On: Getting My First Period (and “Becoming a Woman”)

Everyone woman remembers when and how and where she got her first period. For me, it was Easter Sunday, 2009. I was in the sixth grade and just a few days shy of my twelfth birthday. I remember sitting in a church pew next to my mother, and felt a weird shiver go through my body. Call it hormones, call it the blood of Christ, call it whatever you like — but I officially became a “woman” to most of society on one Easter Sunday in the sixth grade.

I didn’t actually bleed at church (thank you, resurrected Jesus). Instead, I lay in bed that night, kept awake from a stomach cramping that had lasted for at least half an hour. I rolled around in bed, sweating and thinking I just had some form of mutant indigestion, I kept trying to force myself to fart. Yes, you heard me correctly. My eleven-year-old self kept trying to fart away my period cramps. Sadly, though I had been taught about receiving my first period via outdated health videos that all the girls in my fifth grade class had watched the year before, the videos failed to mention any of the side effects, so I knew nothing about cramping.

I eventually hauled myself out of bed, climbing down from the top bunk of the bunkbed that I shared with my little sister. I crept into the bathroom across the hall and pulled down my pants, having decided that I would try to poop so that I could finally fall asleep. After I completed my feeble attempt of clenching and unclenching to no avail, I wiped myself (front to back, like any lady) and discovered, to my pre-teen horror, that the wad of toilet paper I had used was covered in blood. I quickly discarded the soiled piece of paper and grabbed for another one, wiping again, but the toilet paper was just as soaked in blood. I frantically pulled up my pants and ran over to the linen closet in the bathroom. I remembered seeing some pads in there a few weeks ago. Maybe I could find the pack of pads, put one in my underwear, and put off mentioning it to my mother for the rest of the evening. I shuffled through the bottles of Nair and Sun-In and past my mother’s endless amounts of hairspray, the neatly folded towels and washcloths, the extra non-blood-soaked toilet paper, and my tin of hairbands and scrunchies, but I failed to find any pads.

Having to admit defeat, I shut the closet door, took a deep breath, opened the bathroom door as quietly as possible, and began my descent down the hallway to my mother’s silhouette sitting on the end of the couch. As I approached, I realized both she and my stepfather were awake and on the couch. “Great,” I thought — because nothing could be more mortifying than having to tell your mom about your period in front of your stepdad. This also happened to be the time in my life where I decided that I unequivocally hated my stepfather. I didn’t meet his gaze and I barely spoke to him. So to admit some kind of vulnerability (note: why is it that young girls feel so vulnerable when getting their period?) in his presence made my eleven-year-old pride seethe. Either way, I needed fucking pads.

Tapping on my mom’s shoulder, I put my lips to her ear and said the only thing I could think of: “I just got my first period.” Without saying anything, my dear mother stood up from her seat on the couch and led me back to the bathroom where she shut the door behind us and magically revealed the pads from some mysterious location in the bathroom. We decided on a new location for the pads so I could find them in the future and she gave me the whole “don’t flush them down the toilet” talk that most mothers must not give their daughters considering the amount of toilets that go clogged in women’s restrooms.

By the end, I had a pad in one hand, my pride in another, and my childhood innocence behind me. My mother hugged me and mimicking — I kid you not — that same mother in that cringe-worthy video from the fifth grade, she whispered: “Congratulations!”

She had a smile on her face with a kind of nostalgic and proud look in her eyes. I grimaced, waiting for her to take her hands off my shoulders, and breathed a sigh of relief when she left the bathroom.