Having my period for the first time was a bittersweet experience. I was thirteen and three quarters and desperate for its arrival: all my friends’ period had been arriving for a couple of years by this stage, and I felt left behind. My mum had even taken me for a weekend away when I was eleven – and in between meals out and trips to museums, she gave me the birds and bees talk. This centred mostly on preparing me for the inevitability of my menstrual cycle.
I remember at the time being completely fascinated and impatient for the whole process of womanhood to kick off. My mum gave me a book on the subject, which I read and re-read voraciously. I discussed it endlessly with my best friend – we compared our bodily landmarks of puberty at regular intervals: when we first bought bras, when we first got underarm hair, when we started shaving our legs and so on. She got her period at age 12 and was a startlingly curvaceous D-cup by 13. I felt scrawny, awkward and childish by comparison. I read up on all the ‘signs’ of the beginning of menses, got excited when I had stomach cramps – furiously hoping that these ones would be the harbinger of my period.
My first period, however, came without any signs or any warning. I went to the bathroom on the morning of New Year’s Day 1998, still feeling foggy with sleep, to find a small burgundy bloom on my knickers. Now that I had it I wasn’t so sure I wanted it. I nervously went to tell my mother, who at the time was saying goodbye to my father. He was about to leave on his fortnightly flight to my grandparents’ house to visit with his mother who had been diagnosed with liver cancer. She was to pass away six short weeks later.
After wishing and hoping for my period to come for so long, I battled with the realisation that it wasn’t as exciting as I had previously hoped, that actually, it was mostly an awkward, uncomfortable and icky experience. That it was accompanied with a constant dragging, clawing pain at the base of my abdomen. That I hated the feeling of a damp, thick, nappy-like sanitary pad against my skin all day. That, up until I went on the pill at 19, my period was a monstrous 8 days long, that it was heavy and left me tired and prone to blacking out at times.
When he came back a few days later, my dad took me out for the night. We went and watched the latest Bond movie and then went to a steak house and feasted on nachos, steak and chips. He took the opportunity to ask me how I was and talk to me about boys and how they only wanted one thing. Cliched, maybe. Appreciated, definitely. I realise now what great lengths my parents went to to ease the isolating stangeness of puberty for me, despite all that was going on in their lives (two jobs, four children under 14, a mother who was dying).
Nowadays, with the blessing of modern day contraceptives, my period is a once-monthly mild inconvenience, a reassurance that my body is working and that I’m not unexpectedly pregnant!