Kotex have introduced menstrual pads for girls. As far as I can tell, it’s only in the US (or North America). Checking the Autralian website, there is nothing specifically targeting tweens and young menstruaters (made that word up) although there are pads with indie and girly designs for those who “dare to be different.”
I remember getting my first period and after overcoming the horror of actually learning that I had begun menstruating, I then had to get used to the discomfort of wearing these huge thick pads that felt like nappies. Before the pads, I had to summon the courage to tell my mother. I was scared. I certainly wasn’t scared of my mother – I just knew that my life would never be the same again and I hated the sight of blood and here it was going to greet me every month for the rest of my life (I didn’t know about menopause back then.)
I followed my mother around for the whole day, not sure how to tell her this was happening to me. In the end, I couldn’t do it. It was only very early the next morning when everyone else was asleep did I go to her room, burst into tears and gave her the news. My mother was excited for me. She smiled and hugged me and told me that I was now a woman.
My mother did mention to me almost just in passing that now I was considered an adult and certain acts of worship (fasting, praying 5 timed daily etc) were now compulsory for me, but what I remember more vividly was her excitement for me. Why ever would she be excited about this strange, horrible blood letting thing that was happening to me, this thing that I had absolutely no control over and why was she so happy for me?
She showed me the pads, told me how to use them and left me to it. They were big, uncomfortable and seemed to stick out no matter how I placed them. Put them too far forward and they’d stick out the front and the same for the back. How I would have loved to have these ultrathin pads that we have nowadays. A tween pad would have been a luxury. I was not allowed to use tampons. I don’t know if it was so much because of the chances of hymen breakage (like some Muslims believe it’s the end of the world if a hymen breaks, you know every time a hymen breaks, a puppy dies sort of thing) more just that we considered it not permitted. Blood was meant to “flow” not be trapped like it is in a tampon. I’ve since read from contemporary scholars that it’s permitted. I missed out on swimming occasionally which for a teenager really sux like really bad, man.
In my mother’s day, she said they used huge rolls of cotton wool and would carefully pull out the cotton wool that had been soaked with blood, and then wrapped it in toilet paper and put in the bin. I’d imagine one would spend whole days in the toilet collecting blood soaked cotton wool. Her own menarche was hidden from my Naani, her mother. Having 3 older sisters, my mother knew her fate the moment she started menstruating – she would be taken out of school and prepared for marriage.
So she approached her elder sister, who I guess explained to her how to use the fat roll of cotton wool and left her to it.
After a while (months? I cannot be sure) another one of my mum’s sisters found out and went off to tell my Naani. My mother cried and begged and pleaded to be allowed to continue her schooling but my Naani was adamant. School was no place for a woman and she must now learn the art of cooking, sewing, knitting and crocheting in preparation to be a good wife and daughter-in-law.
My mother went on to marry at 19 years of age. Although technically arranged, it was not a forced marriage.
Her own mother was 16 years old when she got married.
To a man in his 50′s.
She live in India and he in South Africa. My Naani’s mother (my great grandmother) forced my Naani to marry this man. The whole village objected. My Naani’s brother cried when he related this story more than sixty years on. Members in the village signed a petition to keep her in the village. But her mother was adamant that my Naani be married off to this OLD man, a complete stranger and be shipped to another country on the other side of the world.
I sometimes think back and wonder why was I so afraid? Yes periods are annoying, inconvenient and sometimes painful and unpredictable but they were never used as a reason or excuse to stop me from getting an education. Instead, my mother encouraged us all to go to university. She bought me icecream and Mint Slices while I was on Swot Vac. I was never forced to marry a stranger and shipped to another country. My parents allowed me to leave home and live in a another city for my career. Alone. For those who know conservative Indian Muslim families, this is such a HUGE thing to permit a DAUGHTER to leave home before marriage. I was permitted to marry the man of my choice.
As I type this, my 4 month old daughter is sleeping next to me. I wonder what stories she will have to tell of her first period. What I do know is that her period, her womanhood will also never be used as a reason to force her or forbid her from anything.