It's a Secret. Period.
One day, when I was 6 years old, I was sitting in the car with my mom, my Taiji and my two cousins who are 5 years older than me. They were having a conversation I clearly wasn’t meant to be a part of. So naturally, I absolutely had to know what they were talking about. I mustered all my kid superpowers of asking many questions loudly and persistently, but my efforts were in vain - all I got was the word ‘napkins’, and the mumbled reassurance of “it’s fine you’ll know this when you’re older”, every child’s least favourite words.
Fast forward 4 years to the start of fifth grade. Everything was going according to plan: school was great, my friends were all getting along - my fifth-grade universe was peaceful. Then suddenly, BAM!
I came home one day and I noticed my underwear had some thick brown liquid in it.
For some reason, my ten-year-old self paid no heed to this. I stared at it for a few seconds and blinked in confusion before shrugging it off and tossing my undies into a bucket of water. I didn’t have time for this! I had important kid things to deal with. The TV wasn’t going to watch itself!
That evening, when my mom returned from work, she stepped into the bathroom to take a shower. Moments later, she walked out wanting to speak to me. This was never a good sign. I mentally panicked as I scrambled to retrace my steps, figuring what could possibly warrant a talking-to.
Turns out it was nothing I had done…technically.
She had found my stained underwear in the bucket and was prepared to have an in-depth talk about this process that my body had begun. The liquid was blood. Though one’s first reaction to finding blood on your underwear is “Oh no, I’m going to die!”, it turns out I wasn’t. Nothing was wrong with me, it was only my first period. This was just something that happened to all people with vaginas, and hence, it would happen to me… Every month. Yay.
I was slightly uncomfortable with the idea of my periods initially. My discomfort was aggravated by the weird attitudes our culture perpetuates about menstruation. The first conversation about periods we had in school was a year or two after I had already started having mine. All the girls were asked to stay back after assembly, while the boys were sent outside to play. The teacher awkwardly stumbled through the topic. She didn’t feel the need to talk to us about what periods are (I guess giving us this bit of education was our mothers’ job). Instead, they focussed on how we should dispose of our pads - which, while being important information, also kind of encouraged the idea that periods were something we had to deal with with discretion. Then there was the curious case of our fathers, who knew about what we were going through, but acted as if they didn’t. When adults act strangely about something, it translates.
So growing up periods became synonymous with whispers (literally), black plastic bags, and sweaters tied around our waists; with surreptitiously handing sanitary napkins around (god forbid someone sees an ST!), and walking behind each other to discreetly check if there was a stain visible on our white school shorts.
It took me and most people around me some years and a lot of internet research to actually understand what periods were, and to separate the myths we had internalised from the facts. I now talk about cramps, openly ask for pads, and, most importantly, consult an OB/GYN when I need to.
Though there are more articles and videos and general information available now than ever before (thank you, internet!), on hindsight, it’s absurd that something so ubiquitous, which half the world’s population experiences, seems to have such little research and conversation around it, and is treated as something that we have to feel embarrassed about.
Shreya Mohan loves to draw, eat chocolate, and spend time with her dog, Elvis.