My uterus is my enemy. I didn’t know that when I was little. I found out one night when I was 11 that life as I knew it was over.
We were little girls of the 1970’s. It was a time of innocence and the end of the era that believed that no one knew of a woman’s most discreet secrets. We were the last of the innocent. The last of the flowery pad packages with angels and butterflies on them. I very rarely see butterflies anytime and I’m not in the mood to celebrate nature when I have my period so these photos never made sense to me.
I was born in 1968. I’m young enough to never have had to actually wear a “sanitary belt” but old enough to remember Modess kits that the school nurse gave out in 7th grade after we watched that flower and bee movie. What they didn’t think about when they handed out these super huge sample boxes of pads wrapped in brown paper, was the bus ride home that we had to endure while the boys teased the shit out of us for bleeding every month. What I didn’t understand was how they knew what was in the boxes? Who told them? How did they know before me?
We didn’t know at the time that on that same day, the boys had also viewed a movie about their changing bodies which also included a snippet about what we (the girls) were going to be experiencing. We however, were not clued in on anything that the boys would be experiencing. If they did, at least I would have had some ammunition to use when they tormented me on the bus about my beautiful brown box. I could have said, “Yeah? Well, I might bleed but at least I won’t have to hold a book in front of my zipper when I go to the blackboard!” But it was 1979 and although women’s lib was going strong, I wouldn’t know what a guy went through for many years. Once again the boys had the advantage.
You could also tell the girls on that fateful bus ride home whose mothers hadn’t gotten around to giving them “the talk” yet because they all looked the same. Huge eyes and quivering bottom lips.
Truth be told, I couldn’t wait to get home to rip open the package to see what was in it! I ran home from the bus stop, slammed through the door and bounded up the steps. The teasing from the boys on the bus were a distant memory as I threw my schoolbag on the floor and opened the box. There before me were several smaller boxes of sanitary napkins (napkins?) some that needed a belt and some newly designed pads that didn’t because they had adhesive attached to the back of them.
There was also a booklet on talking to your daughter about menstruation. I was the kind of kid that never got in trouble or did things they were not supposed to do and I’m pretty sure I was supposed to give this book directly to my mother but I didn’t. I hid it in my night table drawer under my 8-track of Shawn Cassidy and read it that night under the covers with a flashlight. See? I didn’t even get my period yet and I’m already turning to the dark side.
The most terrifying thing in the box was a sanitary belt and even more terrifying was the instruction booklet that showed you how to use it.
Now because I had the newer kind of pads in the box, I never had to actually use the belt but I must admit I tried it on. I should have read the instruction book first because it said you were supposed to put it on first before your underwear. Who knew?
My mother spoke to me about my period and what to expect (thank god it was before brown box day). She never told me about a freaking belt and she never told me that my period was going to hurt. She said in later years that she didn’t want to scare me. I was actually very scared the day I got it because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was sure I was dying. My back was on fire and my stomach felt like it had turned inside out. As a mother now, I can understand her way of thinking however, when I told my daughter about it many years later, I told her that it may or may not hurt. That it can be very uncomfortable and it might even be painful. Everyone is different so you just never know.
Mine was downright debilitating. Fever, cramps that ran down my legs, pain in my stomach and back and the bleeding? OMG!! We won’t get into that just out of respect for having to face my peeps again but it was bad. I missed at least one day of school a month and as I got older, one to two days of work. The doctors told me that after I had children, it might calm down a bit so I hurried up and had my son to see if that might help but it didn’t (haha, just kidding!). When I did have children, it was even worse so there went that theory out the window. My entire life was affected by my period and everything had to be scheduled around it. Vacations were either wonderful or a complete disaster. You get the idea.
I can usually tell when a woman is “suffering” from her period. She has a hard time smiling, she walks slightly hunched over, it’s always a bad hair day and she usually has flats on. I just want to make her a cup of tea.
There was also a booklet in the box telling you about hygiene and how important it is to keep clean during your period. The picture they put in to the booklet was a profile drawing of a young teen girl sitting in a bathtub. She is super feminine with beautiful long eyelashes and a dainty little nose. Her toes are pointed towards the end of the tub and there are little flowers and birds (or maybe they were butterflies?) flying all around her head. Her hair is pulled back in a beautiful bun with just the right amount of wispy hairs falling down around her face and her hair had flowing ribbons and I thought… Wow… I never take baths like that. Is that what it was to take a bath when you have your period? I was entranced by that picture. I couldn’t wait to get my period.
As it turns out I was the last of my friends to get it, even at age 11. I was very upset about that. I kept picturing them all taking that wonderful bath with the flowing ribbons and birds and here I was taking yet another shower.
All this anticipation led up to the big day. I started to “not feel good” and I haven’t felt good since. I dug into my brown box but it just wasn’t the fun I thought it would be. That said…
I have to say that having my period was not what I expected. I’ve never, ever once taken a bath when I had my period, I’ve never had a bird or a butterfly in the bathroom, I wasn’t happy and cheerful like the girls in the booklet and I never looked like this…
I was so embarrassed my my period. I didn’t want anyone to know about it. I took my own trash out of the bathroom and hid it at the very bottom of the trash can in the garage. I hid my pads at the very back of the sink cabinet and I didn’t talk about it to anyone except my mother. My mother thought my moodiness was cute. So when her bridge club ladies would come over and I was miserable, she would whisper to them, “She’s having her period” and blink her eyelashes in my direction. They would all nod in understanding and then look at me with empathy. I would look back at them seething in disgust at my mother’s lack of discretion where my personal matters were concerned.
I am glad girls these days don’t have to go through what I went through. Nowadays, with Facebook, Twitter and cable TV, kids are growing up much faster. No more big brown boxes either. The girls now get just two pads wrapped discreetly and small enough to hide in even the smallest Vera Bradley bag. They still aren’t cluing the girls in on the boys changing bodies though. I guess some things never change.
Now at 43, I don’t give a shit who knows. If I’m miserable… you’re gonna be miserable. Unless you’re very nice to me. My husband is the most understanding person when it comes to this. He has seen me suffer from month to month, enjoy those period-free months when I was pregnant, give birth, and then suffer again. He brings me tea and asks me if I need anything. He lets me hold the clicker and watch lifetime. He’ll give me a kiss on my head and tell me he loves me and run to the store to get me chocolate and through all of this, I have only one regret…
If I knew that I would have gotten such good treatment, I would have shared my period with everyone years ago!