‘Don’t Be Dirty, Ok’
The first time I saw a pad was when I was in Class 4.
I heard something rustling when my older sister was rummaging around in her cupboard. Of course, I assumed she had some chocolates hidden and nosy me went to investigate. I found a packet that said “StayFree” but there were just some white things inside. Clearly no chocolates, so I immediately lost interest and forgot about it.
The second time pads entered my life was in Class 5 when we had to bring bills from home for our Math class. One of my friends had a bill which mentioned “Whisper Sanitary Pads”. She hid it and giggled and we were all curious about what it was.
She said it was something we would need when we became teenagers. None of us had any idea what on earth it was, but it sounded exciting and grown-up, so we and passed it around and giggled like idiots about it. The more ‘innocent’ ones pushed it away, saying “Chi Chi I don’t want to see” and “Don’t be dirty, ok”.
See, back then we didn’t have ANY idea about periods. Like zilch. We couldn’t care less about some blue water poured on some white cloth and a girl dancing and smiling in white clothes. That is, until a friend of mine got hers a few months later, while we were still in Class 5.
The First One
Suddenly it was ALL we could talk about. We would gather around her and bombard her with questions. What happened? How does it feel? What is it like? and then the unasked question, ‘When will I get it?”.
I didn’t ask my mother or sister about it because I was embarrassed. I had never heard it discussed before, so I just assumed it was something no one ever talks about. A friend of mine told me how she had told her mother about periods, and her mother sternly looked at her and said, ‘This is not the time for you to know such things’.
So we continued discussing it in hushed tones, looking enviously at the ones who ‘got it’ and wondering when it would be our turn. I remember eagerly checking my underwear in the bathroom every morning, hoping I get it too.
And then, one day I did.
‘Something Red in My Chaddi’
I was in Class 6, and seeing that little red spot in my underwear in the morning made me elated beyond belief. I ran to my mother and whispered, ‘Amma, there is something red in my chaddi’. (Don’t laugh ok, I was a kid.)
My mother said, ‘Ok, you’re not going to school today’. She took me to her room where she took a pad from the cupboard, showed me how to use it and most importantly, how to wrap it up in newspaper to dispose it.
Then she sat me down and drew a diagram of the female reproductive system, explaining why periods happen (your ovaries release one egg which waits for a sperm, and when that doesn’t happen, your uterus is like oh, well), why it hurts (contractions in order to shed the uterine lining) – legit giving me a proper biology lesson.
And I’m really grateful for that, because I came to see periods as a normal, bodily function. It also made me open to talking about it, because hey, it was normal – every woman goes through it every month. Oh yeah, every single month. (ughhh)
The Never-Ending Questions
So I very proudly went to school and told all my friends I finally ‘got it’ and was then subjected to more questions. Carrying a pad was like a status symbol – it was cool and you suddenly were treated as this guru on all things periods.
In Class 7, we had a session by a psychologist on our ‘growing body’ (my mother conducted it) and we could ask all our questions there. By now, most of my classmates had already gotten their periods and I wondered why we were being told the same things again and again. Like duh, we know this is why it happens.
But it turns out that not every mother was as forthcoming as mine was. And I realised that during the Q&A session.
‘How does a period happen?’
‘Why does a period happen?’
‘Why does it happen every month?’
‘What will happen if i don’t get it?’
‘What will happen if never get my period?’
And then to the bigger one.
‘How does someone get pregnant?’
The questions were relentless. And it was great, because it was being discussed openly and periods became this thing that just happens to you, like your milk teeth falling off or like hair in your armpits – and not some dark secret you needed to whisper about.
Let’s Talk Sex
While my school & others in Mangalore were adamant about having these talks, others were not so interested in it – in fact, they were wary of it. It’s a stance adopted by many of our politicians who are convinced that talking about sexual development in teenagers will suddenly lead to pre-marital sex.
Because of a narrow-minded view adopted by those in power, we have thousands of youngsters who are getting their information from unreliable sources.
School shrug off responsibility thinking that parents will talk to kids about it, while parents assume schools will – in this whole ‘tu tu mein mein’ who’s talking to our kids?
Parents too may not know where to start, or how to broach the topic itself. Many wait until the child has actually got her periods – but what if the child never tells the parent? Why allow fear & shame cloud what is the most natural (and annoyingly regular) processes of the human body?
Today I salute my friend R’s mother. When she got her period, she admits ‘I thought it was blood cancer & freaked out’. Her mother not only calmed her down, but also explained it to her – ALONG with her younger brother.
I think that’s really cool & hope parents in the future will educate their sons as well, so that periods are normalised & are no longer taboo both among men AND women.