– BY RIMLI BHATTACHARYA –
‘I have periods now, like normal girls; I too am among the knowing, I too can sit out volleyball games and go to the nurse’s for aspirin and waddle along the halls with a pad like a flattened rabbit tail wadded between my legs, sopping with liver-colored blood.’ – Margaret Atwood
I was a little girl of twelve years old and was gleefully playing when I saw the blood running between my thighs. Not blood red, but with a maroon tinge. I left my friends and hid behind a tree. I lifted my skirt. Oh hell, what’s this? My underwear is soaked and I’ve soiled my skirt too. Tears streaming down my face, I ran for my mother and yelled: ‘Mum, I’m dying. Something has gotten in me, and look, I’m bleeding!’ My mother smiled at me and declared: ‘Now you’re no longer a little girl; you are a full-blown woman now.’
Wasn’t I a woman before? I was born a woman, so why this announcement now? My childlike mind couldn’t figure out the meaning of this statement – a full-blown woman! What I understood was: I will bleed for seven days a month and this is called menstruation. I’ll need to wear sanitary napkins and I’ll need to be extremely careful those seven days. My mother gave me the option of using tampons, but it was like trying to push a carrot in my nose. I disliked them and opted for napkins and pads instead. I’m a dancer, but my mother told me not to dance those seven days as it might hurt the uterus. The child in me wanted to know more about ‘uterus’ and ‘menstruation’. My mother said I’d understand these terms gradually. She was correct: I understood it all the very next year from my biology lessons.
‘In my case, madam Agony Aunt always made her comeback seven days in advance’
I called my menstruation Agony Aunt. I couldn’t play those seven days, nor could I dance. Also I had heavy bleeding for the first three days and, given the fact I studied in a Co-Ed, I had to be extremely careful the boys didn’t see any blood leaking out. While my anguish was on how to manage my school uniform on my period, my best friend screamed in pain when she got her Agony Aunt. There were times she vomited and was unable to bear the pain, not even with pain killers. She also had scanty flow and I remember me cajoling her by saying: ‘I’ll pray tonight and see if I can transfer some blood of mine to you, so that you get less menstrual cramps and more flow, and I get less flow so I can play and dance.’
But no, God didn’t listen to my prayers, but instead added one more misery. What it was? My mother told me to make a note of the day I’d get my periods as the cycle might hit four to five days before said date, or it might be delayed by four to five. But in my case, madam Agony Aunt always made her comeback seven days in advance. So for me it was only a brief period of fourteen days that I got a relief from my menstruation. Here, my best friend would pray she’d get her period on time, while I prayed that my period would never come. But Agony Aunt was generous with me.
‘I no longer asked my mother, but started reading about menstruation on my own’
Something else happened in those fourteen days as well. There was an eerie feeling which the child in me couldn’t fathom. I wanted to cry, I was angry, I wanted to scratch someone, and I also felt hopeless. There was a nagging pain in my nipples, they ached. Given to the fact that I was voluptuous, I wore a sports bra during my school days. Each time I wore the bra I felt relieved, while the moment I removed it I felt the load of my breasts again. Much later I came to know this is a premenstrual symptom called tenderness of breasts.
With this came the next factor: my face broke into acne just before Agony Aunt prepared her sessions. I hated my face back then. The acne pain, the nipple pain and also a pain in the lower abdomen accompanied with that bizarre feeling of scratching, crying and hopelessness. I got to know from my biology lessons that menstruation is necessary for a women to bear a child and that all women go through PMS. I no longer posed any question to my mother, but instead started reading about menstruation on my own.
‘I was a child with a body of a woman. But there was no remedy for it’
There was one episode when the bleeding didn’t stop. It continued for fifteen days when my parents took me to the medico. I asked the doctor a question: ‘Why do I have to stop dancing during my periods? It’s natural for every woman to get her periods and I refuse to be an abnormal lady and I want to dance.’ My mother was shocked and gave me hard glances, while the doctor smiled and explained there was nothing wrong with dancing during menstruation. It’s just that I bled heavily, so I was advised to follow the lighter steps. The doctor also pointed out that the flow will gradually reduce as I age. The first periods are most cumbersome, but she asked me to make friendship with my Agony Aunt and rename her Aunt Flo.
Yes, I did strike up a friendship with Aunt Flo and never felt that bad anymore when I bled. The premenstrual stage where my ovaries were ripe with eggs was still a difficult phase for me. I was a child with the body of a woman. But there was no remedy for it. In fact, the doctor told me I was lucky to get my periods on time without pain and that I should be happy for this. The child in me got angry and countered: ‘What about the phase when Aunt Flo prepares?!’ She laughed and replied: ‘Aunt Flo is scared of you, so she gives you an indication to be careful. When your vulnerability is at its peak, any wrong move can lead to pregnancy.’ So subtly she explained to me the process of reproduction and the major role menstruation played in it. She also mentioned there are cases where females suffer from scanty bleeding, abdominal cramps or heavy bleeding for months. All these are cases of concern and I’m blessed to have a normal flow. My best friend wasn’t, and I heard many years later that she struggled to become a mother.
‘I’m a mother now and I have educated my ten year old on menstruation’
As I aged, Aunt Flo indeed became friendlier. She did trouble me with acne spouts, nipple pain and many more, but also became a confidante. I continued my dancing while bleeding and, being an athlete, I also run when I have my periods. All without the fear of hurting my uterus. Those are myths: a period is the shredding of the uterus lining and certainly a woman doesn’t need to be a hermit during her menses.
I’m a mother now and I’ve educated my ten year old on menstruation. So to each parent of a girl: educate your child on menstruation. And last but not least; parents of a boy: do teach your child about menstruation as well, as it isn’t taboo anymore. To all women: be happy when you bleed and, like me, dance happily along with your Aunt Flo.
About the author
Rimli Bhattacharya (Mumbai, India) is a first class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from the National Institute of Technology and has an MBA in supply chain management. Her essay on mental illness in the anthology Book of Light (a nonfiction genre) was published with Speaking Tiger Publications. She writes for several magazines, Times of India, engineering journals and blogs, and is also a trained Indian Classical Dancer. Rimli has been awarded a Star Blogger by team Bonobology for her essay ‘Running a solo Marathon’. You can contact her via Twitter.
More personal stories?
Dear Period, by Yayeri van Baarsen
A very public menstrual leak, by Sarah Sahagian
The crimson wrath, by Noni Roberts
An ode to Padman, by Sonia Chatterjee
Period changes and chemotherapy, by Cruz Santana
Want to submit an article as well? Read the guidelines.