I Grew Up With Menstrual Stigma, But My Daughter Will Not
I grew up not knowing what menstruation was all about. I always thought it was something that every woman had to suffer. I also always had painful cycles, which added to all my worries and increased my anger. I never had the guts to ask my mom what it was all about. I lived in an urban city but still had no access to this information. When I got my first periods, I was in the sixth grade. I did not cry or did not get worried. I just told my mom about it; that there was some red spotting and then my mom told me that this was to be referred to as periods. She gave me a cloth to save myself from blood stains and I had to wash and dry it myself. It smelled really bad and I never could really understand why.
What I was informed more about was the myths and beliefs surrounding periods. My mom looked worried at that time, thinking it was too early for me to get my periods. But she informed me about those things that were not as important. Things like not to touch the idols of gods and goddesses, not to visit temples, to take a head bath on day one of periods before touching anything or anyone in the house, and to take a head bath on the fourth day of the periods after which you can then be as normal as you are even while your periods are still on. Also, during festivals, when I had my periods, I was asked not to touch anything in the kitchen and eat separately. I followed all this very religiously and was scared that something bad would happen if I ever touched idols during that time. And then, gradually as I grew up and until my marriage and even few years after that, I never understood what periods actually were. Until my college days, I knew that if a girl missed her periods, it was mostly because she was pregnant. And when my periods used to be extended by a day or two, I used to always get scared with the massive question mark, am I pregnant? I did not even know how girls could get pregnant at that time!
I learned about pregnancy after college when I had a boyfriend (who is now my husband). I asked him about how girls could become pregnant and that information really gave me some relief because I finally knew what caused pregnancy!
This whole experience is off-topic I suppose but it shows how ignorant we girls can be about our own bodies and our own lives. It also shows how we get into believing in all kinds of myths and beliefs and just live with them.
I remember occasions when I was asked to perform some rituals and I did them even while I had my periods because I felt embarrassed to speak about it in a crowd. But at the back of my mind, I was scared to actually do that as I always thought that God would punish me for going through with such rituals during my periods.
Now when I look back, and even today, when I think of all these myths and beliefs, I feel really sad. When my mom and society at large told me that on the fourth day of your periods, you could take a head bath and then do whatever you are not supposed to do during your periods,it sounds so funny, now that I think of it. What difference does it make on day one and day four? When there is some religious function taking place and if a girl is on her period, she is asked to fast for a day so that she can be involved in all activities from day three instead of day four. Again, this sounds so funny.
Touching pickles, entering kitchens and such, are the restrictions imposed on women during periods. But, WHY?
God has gifted only women to bless this world with a smile, by giving birth and thereby helping the world survive with human beings. And that gift is periods, which enables women to get rid of all the impurities in her body every month and to prepare her for the next cycle. Then how can that be impure? How can a woman become impure when she is on her period?
When a woman gives birth to a sweet baby after carrying it for nine months, she is not menstruating all throughout her pregnancy. And then, all of a sudden, she again bleeds profusely for a few days post delivery. Our society quarantines the mother for a good forty days! This is the time when she is struggling the most to be a mother, regain her strength, overcome the pains post delivering a baby, and much much more. Does she need all the support from her partner, a cuddle, a helping hand, and a caring family or does she want the added burden of not being able to help herself with a glass of water from the kitchen or the clothes from the wardrobe just because she is bleeding? I am happy that my family did not follow all of these myths and so my child and I could get the best care and support we required.
Today, when I do not believe in all these myths and beliefs, however, I am still bound by society to not enter the temple or to not pray while I am on my periods before the Gods. So this is a fight for me. On one hand, I strongly believe that I don’t want to follow these myths and be a victim. On the other hand, I am forced by society to follow these myths. So my struggle is between following my heart and between following the society at large.
This change has to start from home. So is your family or your partner ready to support you and stand by you? If yes, you have brought about some change somewhere. And you can pass this on to your next generation and not impose all these myths and beliefs upon them. My simple logic gives me the answer for why a particular thing should be done or followed. If you have a right response that is logical and scientific, I will surely accept it!