Last week I randomly received a wonderful package from Always Pads, telling me about their Platinum Collection. There was no press release so I thought, thank you, ok, I'll try these out when my time comes. Yesterday I get to my office and there's a big tightly wrapped box sitting on my desk. I left it until the end of the day and when I got home in the evening, I unwrapped it to find this beautifully packaged inspiration box from Lil-lets! And guess what, I am on my period! Perfect timing.
Can I just say, I'm glad to be talking about this on this platform. More than half of the world bleeds every month and yet it's still such a touchy topic to broach or discuss in public and naturally, so are the products and things associated with that ''time of the month''. When I used to write for the Mail and Guardian, I must have written about two or three columns in which I discussed menstruation and my moody relationship with it. I don't remember there being a response or further discussion around the subject from readers or anyone within my personal circle, because it generally invites crickets to any conversation table. Anyway, so I'm going to talk quite freely about it in the hopes to make the conversation less awkward.
I remember the first time I saw a tampon ad on TV. I must have been about 8 years old. I had seen these commercials where pretty women would glide as they walk, they would be laughing, with a boisterous disposition dressed in white and talking about how confident and free they feel. At the end, it would just say the brand name and something about being feminine and yet the actual product would be left out. Imagine all the little boys and girls who were left perplexed by this mystery product. After some time, I asked my older sister what they are selling and I don't remember her response but I do remember that I still didn't know what the hell these adverts were about. It was the same with the pad ads where the blue liquid would be gently poured out of a test tube into a long flat cushion. No mention of the word menstruation, period or bleeding causing much confusion and mystery.
Anyway, I went about my ignorant way and one day when I was 13, I was getting ready for school and the funny brown fluid that I had envisaged would make its appearance in my life by running down my leg during hockey practice as per my teacher Mrs King's Life Orientation class pamphlet said, was on my underwear. The scene was exactly like this:
I had known about ''my period'' and I was one of the last people to get it amongst my friends at school so it wasn't really a big deal. My mom was pretty clinical about it, she told me what I need to do practically, like that I have to be careful about about my behaviour, that I need to wear specific underwear (enter the period underwear in my life) that I can't just sadula (playground acrobats) any which way and that I am now a woman etc etc. The conversation lasted 10 minutes because we were going to be late for school and that was it. In high school I learned that if a girl wears tampons, she is not a virgin so I swore I would not wear those because I would not want anyone thinking that I'm not a virgin.
Because I went to a girls school, in Standard 5 or Grade 7, we would try and guess which girls are wearing pads by how far apart their legs were positioned when they were standing on stage receiving their merit awards. So stupid. We thought getting your period was bad and dirty and scornful so we secretly vilified those girls. Nobody told us otherwise. It was never discussed. A good friend of mine told me that she started her period when she was 9 and she lived in rural Natal. Nobody, not her mother, grandmother or helper told her anything. It was when they found her soiled pyjamas in the laundry that she got in trouble. She didn't know how to use a pad or anything and so for the first few years, she suffered the embarrassment of having ''accidents'' at school. Another girl friend told me that her mother also didn't sit her down to explain what was happening and why. Instead, she got the don't get pregnant speech and was left feeling ashamed that now she was this portal for dirty things. Ideally, this is the kind of advice every little girl should receive from her mother at that delicate period of her life:
I didn't have it that bad but I was as ignorant as they were because I didn't know how to use pads properly, I would also have accidents at school and I really hated it when my period came. The first time I tried a tampon was on a long distance train trip to Cape Town. I stole my sister's tampon and used it when I was not even on my period, just to try it. Because I didn't do it right and because it wasn't my period, it was the most painful thing and I swore I would never do it. And that I would never have sex. A few years later, I learned how to use tampons but still hated my period because it debilitated me and being on it was used against you because you act crazy and your body is in mutiny, but you're meant to act normal, as if it's as easy and effortless as kicking a ball. Except for me it's like 100 cricket balls coming at me, especially on the second day. To this day, I don't really like it because it is unpleasant and I really do act crazy so I stay away from people and instead work from home with inexplicable crying or hysterical laughing breaks in between. And of course the self flagellation whip that lives under my bed also always visits me during that time.
I used to think I was using the wrong product. I switched from pads to tampons because all my girlfriends were like pads, what are you are you 14? Then I used tampons to be cool and still I was unhappy. Then I used both: tampons during the day and pads at night. And still I was not really happy. Then almost two years ago I went to the doctor because I had a condition called Pica, where I used to chew gravel, stones and soil thinking I'm just quirky. The doctor told me that my iron levels were dangerously low and that I would need to get off my period for about a year. One would think I would be doing a happy dance, but that was a turning point in my relationship with my period.
I didn't like it but I didn't want to lose it, although I know a few women who have opted out. Something about this way out just didn't resonate with me and so I decided to change my attitude around it. I went on medication and I had to go on birth control. That fucked it up for me because I once got my period for 21 days straight and it is the equivalent of having a dog lick your toes all day everyday for 21 days. Take a second to imagine that sensation. It's not painful, it's just really annoying. And then the bad relationship came back. I'm still working at it. I got off the birth control but am still on iron medication. These days I use applicator tampons which are not as painful as bullet tampons and are actually pretty pleasant. Shame they have such a bad rep. Last night when we were out, I taught a friend of mine how to use them. Got in a bathroom stall with her (she had no idea) and at the end I think I converted her :-)
Look I don't know what the point of this post is but I'm glad that I talked about it because I feel human beings treat menstruation unfairly. Feel free to share your story or your opinion on this, whether you care or not, whether it's a big deal or nothing. Did you guys see this Vice Magazine ''The Will Be Blood'' photo essay on our bleeding vaginas? Loved it but some people thought it was in bad taste. What are your thoughts.
So dear Lil-Lets and Always, thank you for sending me these packages and inspiring me to write this post, to think about my body, to feel what ever I want to feel around the subject of my period. Thank you for my little gifts, I will make sure that I put them to good use. I hope I have inspired some of you to think about ''Aunty Flow'' and her usually unwelcome visits and if you're a boy, I hope you know a little more about what we go through. By the way, PMS is when we have Pre or Post Menstrual Stress, not when we are on our periods. Women are usually warned of their imminent period by behavioural changes that are called PMS. You'd be surprised how many boys and girls don't know that. Oh in closing, I believe women should get at least one day off every month to deal with themselves and their bodies during their periods. I take it every month, not because I can but to protect other humans from the wrath that comes my flow. I've been a woman for about 14 years, can't say I'm very good at it but it's something I'm learning to understand better the older I become. I am learning to accept it and thus myself.
The video clips are from Mad Men Season 5, episode 12.