My mom started her period when she was nine. Yes, nine (which may not seem so young these days, but do you remember when you were nine?)! So, when I was about eight or nine she decided that it would be a good idea to buy me sanitary towels, just in case. I referred to these as pads. Gross.

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This was a while ago and, for some reason, my mother wasn’t using the slim, little ones you see today. So, what lurked in the bottom of my cupboard for the next three years? Big, fat, uncomfortable and embarrassing-looking pads. When my friend discovered them, I had to shamefully explain that my mom started her period early – it seemed like an alien object for a nine-year-old to have and even more alien because my friend knew that they were so old school; things that her granny would use.

I was an ironically late bloomer and, months after my friends, I found the tell-tail red stains on my underwear. But did I use those pads, no. I bought new ones because I thought that the others were horribly old-fashioned and looked uncomfortable.

In the beginning, I found my period embarrassing enough, but pads just made the whole experience much more difficult. I was absolutely paranoid about staining my school skirt – it had happened to more than one girl. We used to “casually” flick our skirts up when we sat down, just in case we leaked. I was also disgusted by the squishy and smelly object that sat between my legs. I felt like I was waddling like a duck and that the pad could be seen by everyone. Gym shorts – urgh! Horrible.

The solution, tampons; except for me, that is. I suffered from really bad cramps and tampons made it worse. I dreaded using them, but maybe less than wearing that first packet of pads.

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Recently in the news, I have been hearing of research done in developing countries which is looking into the reasons why young girls skip so many school days (up to a week each month). One of the reasons is that they do not have access to sanitary towels, and because of poor sanitation and toilet facilities in schools, cannot attend school while they are menstruating. Furthermore, stains on the backs of dresses can lead to sexual harassment by fellow learners and teachers. This made me really ashamed.

I was embarrassed by a packet of perfectly good sanitary towels. I was ashamed because my friends had the cuter, smaller, slimmer ones, and I had the monstrously old-fashioned ones. I found pads a trial, a hindrance and acutely annoying.

But at least I had some and that meant that I could attend school, even while menstruating (except on bad cramp days, of course). Who would have thought that sanitary towels would be a luxury item? I am continually amazed at how lucky I am. Thanks, mum, for those initial sanitary towels and for the sex education, the support and the celebratory smile on your face the day I started my period.