As my own daughter nears puberty, I've been reflecting on my own experience. At the time, I felt so old and mature. But looking back at it, I see myself as such a young child. In some ways I was both—childish and yet maturing. There is a wide and treacherous no man's land between childhood and womanhood that every young girl has to walk alone. Starting my period was the moment I took my first step into that lonely country.
I remember the day of my first period. My mother came into my room and I told her the news. She left to find me some pads and I have a vivid memory of sitting on my bed, looking across the room into the mirror above my dresser. I stared at my face, at my own body, as though it were an unexpected and unwanted stranger I was being forced to spend the week with. Darkly, I thought, "One-fourth of the rest of your life will be spent like this." By "this," I meant pain and discomfort and awkardness.
In the weeks and months that followed, I often found myself wondering about the other women around me. Especially in a crowd, I would look around at all the women and teenage girls and be aghast at the knowledge that so many of them were walking around bearing such a profound burden without anyone being able to know what they suffered. Now, my thoughts seem almost comically dark, but I was very troubled by the whole experience and could hardly believe I was expected to welcome it as a normal aspect of my life.
The entire process was incredibly stressful to manage. Blood would often leak through my clothes—a formula for the highest levels of embarrassment a young girl (or any human!) can experience. Cramping and pain would leave me bedridden for 1-2 days of each period week. I had headaches and felt exhausted. This was my new reality.
Over time, I got used to it. I learned how to manage my blood flow, what medicine helped my headaches, when I needed to rest and when I could push through. I started talking about it with my friends—their own stories and laughter and solidarity was both comforting and fortifying. I picked a path through that stony ground of puberty and eventually made it to the other side, completely changed and yet still completely myself.
What was your own experience like? How old were you when you started your period for the first time? Was it sudden and fierce or gradual and mild? How did you feel about it that first time? What was the hardest part?