Cultural and societal perspectives around menstruation differ vastly. We each have very unique experiences when we first get our period also known as menarche. Different markers of puberty normally hint at the eventuality of a first period. On average the standard age range for menarche is between 11 and 15 years with some girls experiencing it much earlier or later than this. A lot has been done to reduce the stigma around menstruation and educate people about how to take care of themselves but there is still a lot more needed.
For one, I was privileged enough to get a bit of background education before mine began, but it also marked an expectation that I was significantly changing from being a child and taking the reigns into adulthood. This is not the case I later realized for young girls in Kenya. When I woke up one morning with blood-stained underwear, it felt as if a switch went off, and all of a sudden I needed to act more like a woman. It also felt as if more eyes were on me due to being more conscious of these changes as well as the comments people would make about my physical appearance. That morning, I told my mum and she didn’t make a fuss over it, she got me what I needed and along with the samples from the menstrual education session we had at school, I was cautiously optimistic about this new transition with lots of adjustments and a few embarrassing moments along the way to learning about myself and my body.
First period stories are surrounded by different reactions and cultural beliefs, from celebration and joy to shaming, embarrassment, and shock. It is considered to be the first official step to womanhood in many cases and remembered as a monumental moment in our lives. We looked at various platforms where women and girls have felt a sense of community to share their stories and focus on normalizing periods that are a natural part of life.
I was totally caught off guard and to make matters worse, my mum organized a special family prayer to thank God for making me start my period. I had to kneel down and my family formed a circle around me to pray for me. It felt embarrassing but I now see it as a moment of thankful praise and not something that was shunned.
I was seven and caught 100% off guard. I thought I was dying and with only my dad being the only parent at home, he had to call my mum to ask her where her pads were so he could bring them to me. He never explained what was happening and said my mum would explain the situation once she got home. He reassured me I wasn’t dying.
We were learning about periods the week mine started, about three days in. I didn’t feel I had enough information and understanding at 12 and really didn’t pay much attention for too long in class. My mum had never spoken to me about it either so when I felt random pains and went to use the loo, my urine came out red. I didn’t think much of it and then later at school, I felt a gush of warmth between my legs, ran to the bathroom and after looking at my underwear all red, I cried after not really knowing what to do or how to feel.
I was 13 but my mother had never told me about periods, we never talked about it, nor did any of my friends. I was grateful it started at home, I cried and screamed for my mum and she just gave me a pad and said it was normal and would have it every month now for 5 – 7 days. She also said that my dad and brothers shouldn’t know so I had to leave the bathroom super clean and signs of pads or bloody toilet paper. My sister came to my help and gave me more information after learning about it from a teacher from school.
I was nearly 14, my mum prepared me for when it would happen by shopping for supplies and keeping them in a small bag inside my school bag along with clean underwear. It started in school and I cleaned up, had to call my mum to pick me up, and was a bit embarrassed of telling my brother why. My mum brought me home, gave me a painkiller and heat pad, and the next couple of days we shopped for more supplies and watched a movie together, making sure I was as comfortable as possible.
I was at home with my older brother and panicked that I was dying. He found me crying and briefly explained what was happening, ran me a warm bath and got mE pads from my mum’s supply and told me to take all the time I needed. When I’d cleaned up, I found he placed a heating pad and a cup of tea by my bedside. He is really the best older brother I could ever have.
I was 15 and caught off guard in school. I went to my teacher who helped me out. My reaction was of excitement because finally, I was like all the other girls in my year who had already got theirs and bragged about it.
All these stories bring one thing to the forefront, we should normalize talking about periods and the changes into puberty for all young people to better understand how to take care of their health and find support wherever or whenever that first period happens.
What was your first period like? Leave a comment to share your experience.