I got my first period when I was 11. My mom had been preparing me with ominous “You’ll be a woman soon” speeches and the What’s Happening To My Body? Book For Girls since I was eight. She bought me a “first period starter kit” that came with pink panty liners and a badly-illustrated instruction guide. Inexplicably, I hid the liners on one of our bookshelves that would later be found by our ultra-nosy housekeeper, who presented them to my mother as proof that I’d started to menstruate. I was pissed, but not bloody.
Ironically, a month later, I actually did start my period. Getting ready to jump in the shower, I looked down and saw a dark brown stain on my panties. Horrified (no one ever told me period blood could be brown), I convinced myself I had pooped my pants, despite a lack of olfactory evidence. What’s Happening To My Body? Book for Girls had not prepared me for this. Post-shower, I figured it out and grabbed one of my mom’s maxi pads from under the sink. I struggled with the protective wings for a while before giving up and taping the damn thing to my underpants with Scotch tape. “This can’t be right,” I told myself as I squelched around swathed in what was surely the adult equivalent of a diaper. “No, this is definitely not going to work for me. What’s the deal with these tampon things I keep hearing so much about?”
While my virgin vagina was understandably concerned about having a piece of dry cotton with a tail stuffed into it, my no-nonsense inner voice knew this was the only option. I suffered through an unbearably humiliating experience buying a carton of blood plugs at the grocery store, where a kindly sales associate asked me if “my mom knew I was here.” “She’s in the car,” I mumbled, while my inner voice screamed, “IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, NOSY BEYOTCH!”
Finally back home, I started trying to figure out what went where. Sure, it seems simple, but when you’re just a little bitty thing that’s never even bothered to look at her own vagine, inserting a tampon gets a lot more complicated. The anatomy guides from What’s Happening to My Body? rushed through my head, and I was filled with nonsensical worries that I would crack my cervix or make my fallopian tubes fall out of my butt. I puzzled over the instructional guide for a few minutes before putting my leg on the edge of the tub and going for it. The first few attempts were – let’s just say — unsuccessful. As my mother asked me if I needed help from outside the door, I panicked at the traumatizing thought of a My Mom Put in My First Tampon horror story, and I shoved it in. No one bothered to tell me that there was such a thing as a plastic applicator, so I was using those old school cardboard Tampax tampons that are basically the equivalent of a toilet paper roll in your vagina. I was uncomfortable, but at least I knew how to do it now. I spent the next few hours walking around gingerly doing Kegel exercises until my uncannily observant mother informed me it wasn’t going to fall out while I was walking around.
I spent the next few months living in fear that one or more of the following things would happen to me while I was at school:
- I would start my period and bleed through my pants (it happened)
- I would have to change my tampon during class and everyone would see me leave the room with a tampon in my hand, forever opening me to that particularly cruel brand of middle school teasing (did not happen, due to clever tricks such as shoving the tampon up the arm of my sweater or in the waistband of my pants)
- Someone would unzip my backpack (this prank was all the rage at Cabrillo Middle School in 1999) and my arsenal of period supplies would go spilling down the stairs in front of everyone (did not happen, but I did have recurring nightmares about it for a while).
Eventually, everyone started their periods and I stopped being so paranoid and joined the others in making fun of whoever had a stain on the back of their pants that day. Middle schoolers are cruel that way, and I certainly was not the exception.
As an adult, the arrival of my period is no longer met with panic and shame, but rather annoyance and occasional relief. I pay out the ass (out the vagina?) for this new brand of birth control pill that allows me to only have a period every three months (Seasonique – get with it, ladies!). Am I fuxing with nature? Maybe, but I’m not worried about it. Besides, it made my breasts grow. Goodbye, B-cups, hello glorious, heaving C-cups! I have to wear a bra all the time now, but it’s so worth it. At least now when my worst nightmare comes true and all my tampons go spilling out of my purse and down a flight of stairs, everyone will be too busy admiring my new huge rack to notice. Or maybe I’ll just be too busy admiring my new huge rack to care.