“When she bleeds, the smells I know change color.
There is iron in her soul on those days.
She smells like a gun.”
Menstruation. Periods. Aunt Flo. Blood sister. One process. Many names.
Every woman quickly dons an excited avatar when asked to talk about her tryst with menstruation. I am no different from the lot. And today, I am inspired to open my pandora’s box and share my story. It was on my mind since many, many months. But I guess, it had to written today. So be it.
I’ve studied Literature for five long years and will continue to, for being a student of literature doesn’t end when the course ends. It’s a never ending process. You keep reading and growing. What the course has bestowed on me is a sense of immense pride on being a woman, albeit I’m still, in little ways, moving away from the patriarchal definition of a perfect woman, in cultivating myself to have a strong, independent mind and opinion, not to be easily suppressed or thwarted. Yet when it came to Periods, I was struggling. Thanks to the social set up around me.
It was in sixth standard when I got to know about the process. And how! All of us girls were secretly huddled into a hall, where these women representatives from an ngo, in tandem with our teachers, had their pincers ready, to grab and feed the till then withheld fruit of knowledge to us. They made it appear as something very secretive and dirty, with strict instructions not to tell any male about all that trespassed in that hall. We were told about the mood swings, headaches, food cravings, irritability, about pre menstrual symptoms, so to say. And it was meted out to us in a very confusing manner. I sat there, thinking, “Oh, Lord! I have been grunting for days at home, pestering mumma to prepare my favorite dish and I had a headache yesterday as well.” I was convinced I had periods. It sounded like a disease. I was worried. And then the ill informed ladies used the blue ink and the sanitary napkin to “help” us understand the process, which further confused and scared me. The short movie revolving around a young girl getting her first period showcased to us didn’t positivize things any further.
And suddenly, I was this girl on a mission. On returning back to class, we girls were concocting excuses that we were supposed to give when the boys would shoot us questioning glances. You see, patriarchy had already done the black magic.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get back home and get hold of mumma. Just as my father got up from the dining table post lunch, I started with the tale in hushed voices. My mother listened patiently and to my horror, confirmed that all of it was indeed true and that no, I didn’t have periods. She, being a biology teacher, gave me a very detailed definition and clear idea of the process, which knocked some sense into my head. But at the same time, I felt betrayed because the gates to the secret kingdom had been veiled from my eyes till now, and I couldn’t wait to enter the golden gates into the new world.
One day, I was alone at home and opened my mumma’s cupboard to take something out, and Viola! There it lay. The sanitary napkin with a small booklet, which she must have got from some god damnit similar session in her school. And I read the booklet, only to understand that each woman’s menstrual cycle is different, which furthered me in my interest on the topic. Then when I held the sanitary napkin in my hands, it was the most queer moment. I felt so excluded and special, both at the same time, as if it was a prized possession I had caught my hands on, accidently. That summer, we went on a road trip to Pithoragarh and in the famous Kali Temple there, I wished that I get my periods soonest, because I wanted to experience the transformation, that of being a woman. Since both my besties had got their periods a few months back, I felt left out when they discussed the “P issues” in school. My mother was shocked beyond comprehension when she heard of my wish and commented bluntly that “they’ll come anyway. You’ve wasted your wish, girl!” And the wish stood fulfilled in one months time! Just as the school term started.
Nothing, and I mean nothing prepared me for periods. I suffered from terrible menstrual cramps the whole day at school, thinking of them as a stomach ache. The moment I reached back home, in tears, I told my mother about it and she shrugged simply, placating me that she’ll take me to the doctor, for I must have eaten something wrong. And when I looked at that red spot in the bathroom, all pain vanished and I rushed to inform my mother of the arrival of my blood sister, brandishing the undies like battle scars. She was horrified at my supposed unabashed display and nonchalance when it came to being a ‘proper woman’. I, on the other hand, was on cloud nine. I was gloating. I called my Granny to inform her of the new development and she laughingly congratulated me, sharing her list of do’s and don’ts, post that.
But in spite of all my happiness, I discovered to my horror, the painful menstrual cramps were there to stay. That made me dread my periods over the years. Then I went through the usual phase every woman does- of cursing periods, of hating men that entire time when the tummy felt like it was being pierced and burnt. I too, like other girls, wished we never had them or if at all we had to, even men should experience something as painful as that. My mother belonged to that lucky lot who didn’t experience the painful, painful menstrual cramps. She couldn’t share my pain. Also, those three-four days were a supreme test, an exercise to remain “normal” in spite of all the mess in front of my father, or any other male for that matter. His every word made me angry and he unknowingly got on my nerves, which still happens now.
I still view every male as worthy of being hunted and shot, if I am in pain. I value that ‘me time’ all the more during the first day, for luckily, unlike other women, who suffer in pain for all the days their periods are on and have to take pain killers to carry on with their work, I only suffer on the first day. With loss of appetite, runny stomach and weakness tugging at my sleeve. But, like other women, I was told to bear with it, for how would I bear pain during childbirth. Yes, that’s the silly logic society gives you. With some women throwing shady things like it’ll be cured after marriage, making me think if at all it had something to do with your sexual appetite/needs being satiated/taken care of suddenly. Hah!
When one day, after many years, I couldn’t take it, I called up my maternal aunt, who is a gynecologist, I asked her to do something about it. And she suggested I up my Vitamin B12 and calcium intake, for that might be a root cause of the pain. I did as she told, and trust me, it worked wonders, for the pain lessened to a great degree. So, ladies! Don’t suffer in silence, or pop pills unknowingly. Take care of your diet, exercise regularly and slow down while menstruating, for your body demands to be pampered. And don’t hesitate to take medical help in case you feel the need to offload your agony and pain and seek some sort of remedy.
Now now, coming to the menfolk. We’ve all heard stories of clueless males being enlightened about the process through courageous and sensible women in their families, at some point of time in their lives. Haha, right? It was still a biggie for me when I heard a guy in my post graduation, retorting to another girl when she was getting cranky at him, with shouts of “someone give her a Meftal Spas.” My eyes popped out in surprise and adulation. I had my own experience recently. My male bestie messaged me, blabbbering about how I needed to be pampered during ‘that time of the month’, for he got the information from the pictures I had liked on Instagram. I stared at that message for a minute. Shock, relief and gladness tiding over me, for he understood, and that I could prattle about my mood swings and pain to him, without feeling like a monster. All the more because I had described pmsing as “a girly problem” to him two days back, falling so deep in my own eyes for saying that. Me, an enlightened woman, of all things. Much like a stream of consciousness, it struck me how one thing is interlinked to the other when it comes to periods. If we educate our young girls to view periods as a normal biological process instead of a thing to be shy and silent about, then we cannot leave the men behind. That would change the status quo and ensure the society itself is period positive. We should enlighten girls about menstrual hygiene, to not give in to the superstitions that the society sets for us, only to break them and end the tyranny. To use red ink in advertisements to highlight the truth, to not change channels if an advertisement on pads arrives, to avoid period shaming by getting pads wrapped in black bags. For periods are to be celebrated. You’re fertile. You’re powerful. And unstoppable.
This blog post is written as an entry for the #PeriodPositive blogathon, organised by Women’s Web.
“This blogathon is supported by the Maya App, used by 6.5 million women worldwide to take charge of their periods and health.”