Yes, THOSE periods. The menstrual cycle, and any of its cutesy nicknames that have been assigned to it. I love talking about periods, especially with other women. There’s something so cathartic in talking about what is often considered a shameful, embarrassing, gross thing with someone who knows and understands. Talking about menstruation openly and with a good sense of humour brings an end to the stigma and helps women reconceptualize their periods as a good and normal biological function. Periods aren’t dirty or bad and should be glossed over. They’re powerful and painful. They ruin your favourite underwear and stain your bedsheets. They cost a lot of money to maintain. They can do really, really gross things to your body. So let’s chat and see what kind of beautiful and hilarious shared wisdom we can conjure up.
I got my first period in January or February, 2007. I can’t remember which, but I was 12-turning-13 and in seventh grade. If you were once a seventh grade girl, you’d know that approximately 80% of what girls’ conversation are comprised of period/puberty gossip. Who got theirs, who didn’t. Who’s using tampons, who’s too chicken. So-and-so’s mom won’t let her shave her armpits yet. Girls bragging about buying their first bras from LaSenza (ooooooh). Needless to say, everyone prayed that she wouldn’t be the last one to get her period, lest she be labelled a freak. I, as I have been my entire life, tried to keep a very cool head about all of this puberty nonsense while at school. I tried to make it seem like I didn’t care that I was not yet menstruating when the early reports of first blood trickled (heh) through my elementary school. At home, I was a nervous wreck. My mom, a registered nurse and generally epic woman, assured me that my development was perfectly on schedule when I began probing her with questions about if my vaginal discharge meant anything and if I’d get my period soon. Like most pubescent girls with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, I resigned myself to the reality that P-Day would probably never happen ever and I was doomed to wander the earth as an immortal, infertile woman-child.
I feel now I must take a brief aside to better clarify the context of seventh grade Allie. About this time in my life is when I realized that my baby fat wasn’t really going to go away and I was pretty well established as the “fat girl”. For this, I was teased quite ruthlessly by the boys I went to school with (NOT by the girls, the girls were all actually quite lovely). Most of this teasing happened within the context of gym class, because in addition to being fat, I was also bad at sports. Gym class was subsequently a personal Hell of mine, with no thanks to the heartless old crone that taught it. Despite being on good terms with my female classmates, I often changed in and out of my gym clothes in the privacy of the change room’s adjoining bathroom.
Now, this is when it all happens. While being forced to participate in a humiliating game of dodgeball in one afternoon gym class, I noticed that something was taking place between my legs that I couldn’t quite figure out. Periods, from my ignorant perspective, involved a lot more gore and uncontrollable bleeding so this couldn’t possibly be it. I deliberated the odd sensation until the end of class, and then trudged to my usual washroom stall to change. Time stood still for a solid minute upon inspecting the scene underneath my Umbro gym shorts. This is not what I had expected. Instead of the crimson tide promised to me by health teachers and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” were blotchy, rusty stains. I contemplated for a minute more before accepting that this was my womanly birthright, disappointing as it was. I felt oddly shameful when I went to retrieve a pad from the Always kits the school provided in health class out of my backpack. I didn’t want the other girls to know that I had achieved womanhood. I just wanted to hug my mom.
I walked home that afternoon and meditated on what it all meant. I made peace with the fact that I wasn’t a kid anymore in that 25 minutes. I waited tensely for my mom to get home, hovering by the door. I think she could tell the minute she arrived that something was up. I didn’t say anything for a minute or so, then started crying: “sniff-Igotmyperioddon’ttelldadornannyplease-sniff”.
Fast-forward four years. My best friend and I were enrolled in a class for “gifted” students (ie. smartasses) called Enrichment. The whole point of Enrichment was to give students who were identified as gifted a break from curriculum and do their own thing. Part of this involved a field trip to a conference held at the University of Western Ontario for such students. The conference involved various breakout sessions ranging in topics that students were allowed to register for, ranking their choices by preference. My friend and I saw an interesting listing and decided to sign up for it as a final option, half as a joke, half out of vague interest. The session was entitled “Empow’rd Maidens” and it was for girls only. That was all the information we were given. Of course, the day of the conference rolls around and we find that we’ve both been enrolled in this mystical-sounding workshop. The room was set up in a circle of chairs, with a small table in the centre which held a red blown-glass basin, some essential oils, and was draped in a red scarf. Being a snotty 16-year old, I rolled my eyes at my friend. About fifteen other girls joined the circle, each looking at each other awkwardly. The session was lead by a fit, silver haired woman who had taught a yoga class earlier that day. She talked about the history of menstrual rituals around the world, menstrual/yonic art, alternative methods of cleaning and protection (ie. reusable pads, sea sponge tampons, silicone cups), and invited each of us to share stories about our menses (note: she never actually said the word “period”, only menses, which I got a kick out of). I remember feeling vividly uncomfortable hearing menstruation being talked about in such a reverent and spiritual way, often stifling this behind giggles. At the end of the session, the facilitator invited us to rinse our hands in purified water scented with pomegranate essential oils to “cleanse ourselves from the patriarchal lies told to us about our menses”. We were then gifted with a red glass bead to carry with us and remember the power of our internal lunar cycle. That last bit was a little too crunchy-granola for me, but the impression it left has lasted.
Thinking back on my “Empow’rd Maidens” experience, it was totally wasted my punk-ass teenage self. But I’m thankful for the seed it planted. Today, I could probably see myself leading something like this with young women. There is power and encouragement when women speak about an issue that is so ubiquitous, but so stigmatized. So let’s talk about periods. Let’s talk about cramps. Let’s talk about junk food cravings. Let’s talk about crying in public for no reason. Let’s talk about the outrageous cost of menstrual hygiene products. Let’s talk about how &^$@&*&$^# HARD it is to MacGyver a pad out of single-ply toilet paper when you forgot to pack them and the vending machine in the washroom is too much money. Let’s talk about poly-cystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis. Let’s talk about our health until it’s no longer taboo. Let’s talk until we love our bodies and the things they’re capable of. Let’s talk.