I was 12-years-old when I got my first period. We were on a family vacation, and I told no one. Sharing bodily milestones involving your most private parts isn’t very easy when you’re crammed in a car with your parents and brothers. I knew my dad would make me uncomfortable with some stupid comments, and I didn’t want to deal with them — especially since I had nowhere to retreat. I survived the week with handmade toilet paper pads. It wasn’t fun, but it was worth it to avoid the inevitable awkwardness that would ensue once I told my mom and the whole family found out.
Two whole years. If you think hiding your period for two years sounds challenging, you’re right. My flow increased after a couple cycles, and those handmade pads soon grew insufficient. I was reduced to stealing pads from my mom, hiding the used ones in the trash and hoping she didn’t notice. I’d take all the quarters I could get my hands on to the restroom at school, where I’d buy as many tampons from the vending machine as possible.
This two-year secret may sound unnecessary, but it will make more sense as you continue reading.
When I was 14, my mom grew concerned. She mentioned that if I didn’t start my period soon, she was taking me to the doctor.
I conveniently “started” my period not long after that conversation. I went to the bathroom to act out the classic scene I’d watched in the puberty videos at school. I called out to my mom from the toilet and through the door, and told her my period had started and I needed a pad. I got the expected “Oh, you’re finally a woman!” response that I had been dreading, but I was also relieved that I no longer had to scavenge for period supplies. I asked my mom not to tell my dad so he wouldn’t bring it up with me, but I knew I was wasting my breath.
It had been a day since I broke the news to my mom. I thought I was safe from my dad acknowledging my period — but I was wrong.
I was embarrassed, so I ignored him. Then he more sternly asked, “Do you know what I’m talking about?” I groaned out a “yes,” and luckily he shuffled off without further comment.
I was painfully embarrassed at the time, but I didn’t totally grasp the awful comment’s magnitude until adulthood. First of all, it wasn’t even likely that I would stain his cheap furniture. We’ve all had a leak or two before, but we don’t leave a trail of blood behind us like a dog in heat. Not only did he make me feel dirty — as though I was unworthy of sitting on his couch — he also seemed to think I was an idiot who didn’t know how to use pads. In an instant, all those years of stealing menstrual products and stuffing my panties with toilet paper had sadly been justified.
Puberty is already an uncomfortable time, and an unfair stigma still surrounds menstruation. When a dad makes his daughter feel like a filthy animal because she menstruates, he perpetuates the stigma and traumatizes her over a perfectly natural, unpreventable function of the female body. No woman chooses to have blood leak out of her vagina every month, so can we not act like it’s a disease?
If you can’t think of anything helpful to say to your daughter after she gets her first period, say nothing — it’s far better than scarring your daughter for life.
Rachel Cox is a stay-at-home-mom of two and lives in rural Missouri. A pound of Midwest conservatism with a cup of progressivism yields her flavorful analysis of women’s issues and cultural criticisms. She collects Japanese puzzle erasers and drinks craft soda from champagne glasses.