If you’re grossed out by periods, you might want to skip this post. Or, since menstruation is a perfectly normal biological function, maybe you should read this post and contemplate why it is you’re grossed out by periods.
My schoolmates and I hurried up the gangway of the Lady Baltimore with the loud, obnoxious swagger that is universal to groups of hormonally-charged 13-year-olds. We were almost done with our last year of middle school, many of us were fresh from our bar and bat mitzvahs, and summer was beckoning us. As Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff said in that year’s summer anthem (already on heavy rotation on our local radio station): “Every moment frontin and maxin/ Chillin in the car they spent all day waxin/ Leanin to the side but you can’t speed through/Two miles an hour so everybody sees you/There’s an air of love and of happiness/And this is the Fresh Prince’s new definition of summer madness”
Profound, I know. It was 1991.
As I stepped onto the deck of the ship, a faint ache in my abdomen tugged at me. I had noticed the pain earlier in the day as I skipped up the stairs of the State House, along with a slightly wet feeling in my underwear. I figured I was just feeling a little sea-sick after the long boat-ride, and the warm spring sun was making me not-so-fresh. I shrugged off the discomfort and sought out my small group of friends.
About twenty minutes later, I was leaning on the rails of the observation deck, looking out at the Chesapeake Bay, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see my friend Rose with a look of mild distaste and concern on her face. She leaned in and whispered:
“You need to go to the bathroom. You’re…leaking.”
I looked at her quizzically. Leaking? What did she mean? I couldn’t have wet myself…I was in 8th grade, for God’s sake!
“Your period. You got your period. It’s…all over your butt.”
I craned my neck to see what she was talking about. There it was: a large red stain decorated the seat of the new white jeans shorts my grandmother had given me.
My period. I had my period. Like, for real.
I glanced past Rose to discover Jessica Freidman and her group of Jewish American Royalty smirking at me and cackling. Oh, God. This was bad. This was tragic.
Rose followed closely behind to help shield everyone from a view of my bleeding backside as I rushed to the tiny galley bathroom. I closed the door quickly behind me, pulled down my stained white shorts, stripped off my soaked-through underpants and threw them into the garbage after attempting to rinse them off in the bathroom sink to no avail.
I sank down onto the toilet and felt the flow of blood dripping into the water. I was dazed.
My first period wasn’t supposed to happen this way. It was supposed to be like Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret: I was supposed to wake up in the morning, discover blood on the toilet paper, shyly declare my discovery to my mother, who was to take me by the shoulders, look me in the eye and announce “You’re a woman now.” I was supposed to glow with a quiet sense of momentous pride.
I wasn’t feeling proud. I was feeling disgust and shame and betrayal. My body had betrayed me.
There was a knock on the door: Rose had gotten one of the chaperone moms. She poked her head into the bathroom to see me sitting helplessly on the toilet without any pants on. My eyes filled with tears at the sight of her.
“Oh, honey. It’ll be okay. I’ve got a tampon for you.”
A tampon? Oh, God.
I flashed back to 5th grade, when my best friend Dayle and I got a hold of her older sister’s box of Super Plus Tampax and dared each other to try one out, just to see what it was like. The huge, dry cotton cylinder had gotten stuck in my non-menstruating pre-pubescent vaginal canal, and I spent the rest of the night locked in Dayle’s bathroom, panicked and tugging at the unyielding blue string. Eventually, the tampon came out, but I had vowed to never use such an evil contraption once I started my period.
The mom must have seen the fear in my eyes, because she said “Don’t worry, sweety. You’ll still be a virgin.”
Oh, no. I hadn’t even thought about the de-virginizing factor. But they had already told us in health class that tampons don’t pop your cherry, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
I realized that the tampon was my only option at this point. My soiled panties were at the bottom of a trashcan, and my flow was strong enough to soak through a wad of toilet paper in minutes.
So I took the Playtex from the hand she had stuck into the bathroom and as I unwrapped it, she insisted on bellowing instructions through the cracked door despite my assurances that I knew what I was doing. As I began to insert the tampon, she said “Now when it’s time for you to take it out, just pull on the string and…go with the flow.”
After the tampon had been inserted, I put my stained shorts back on. I washed my hands and opened the bathroom door.
My entire 8th grade class was waiting for me. Every single one of them. A member of the Jewish American Royalty clique began the slow clap. The gradual applause full of contempt and mockery caught on until almost every member of Pikesville Middle School’s graduating class was clapping and hooting and laughing.
“GO WITH THE FLOW!” some of them chanted. “GO WITH THE FLOW!”
Someone gave me a sweatshirt to tie around my waist. Someone escorted me to a table in the deserted galley, far from the rest of the kids. Someone, I think it was my friend Jeannie, sat with me and acted like a security guard every time a kid passed my table to sneer and toss an insult my way.
“Leave her alone,” Jeannie would say. But my humiliation was much too succulent for hormonally-charged 13-year-olds to pass up. They circled me like sharks, darting in every once in a while to take a bite out of my self-esteem. Thank God I only had a month of school left with those monsters.
But every month, for years after that incident, I would feel a mixture of disgust and shame at the sight of my blood on the toilet paper. And then I would feel betrayed by my body.
My Body Wasn’t the Problem
Now, after my body has contributed two boys to this world, I feel betrayed by the culture of shame and taboos that surround menstruation.
I feel bemused that despite having been witness to the birth of both of my children, despite having seen my body at its most vulnerable and its most intimate, my husband still feels embarrassed or somehow emasculated about picking up feminine products from the grocery store.
I feel sickened that someone who considers himself qualified to lead the free world felt it acceptable to imply that a female journalist who asked tough debate questions had “blood coming out of her…wherever”. Because only a hormonally deranged bitch would dare challenge The Donald.