Periods are crap.
I started at the age of nine and I honestly don’t think I ever got over them. A bittersweet relationship with contraceptives has left me feeling slightly frazzled and after getting the Nexplanon implant removed in February 2020, I was finally faced with the prospects of having periods again. Cue the tears. It hasn’t been so bad and periods seem to have been the most consistent relationship I have had so far. Remembering my period journey feels somewhat like producing one of those documentaries about actors that reflect on their careers through the years… except I don’t have any awards to show for my period and until I got older it felt like something to hide rather than celebrate.
I distinctly remember when I discovered I had started my period. I was nine years old and I think I was wearing my Tracy Beaker knickers (yes they were a thing- sorry if you missed out), it was that awkward half moment of thinking “oh shit it isn’t going to get better after this” matched with “sick does that make me a proper woman now?” Bless me, I have vivid memories of crying in the Sainsbury’s car park with my Mom and asking her “is it going to be like this forever?” My absolute and utter childhood innocence felt like it had been snatched and I truly rather naively believe that I would bleed every day for the rest of my life (can you even imagine?!) My Mom looked rather perplexed and said “no” with a sympathetic tone and off we drove home with some chocolate and a greater understanding of each other. There’s definitely something reaffirming about periods in terms of their ability to strengthen the mother-daughter bond, at least I felt this.
Bless me, I have vivid memories of crying in the Sainsbury’s car park with my Mom and asking her “is it going to be like this forever?”
Beyond the awful stomach cramps and very heavy blood flow, I felt a little like royalty in the house and I milked the shit out of it. One evening at my Grandparents my Mom came up with some ‘gifts‘ I put this in inverted commas because I wouldn’t necessarily say that a book on periods and puberty for a pre-teen is quite the gift I had in mind. However, the High School Musical stationery and notebook (for me to write about my periods in) was slightly more on brand (and unrelatedly sparked my tumultuous love/hate relationship with Zac Efron- which reached its peak when he starred in Hairspray).
School was bizarre. My Mom had called in to inform the staff of this recent update to my life (I can only imagine how you would broach this sort of topic with people that would relieve broken limbs with a wet paper towel). Sitting in my class probably half day-dreaming a woman called Barbara (absolutely classic primary school staff name) came in and said “can someone help me carry some sports equipment, I need someone really strong?” I can’t lie I was just about strong enough to carry the class books when the teacher needed help handing them out so rest assured I didn’t think I was able to support with carrying sports equipment. Much to my bemusement, she said “Emma you’re strong aren’t you, you can help”- I was a very socially awkward child (ironic considering I never shut up now) but I helped her carry a big bag of basketballs. The situation was off and I knew it was more than simply taking basketballs to the PE hall, she walked me down the stairs and began saying my Mom had told her about my period starting and that there was a ‘special’ toilet I could go to. The said ‘special toilet’ was vile – a super cold and dingy adult toilet that had a sanitary disposal bin and very poor lighting. I cringed when she opened the door and showed me, in my mind this felt like a space I wanted to avoid at all costs which made periods even more stressful than they need to be. Later on, in my school years, they did get proper sanitary bins in all the main toilets- thank god!
When you start your period at that age I think it does force you to grow up pretty quick. Education on periods remains poor in my opinion. If I’m honest my main educator was my Mom and when I had seen her with sanitary towels and asked about them-she was usually very coy saying they were “adult things”. Starting periods early can be confusing especially when your body is rapidly changing and bursting with hormones and chemical changes. The whole process of becoming a woman felt so scary- I felt like contraception was the only way to solve my periods- after nine years on the implant, I decided to ditch it. It has been around eight months now and whilst I hate the long heavy flow, mood swings, and bloating I do feel like I have reached some sort of mutual understanding with my body. I feel liberated now, periods used to be a source of stress and whilst I don’t feel like screaming I’m Every Woman at the top of my lungs when I feel that friendly monthly pang in my stomach- I do feel like I can manage alone and that’s enough for me.
I’m always so curious to know how other people found starting their periods – it feels like such a coming of age moment in our lives that are either super dramatised or very chilled. It’s super important for young girls that are early bloomers (I hate this euphemism) to feel supported and I am so happy that there are more resources, more conversations, and a generally better understanding of how to manage this natural part of life. I hope that girls now and in the future are spared the super awkward conversations with staff that force you into discussing something you haven’t quite come to understanding. It’s a period, not a plague so there’s never any reason to make girls and women feel uncomfortable or worse still feel unable to discuss how it’s impacting them.