I was incredibly thin as a girl. Plus I ran cross country and track (not very well I’ll add). These two things were explained as a reason why I had not started my period at 15.5. My 13-month-younger sister started two years prior (she hid it for a year and then it became regular). I wasn’t worried about my nonexistent menstrual cycle. Why the hell would I want a period?! It seemed like a hassle. Just like shaving your legs… And really? Does ANYONE want to bleed for a week every month? No thank you.
“If you haven’t started by 16, I have to take you to visit the doctor” my Mom explained one evening. “I don’t really want to because you’ll probably have to go on hormones and that means you’ll probably get fat.” Listen… Almost 35 years later, my Ma will argue that she never added the fat line. “I probably said ‘gain weight'” she’ll succumb to my insistence. Nope. “You’ll probably get fat” was said. I know this as fact because I was a 15 year old girl who heard a doctor’s visit will end with weight gain and a period… Gain weight in high school? Plus have to deal with a period and PMS?! She said it. And that was plan. No period by 16 and this was the solution.
“If you think about starting your period, it won’t happen. You gotta relax.” a common line from my friends. So I ignored the fact that I had 6 months to will my body into a menstrual cycle. Every time I time I felt a little squishy, I was certain I’d wipe and find blood. Nope. Maybe I have to wipe twice? Nothing. Come on, Body! Help me out! Start a period.
That summer I turn 16. It was the magic number when I’d get my license (took 4 tries), finally be able to date (no one asked for another 2 years) and as soon as my Mom remembered, I was heading to the Lady Doctor!
I worked at an small female retirement home. One day in July, I was mopping the dining room after lunch. “Save By the Bell” was over and I pushed the mop bucket to the kitchen. The kitchen was filled with cigarette smoke and the old radio was blaring Paul Harvey’s latest story. Before I left, I needed to use the restroom.
It was tiny dark closet in the kitchen. I finished and wiped. And on the toilet paper was a small smear of red. I did a double take, smiled, zoned out until I heard blaring from the kitchen…
“…now you know the rest of the story!”
I made a makeshift toilet paper pad and drove myself home.
I busted into the house and screamed, “I’m a woman!” Mom, Dad and my younger sister came running in. “Yup. I’m a woman now!” (we’re an open family)
Mom and my sister went with me to my parents’ bathroom. I had two options: pads or some tampons leftover from my older sister’s visits. Already hating my makeshift pad and figuring I was so grown up at 16, I reached for the tampon. They waited outside on my Mom’s bed.
I sat down and ripped the plastic wrapper open. A puff of chemical smelling baby powder wafted into my nose. “This must be what a woman smells like” I thought with a grin. Now how to get this in… I poked Goldilocks style. Went too high. Too low. And then just right… Done. How hard was that? But after a few seconds, it didn’t feel right. I thought you weren’t supposed to be able to feel tampons. Hmm… Maybe it’s just new. There’s got to be a learning curve. So I stand up and walk out. But quickly, I had to lay down on the bed. I had a history of passing out, so my family knew the signs.
“You ok? You don’t look well” my mom asked. “I just feel funny. I thought you weren’t supposed to feel a tampon.” I squeaked out. “Did you use the applicator to make sure it was in there high enough?” she asked. “Applicator..? Whaaat’s that?” I said slowly. She explained the the plastic outside was the applicator and you had to hold the top and push the bottom up. Remove the applicator and toss it in the trash.
That would have been some good information to tell your daughter prior to leaving the bathroom! I waddled back in, pushed, pulled and tossed it in the garage. The faint wooziness slipped away and guess what? I couldn’t feel the tampon…
I left the bathroom and joined the other Women of my family. My mom left and my sister and I talked about the perks of a tampon. I mean, I was a expert at this point.
A couple minutes later, I ran into my Dad in the kitchen. Without taking his eyes off his dishes, he asked “Forgot about the applicator, huh?”
Moral of the story…
- Periods show up. Periods happen. Some come early. Some come late. But periods are normal!
- Makeshift toilet paper pads never work. No matter how much you use or how tightly you pull up your pants.
- Paul Harvey was a genius.
- Womanhood does NOT smell like chemical Baby Powder.
- In my entire life, I’ve only used three tampons with plastic applicators.
- Show your girls how to use a tampon. Or at least give them the instruction book. Even if they’re 16.