Menstruation: A Love Story

I got my first period when I was just three days old.

Of course, I didn’t know this until well after I had gotten my second, first period on February 27, 2004 (yes, I remember the date -- more on that later). Upon finding blood in my diaper, my nervous mother phoned the hospital. She was quickly talked down from her panic as they explained that her hormones were still running through my body, causing baby me to briefly sync to her menstrual cycle.

There’s something beautiful about that. There’s something beautiful in the fact that a barely formed me was undeniably connected to the most important woman in my world, and I was out of the womb. From birth, women are connected to each other, to the sea, to the moon. It’s a cool “no boys allowed” club that all us ladies get to be a part of.

That’s exactly how I felt on February 27, 2004. At the age of thirteen, I’d finally received my bid card in the form of ruined undies. I beamed when I could finally ask my mother for a pad, and I beamed more when I got to pick out my brand in the grocery store. And, I wasn’t the only one.

In sixth and seventh grade, my friends and I were racing to “womanhood.” When one would get her period, she’d sit confidently at the lunch table and affect surprise when a tampon would role out of her faux Louis Vuitton. Oh, how embarrassing. Yeah, it’s true I got it last night.

The thing is, it wasn’t embarrassing for us. It was envious. When my best friend got her period (just a few months earlier than me), she sent out a mass e-mail at 1 a.m. with IT HAPPENED as the subject line. She was proud, and I was proud of her. I didn’t know anything but pride for an event like this. Maybe it was because we were all enthralled by the scene in Sugar and Spice where the cool girls pass a box of tampons between stalls.

And so, until February 27, 2004 I was obsessed with getting my very own period. At the age of nine, I couldn’t wait any longer so I put red food coloring in the toilet and screamed to my grandmother that it had happened. She said she got hers young too, and gave me a maxi pad much too big for my fifty pound body. I penguin-walked around the house until my mom got home, looked at me, and told me to stop lying to my grandmother. Alas, it wasn’t true and I’d have to wait four more years.

It wasn’t all roses when it did finally happen, though. When I started a new school in 8th grade, the culture was a little more conservative. At my old school girls toted purses around; it’s just what they did. Here, they just didn’t. On my first week, I proudly slung a fake Coach bag onto my desk just before the girl next to me shouted, “Why do you carry a purse all the time? Do you always have your period or something?” Everyone laughed. Boys pretended they didn’t hear the forbidden word. And I, for the first time, felt ashamed of not only my fashion choices, but my body. This was the first time, for me, that this particular bodily function felt laughable, or taboo. It was devastating.

And it got worse.

I was always small for my age. I didn’t break 100 pounds until my freshman year of college. So, as a ninth grader with virtually no body fat, menstrual cramps debilitated me. Once a month, my immune system would crash, my body would convulse to the point where I would vomit, and I’d feel too dizzy to stand. I missed days of school because of my period, and I bled, really bled for a full calendar week. If I dared to go to school with my period, I’d double up using a tampon and a pad together, but leaking was inevitable. It didn’t matter if I went to the bathroom every period (ha, pun), I still looked like, in my mother’s words, “I’d been shot in the bum.” If I’d known free-bleeding was a thing back then, I could have spun this and been considered super radical.

But, I didn’t. So, bring on the shame. I leaked all over a chair in German class. A saint of a friend swore to the rest of the class that there had been red paint left over from art class on the seat before I even sat down. Skeptics remained, but I ultimately got out alive. On a date with my high school boyfriend, I leaked all over a booth at Subway (probably a subconscious rebellion at the fact that he thought Subway was a viable date spot), ruining my favorite corduroys. I couldn’t get out of that one, so I just broke into tears and fessed up. After about an hour of utter disgust and fear in his eyes, he let up and agreed to hold my hand again.

These moments sucked. The pain was unbearable, and the humiliation was worse. But I still learned to love my period.

I learned that I could create friendships through moments like the aforementioned German class. I learned that there is an undeniable satisfaction in asking someone if I could bum a tampon, and then catching that genuine look of empathy in their eyes. To this day, I love bonding over menstruation, sharing war stories. Do you also crave chocolate? Isn’t that cliche? Yeah, Madagascar 3 made me cry, too. No, I didn’t mean to throw that box of tissues at you.

Now, menstruation is becoming a more acceptable line of conversation. We’re creating open dialogues about it. I can openly discuss my period with my current boyfriend, and we even joke that he gets a sympathetic period right there with me. We both just break down and cry around the time of the waxing moon. I have suggested the P Tracker App to some of my students, and the existence of #livetweetyourperiod shows that women aren’t afraid of telling everyone what’s really up.

Yes, sometimes my period is intense. It has caused me pain. It’s made me emotional to the point of yelling every thought in my head. It’s a part of me though, and it’s a part of my mother, and my sister. It’s a signifier of our health and fertility. It inspires me to be passionate and unabashed. Most importantly, for me, it’s a sign of unity -- an understanding that all women share.

So yes, I love my period and I don’t care who knows it.

#menstruation #love #KaileyTedesco