By the time I had my first period, I was 12. It happened at school, right before gym class. I felt strange the whole day and couldn't comprehend what was going on. Then I went to the bathroom and saw my bloodied pants. At the time, all my girlfriends at school had already gotten theirs, so I approached two of my best friends. They were ready to help me and talked with our teacher for me in the no-nonsense way I always appreciated them.
I went home almost immediately after that. My mother didn't make a big deal out of it, which I was grateful for as I still felt a little bit weirded out by the whole thing. She said something akin to "Oh, just in time. I was also your age when I got mine", and then went to grab some pads for me. That was it. No grandiose talk about me making a big step into adulthood or anything. Just some new pairs of underwear and a pad. Later, though, I heard all about it from my grandmother, who said that I could be considered a true woman. I honestly preferred my mother’s approach.
Then cramps and bloating made themselves known, and I realised that the whole period thing was definitely not going to be a walk in the park. Nowadays, pain mostly doesn't even register as I got used to it, but back in the day, it was the most awful thing to have happened to me. It was excruciating and debilitating. It was also something nobody told me about because neither my family nor my friends didn't have much trouble with pain during their cycles. But I was the lucky one. Not only were my periods painful, they also lasted longer for me than for anyone I know. At times, it got so bad that I couldn't leave my house for days. Painkillers never helped for long, so I was stuck with my pain and the worst thing was that most people at school and later at work thought that I was simulating.
And pain was not the only thing that became a part of my routine. There was shame as well. I felt all out of place — I started gaining weight sporadically and then losing it when my periods came to an end; hormonal changes were leaving me angrier than usual for a couple of days before my cycle. Sometimes I didn't want to go to school, and not because of the pain, but because I just didn't feel ready to face the world while looking and feeling all sorts of wrong. You see, children are rarely kind to one another, especially teenagers. And back in the day, the idea of anyone seeing me with a stained pair of trousers made me physically sick; it seemed like a literal nightmare. That’s how periods become just one more thing for me to worry about in an already chaotic and ever-changing school life.
It was only much later, when I’d really grown into a woman, that I understood how natural menstruation is and let go of the hurtful things I’d heard from others about that part of womanhood. Mostly, I should thank my friends (both male and female) who were always there for me when I felt alone with what I thought was a woman’s burden. It’s a blessing to have the stable support of people with whom you can freely discuss even the most embarrassing topics without shame or reservations.
No matter how painful my periods are or how embarrassed I feel, it’s clear to me that my situation was not that drastic. Especially if you remind yourself that while in my country I can get everything I need in terms of information and sanitary tools, there are countries where menstruating women are completely ostracised and shunned from their homes, don't get access to pads or tampons, and are not allowed to walk freely on the streets while on their periods. With the help of the internet, I can educate myself on how to make my life easier during menstruation, what to eat and what not to eat, and what kind of meds to take. And if that doesn't help, I can always go see a doctor, which is not something that every person in the world can ascertain for themselves.
I hope that people today are more accepting of the idea that periods can flow differently for everyone. And that women are not the only ones who can have periods. A lot of trans men have periods as well, but some trans women may not have them at all. It’s important to remember inclusivity if you don't want to harm another individual with your ignorance and potentially become part of the problem.
That’s it. That’s the story of my first period. I tried to tell it as honestly and true-to-life as I remember it. Maybe it will help you or someone you know find their own strength and confidence. I’m sure some of the things I described don't apply anymore because of the changes in our society, but I feel like taboos and shame are still very much in place and play a major role in our relationship with menstruation and ourselves. We can never be fully prepared for our first anything, but I believe that educating each other and learning to accept each other and our differences can really make a difference if we want to see the day when periods are not treated like a dirty little secret.