Hey little sis…When I think of puberty and the few conversations I had with my parents when I was going through those changes, I remember feeling confused and uncomfortable. Like why are we talking about my ‘purse’ and why must I not play with boys anymore? Not that I cared much about boys because I found them weird, but still. To my adolescent self, it totally felt like growing up was some kind of unnecessary punishment and I know you must have the same feelings.
You see, I was one of those ‘early bloomers’. I got my first period when I was just 10 years old. I probably shouldn’t have felt that way but I was … sad. Yes, I was expecting it to happen … just not so soon. So many different thoughts rushed through my head as I sat on the toilet seat that Saturday afternoon – luckily it was not a school day – thinking about what it meant. I remember thinking “gosh! I have to tell my mom!”- which terrified me because I didn’t know what I would say and I was not ready to hear the pearls of wisdom that followed in what would be a very awkward conversation. Well I eventually told my mom (mostly because I didn’t have another plan for getting sanitary pads or tampons). My mom was weirdly excited about this and I knew this for sure when – at church one Sunday – her joyful reply to a lady commenting on how much I’d grown was “I know! She’s a woman now!”. But to my adoring father, my menstrual cycle remained a well-kept secret for a while.
When I went to visit my dad over the school holidays I was insanely careful about my period, secretly disposing of my used pads and keeping the unused ones hidden. Now imagine my sheer horror when daddy dearest cornered me a day after my cycle ended and as I was dashing off to play outside. “I saw your jeans, they had bloodstains on them. Are you okay? Do you need to get some pads?”, he asked. Me to self: “Oh no! What do I even say? Why hasn’t the earth swallowed me up yet?”.
When I reflect on that time of my life I realise how I could have been better prepared for most of my transformation and also escaped some embarrassing moments (I completely cringe when I think of them). It’s as though there is a cloud of secrecy and shame hovering some of these issues that makes it hard for us to talk about them. My folks did the best they could to teach me using the little information (and confidence) they had and for that I am grateful.
My survival strategy was to keep myself nestled in a supportive group of teenage girls who were going through the same challenges. Our community of teenage girls counselled each other, worked together to decipher some of the complexities of adolescence and developed lingo to talk about things like menstruation without risking scrutiny and humiliation from the opposite sex. For example, any one of us could be heard yelling “ToM!” (an abbreviation for Time of the Month) when asked why we opted out of swimming lessons or walked around with hot water bottles held against our bellies.