family has been very liberal and open about a lot of stuff, so I was prepared for it in advance. My mother had multiple 'talks' with me about the 'changes' I'm going to go through. Even my dad indirectly would talk about the discomfort during horse riding and swimming. So, one fine day, when I was in 6th standard, I got back from school, I discovered spots (and a slight cramp), and I went to my mom and told her to hand me a sanitary napkin. After the first few months, my mom introduced me to my new best friend, tampons, and they have been my preference ever since.
Like everybody else, I freaked out seeing blood stains. However, my elder sister and mom taught me to 'pretend that nothing had happened.' I remember my sister making me read an article to make me believe that it wasn't a disease. Later, I got my training in sitting and walking 'properly' when on periods, from them.
Honestly, I was super thrilled when I got my first period. My best friend got it in 5th grade and she was the first to get it in class, as per our assumptions. Both of us were 11-year-old, and I got mine 3 months after her. It was a moment of pride. My sister and mom had explained the procedure in great detail and my friend had even flashed me a soiled pad. #TrueStory. I ran to her in class and told her "I'm bleeding too!" and she gave me a pad. And happily bloody ever after.
I was 12 and it was Independence Day. I was wearing a white salwar-kameez and had a wonderful day at school. I slept when I got home and woke up to a red salwar instead. I was petrified! I screamed and told my mother about it. She actually congratulated me on this. So did her friends, my cousins and the rest of the world. I am closer to my dad so I thought I'd ask him about it, but then I realized that my mother never did, so maybe I shouldn't too. When I asked her why we couldn't talk to him about it, she said, "achcha nahi lagta!"
Also, contrary to common notion, I have actually found some really understanding guys when it comes to talking about the dreaded P word. When I was in Class 9, I stained my skirt in the classroom but I had no idea and got up to get out of the classroom. A guy friend of mine saw the stain and kept walking behind me. I think that was really sweet of him.
My first experience was quite uneventful since my mom and my sisters had told me about this before hand. When I finally got it, I went to my mum, she told what to do and voila, it was all good. I do remember feeling a little uneasy and wondering if my friends could tell if I was wearing a pad or not.
Later on, my elder sisters came up to me and hugged me. Both of them told me that it's totally normal and if I ever felt uneasy, I could talk to them. They also assured me that after this I would shed all my baby weight since I was a girl now. Unfortunately, that never happened!
When I first got down, I thought I had cancer since Bollywood taught me oozing blood from anywhere means you have cancer and you'll die. It was only after I got to know about the whole process, did I take a sigh of relief. I still blame Bollywood for screwing with my head.
I was in Class 7 when I first got periods. It was Friday night and I was at my relative's place. When I got up on Saturday morning, I felt wet down there. On checking, I saw stains of blood. I was so taken aback that I did not tell my mom about it when I reached home. My mom, brother and I had to go to a parent-teacher meeting that morning. I wore skin-coloured pants and was in constant fear that I would stain them. Mind you, I was not using a pad. This went on for two days but then I had to tell my mom on Monday because of school. I pretended like I had just got my period and she showed me how to place the pad on my underwear.
It was so awkward walking with that thing down there. I was afraid that somebody would notice and make fun of the way I was walking. I couldn't pee until I came back home because I had no clue how to pee with that thing down there!
My experience was more or less uneventful. Talked to mom, learnt how to use a pad and a day off from school. This happened when I was in 6th standard. I think it is so important to include men in this conversation. Now our school thought it was best to introduce us to SexEd in 7th standard. So our Homeroom Teacher took all of us to the AV room for a presentation. Girls and boys sat separately thanks to our super-awkward teacher. And then the presentation began. Now, mostly all the boys knew what sex is. But they were completely ignorant about the plumbing of the female anatomy. And some of them were outright insensitive and cracked several jokes throughout.
It's all very well to educate girls about their body, but shouldn't boys also be told about these changes?
I was disgusted when I got my first period. I was 13. It was the summer I was in Class 9 and I was extremely uncomfortable in talking about it with my mom. So, I decided to not tell her. The hiding continued for six months. Yes, six months! But she found out in the seventh month. Of course, she had to! She saw a stain on my underwear and it put me in a very awkward situation. All this while I used pads from her cupboard and the ones that I took from the home science lab.
I hated periods and would often cry in the bathroom. The only person I was comfortable sharing this with was my best friend. It was my 14th birthday and my monthly visitor decided to pay me a visit. Mom did not know about it. She asked me to do pooja in the evening. Even though I had heard that one should not pray when they are on their periods, I did. Very innocently, I asked for an apology from god saying I was too embarrassed to share it with my mom, so please spare me.
Since I had only been given a general talk by my older sister and not told what a sight the first period could be, 14-year-old me was convinced it was the end. The cramps that I had ignored all evening added to that fear. Went on a 5-hour long road trip the next day with what felt like a mattress between my legs. My mother thought that was the best way to make me feel normal.
The first time I had an 'incident' in school, a very sweet boy thought I had a terminal disease and came up to me to tell me my pristine white skirt has blood on it. Which prompted a frantic, very dramatic run to the loo while 3 classes (about a 100 odd kids) watched.
It is heartening to see that in case of these young women, not everyone from their families reacted in a stereotypical way. Finally, we are not whispering, but talking.
We hope that with this post, more and more women and men can talk about menstruation openly.