The Shame and Beauty of Menstruation

by Queen Bee on 12/02/2012

menstrual cramps
As this month’s first wave of menstrual cramps sneak upon me, my mind begins to wander about the first time that I started my period. I was ten years old and at my aunt’s house with my two female cousins. Although my mother had never talked about menstruation with me, my instincts told me that I had started my period when I began to feel that sharp, painful throb at the bottom of my stomach. I knew that I had started my period. And I was ashamed. I was so embarrassed to tell anyone that I stuffed lots of toilet paper in my panties and hoped that I wouldn’t stain my pants.

When my mother came home that evening, my aunt told my mother that I had started my period. Somewhere throughout the day, my aunt had figured out my dilemma as she watched me writhe in pain from the cramps. My mother quickly pulled me into the bathroom and showed me how to put a pad on my underwear. All the while she talked about what her old pads as a child looked like and how they used to be hooked to a belt. And then she explained, “A period means that you are a woman and can have sex and can get pregnant. And if you get pregnant, I’ll beat your ass”. My face burned red with shame.

I was always ashamed of my period. When I was 12 I wouldn’t tell my dad what was wrong when I started my period. My parents had separated and I would visit my dad every other weekend. Sometimes when I started my period while I was visiting my father, I called my mom for pads instead of asking my father. If she couldn’t bring them then I was back to sticking toilet paper in my panties for the whole weekend. One summer when I visited my grandmother in another state, I used toilet paper all week because I was scared to tell my grandmother that I needed to buy pads. And the next year that I visited her, I stole five dollars from her so I could go buy some pads without her knowing.

As a teenager I was always ashamed to buy pads. I always freeloaded off of my mother, even taking some from her when I was a young adult and had recently moved out of the house. When I finally started buying my own pads (and later tampons), I tried to only buy them through a female cashier at the store. Twice I even left one store and went to another just so I could find a female cashier. When I was forced to go to a male cashier, my face burned in shame as I watched him scan my maxi pads. Red. Hot. Shame. I feared that he would think that I was disgusting and dirty.

Dirty. Disgusting. Evil. Isn’t that the underlying message that is taught to women about their period? We’ve probably all heard that Eve was cursed with menstruation and painful childbirth for eating that darn apple. Inevitably one bible thumper or another has reminded us that the bible says that women shouldn’t be touched while they are menstruating. Men seem grossed out by our period’s monthly arrival. Many people think it’s disgusting to have sex while menstruating. And the cramps? Often times the cramps are so fucking insufferable.

Years ago my mother told me a story about when she was eleven years old and had started her period. She came home in her gym clothes and was scared, informing her mother that she was bleeding between her legs. “You fucking whore!” my grandmother screamed. “You’re a fucking dirty, filthy whore!” she screamed over and over as she beat my mother with a wet dirty mop. My mother ran off in shame to a friend’s house and learned about her period from an older sister. And then years later she repeated the cycle by making me feel ashamed about starting my period.

Each year that I creep closer to the age of 37 without having children, my period takes on such a different significance. Lately I am no longer ashamed of it anymore. Instead of it being a constant annoyance, it now symbolizes life and love. Each month I anxiously wait for my period, hoping that every month that it arrives on time means that I am regularly ovulating. For three months I have been tracking the comings and goings of good ole Aunt Flo, and will use her patterns or rhythms in the upcoming months to try to bring another life into this world.

Our periods are not a curse. We were brought into this world because of a period and may one day have great grandchildren because of them. They are a gift that will be passed down through generations of women. I will never feel ashamed about menstruation again and I will never make my future children feel ashamed. I am a menstruating woman. Hear me roar! In pain. Every 28 days or so.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Leah April 5, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Thank you for this. I feel less alone in my experience. My mother never uttered a word to me about my period, and I knew that if I told her she would feel uncomfortable, and being the child who always parented the parent, after months of rehearsing in my head how the conversation would go every time I got it, I finally gave up. I knew she would get quiet and not make eye contact. I even did the toilet paper thing at times when I couldn’t buy supplies, which was so shameful. I’m 34 years old and over the last year I have come to realize how dysfunctional/abusive my growing up was — this was just one more example of me having to be the strong one by myself in a family full of messed up people that I had to put their needs first over their own child’s. Thank you.

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Queen Bee May 10, 2013 at 2:54 am

Wow! I super relate to you! Thank you for sharing your story. I just don’t understand what makes them be so ashamed about it. I totally understand you talking about having to be the strong one by yourself-story of my life. I am just trying to comes to term with it as I’m 37 years old.

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