She ran to the nearest washroom. It was the PT period and everyone was down at the playground. Nobody saw her running to the washroom. She shut the door on herself, almost throwing up at the stink. No matter how highbrow the school, the washrooms oddly started to stink toward the end of the day. Now, she told herself, surely it wouldn’t be so bad. Surely it would last out for another hour or so.
The back of her white school skirt had a big, wet blob. A dark red. Extremely conspicuous and unmistakable. She had no idea how she had bled through her skirt. It was only a month or so since she had started menstruating and neither did the period always come on time, nor could she really understand it. School was almost over for the day but she had a bus ride back home. A bus full of boys and girls – energetic and chatty children excited to go back to hot lunches at home. How on earth was she to brave them wearing a skirt that looked like this?
The boys in her class would be sure to be particularly nasty about it. They had snickered and giggled early that year, when the girls had been whisked away to the auditorium for a “special session”. The boys weren’t allowed entry. A few sneaky ones, though, had managed to peek at the huge chart that had been readied for the class. One look at the diagram of the female body was enough to clue them in on how the session had something to do with “sex”. And that was surely enough. She had wondered why the boys hadn’t been educated about periods too. Surely, it was important as an academic fact in Biology, if nothing else? But when the chapter came up in Science class, the teacher glossed it over quickly, not even resorting to her usual practice of getting someone to read the lesson out loud.
She remembered the time when her family had been invited for a puja at a neighbour’s house. She had been excited to go. No, not because she was particularly religious, but this neighbour made delicious lunches for all the guests. There would be her favourite dishes like mutter paneer, pulao and big glasses of buttermilk. But when the day of the puja came and she was getting ready, her mom came in with some surprising news.
“Are you getting ready for the puja? Actually, I don’t think we had better go.”
“What? Why?” Her face fell. Her mom, too, looked rather upset.
“You know how she is about these things…”
“Arey, you’re on your period, no! She will not approve of this on a puja day…”
It was that morning she had got the surprising realization that periods were not seen as a biological fact by many. They were seen as something filthy to be shirked from and a strong enough cause to deny someone a plate of delicious food!
Outside the washroom, there was a sudden noise. She jumped. Was it everyone returning from the PT class? She had been so lost in her thoughts and her panic that she hadn’t realized how much time had passed. She was ready to cry any minute. And then she remembered the chalk trick. A friend of hers had experienced something similar not too long ago. They had rubbed the stain with chalk. She rummaged in her pockets; there usually were bits of chalk pieces there. Her fingers closed on one. Shakily, she rubbed the stain with as much might as she could muster. The final result was groggy but it would have to do. Clenching her fists and pulling her bag down her back as far as possible, she walked out of the loo.
“What were you doing in there for so long?” One of her classmates jumped on her as soon as she opened the door. “Did you suddenly find you got your period or something?”
Another classmate giggled. “Yeah, I have heard that can happen to extra hormonal girls.” More giggles. Periods and how they happened were the hot topic of conversation all over the school. They made the girls feel all grown up. The boys had suddenly become doubly more interesting, and as these notorious “hormones” kicked in harder, everything somehow traced itself back to sex. Yes, periods, cramp-inducing and disgusting as they were, made many around her feel all adult-like. For her, right then, they only made her feel nauseated and desperate for the comfort and privacy of home.
She ignored what she thought were curious glances on the bus that day. She pretended to be deaf when someone called out to her from the back. When her stop came, she scampered down the steps of the bus and into the embrace of her mom, who was waiting for her. The bus drove away. That day, guided by her mom, she made a determined decision that she followed through the rest of her life. Always keep track of your periods. Not only was this important to avoid a situation as embarrassing as the one she had faced, but it was also critical for health reasons. Periods that were not timely or varied month on month could be indicators of a medical problem, a stress-related disorder that needed to be examined, or pregnancy. Understanding them is crucial for decisions on contraception, conception and fertility.
No, periods are not something to shy away from, or loathe, or feel hesitant about. There is no need to go red in the face when buying pads or tampons in the market, or avoid making eye contact with the man who wraps them in black polybags. It is not a subject you need to hush-hush about when there are advertisements on TV and there are kids, especially boys, around. For our sons to grow up into educated, sensitive adults who will support their wives in the pregnancy and childbirth journey, it is important they understand how menstruation works.
In schools now, there are sanitary pads available at the clinic. There are teachers who know how to guide and support young girls going through their first experiences of “those dreadful days”. And while kids may still continue to snigger at such subjects in their growing up years, it is time all of us remember that we are adults. Thinking adults who can see beyond songs and commercials about “laaga chunari me daag”. Who don’t pass underhanded comments about how women become hellish and useless for a few days each month. And who can see periods separated from prejudice, criticism, religion, ignorance or judgment. They are a part and parcel of a woman’s bodily functions and need due attention, just like everything else that constitutes your body.
So, if you’re a woman and not skipping periods on birth control, Aunty Flo will come visit you every month for several years. You may not enjoy her visit or the days leading up to, or detest it, to be honest. But she is an indicator that your body is in good health. And it is all you can do to pay attention to her when she does or does not arrive. Keep up your #PeriodPride!
This blogathon is supported by the Maya App, used by 6.5 million women worldwide to take charge of their periods and health.
Picture Via dresscorilynn.com