As we grow older, we cannot help but reflect on the changes – emotional and physical – that we experience along the way. One of the most monumental is certainly the first time we get our menstruation.
Most girls, as they approach their teen years, secretly pray for that day to arrive. When it does, we spend the next 30+ years praying for the day it will end. As we near the physical transformation that moves us out of our childbearing era and into our golden days, we spend 10 or so years trying to slow the clock.
I grew up in a house with six other women. On a monthly basis, I witnessed the angst they experieced during “their time”. Personally, I was in no hurry.
It was a cool, rainy night in early July 1972 – the eve of our annual bus trip to Ohio to visit my grandmother. I needed a new pair of pants for the trip so off to Sears I went with two of my aunts – my mother’s younger sisters, 18 and 19 at the time.
I was having a hard time finding something that fit my skinny frame. I wanted to dress like my friends, most of whom were two or three years older. Unfortunately, hip-hugger, bell-bottoms weren’t available in girls sizes and I wasn’t big enough yet (OMG – I wasn’t big enough yet! How I long to be a size 0 again!).
“Aunt V, I’ve got to go to the bathroom.” I had a weak bladder and polished off a bottom of Coke on the ride down Ritchie Highway.
“Come on.” Aunt V was frustrated. I had to pee everywhere we went.
We all walked into the ladies room together. A long narrow room with endless stainless steel stalls lining the wall on the right and porcelain sinks evenly space on the opposite wall. The room was large with a tall ceiling. My Aunt’s voices echoed off the walls.
I pulled down my pants and squatted over the black seat trying not to touch it with any part of my body. With my forearms braced on my upper thighs, I glanced down at my panties and sat right down on that dirty seat.
“Aunt V.” I called through the door. “Come here.”
I slid the lock open and she swung the heavy door inward.
“I think I got my period.” I showed her my saturated panties.
Thank goodness I grew up in a house with six women because the series of events that followed my have left a less exposed nine year old girl traumatized for life.
“Pull up your pants. Hurry up. We gotta go.” Aunt V slammed the stall door closed, still stammering rapid-fire instructions, she has always been excitable.
I cleaned myself as well as I could, pulled my blood stained pants back up and followed my aunts through store straight out the door. We speed walked right past the pants I had hung on the end of a rack intending to try them on. We practically ran across the busy parking lot and Aunt V broke speed records driving from Glen Burnie to Morrell Park.
“Joan,” Aunt V called to my mother even before she stepped through the front door.
My mother whisked me directly up stairs and into the bathroom.
“Take off your pants, sit on the side of the tub and wash yourself off. I’ll be right back.”
She closed the door behind her and left me standing on the white vinyl floor, beside the white tub, in front of the white toilet bleeding into my white cotton underwear.
I felt ashamed.
I sat on the side of the antique claw-footed tub and washed my private area, my thighs, my butt cheeks and the edge of the basin. Pink Ivory soapsuds floated down the drain on the back on pink water.
I wanted to cry but I didn’t. I wasn’t afraid. I remember one of my friends thought she was going to die because there was so much blood. I knew I was not going to die but I felt as if I had done something wrong.
My mother opened the door and handed me clean panties, a pair of jean shorts and two small cardboard boxes. In one was a Kotex pad, in the other a white feminine belt.
“Put these on.” She said before disappearing again.
I figured out how to wear my first Kotex by looking at the pictures on the box. The inch thick pad was about three inches wide. I walked like a cowboy who had been riding too long and when I sat down, I was an inch taller.
Dressed, I went back downstairs.
“Are you OK?” Mom asked. The last words we would exchange on the subject – ever.
At nine years old, I became a woman-child with less fanfare than losing a baby tooth.
I do not begrudge my mother her matter-of-fact way of dealing with things. I wonder if she was freightened. I doubt she thought her nine-year-old daughter was going to get her period – she probably thought she had a couple years before she had to deal with that issue.
I am approaching the next change in my feminine life. The familiar blush on my tissue is fading. My “friend” visits less frequently.
A lot of women would be in mourning – saddened by what this means, afraid they will be less of a woman. I am not.
I am not in a hurry for time to pass any faster than it already does but I am OK with who I am. I know that PMS, cramps, breakouts, bloating, and migraines do NOT make me a woman and not experiencing those symptoms will not make me less of one.
My mother no longer walks on this earth with us. If she did, I would talk with her about the next change in my life. I would ask for her advice this time. I’m sure she would have been better prepared.