The day I confronted the first blood stain was on a warm June day, a few days before my school reopened again for the eighth grade. I was twelve years old then. It was a lazy afternoon in Nasik and as a tradition during my school vacations as a child, my mother had gone home to have lunch while I stayed alone in her parlour to receive customers and call her up if the need arose.
A secret routine that I maintained while I was alone, anywhere and at any time of the day was to put in my favourite cassette into the tape recorder and to start swinging slowly to the tunes. I had climbed up on one of the cushioned rexine covered seats which are usually seen in doctors’ waiting rooms. I was looking at myself, swinging before the mirrors- one in front of me and one at the back- almost the size of half the wall. I played with my reflections- making them transform from one to infinite with a turn of my body. I tried to count the reflections and wondered about the notion of infinity. I used to dance like that, looking at my reflections till I was dizzy and intoxicated. One such day, I felt nauseous and felt something warm down there too. I wondered if it was urine and grew embarrassed of my surprising incontinence- I became scared because I remembered reading somewhere that Urinary Incontinence was a problem of old age.
I soon forgot about all this and went home. In the evening the same day, when my mother had come back from the parlour, I felt this strong urge to visit the loo. I came out of the bathroom looking pale. I rushed into a room and turned around to look at my frock in the mirror and was horrified to see that my bright yellow frock with little sky blue polka dots, sky blue bows and sky blue belt, now had a big brown stain at the back. I ran to my mother, the stained part of my frock in my hand, with teary eyes and panicked voice and asked her, “What’s this? Am I bleeding?”
She took a moment to register what had just happened, quickly went down on her knees and hugged me tight with relief, saying “Meribachchi!”
I was confused. I did not understand why my mother was so relieved about something that I found so dreadful. I was cold and sweaty. My legs were shivering, right from ‘down there’ to my toes. I felt every inch of my body quiver. Then of course we had ‘The Talk’- where she told me that I was menstruating. Yes, she used that word. She called it menses too. I failed to understand both the words. Then, she told me that this would happen to me every month for a few days and that I should not be scared. She also taught me to use the sanitary napkin and suddenly, all those sanitary napkin ads started to make sense and I then understood why they discouraged the use of a cotton cloth or cotton. (I didn’t know it then, but a few years later, there would come a time in my life when I would use cotton for soaking the discharge, since nothing else was available.)
The curious reader that I was, I put menstruation on my reading list and read almost whatever literature I could get access to, from dictionary meanings to fertility treatment brochures and menopause health brochures. I remember reading somewhere that women can get pregnant when they are menstruating and that a fluid called ‘semen’ which men have, is responsible for pregnancy. I had no clue what semen was, but my thirteen year old self assumed it to be present in any male bodily fluid and scarily, even in saliva. That was not the Google-age, so I had to either wait for a sex education class in school or wait to come across it somewhere in something that I would read. I was just too afraid to talk to an adult. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to know the things that I knew. Also, what if that adult came to know that I came across the word ‘semen’ in my little research that I did on the word ‘menstruation?’ What if reading about it was not meant for kids my age? What if they came to know that I knew a little more about how babies were born? Would that not be embarrassing? All these questions tormented me and I refrained myself from asking anybody anything. The consequences of this were what later formed my highly misconceived ideas about sex to the extent that I used to be on such high-alert during my periods that when a male member of my family or a male friend would pass me something to eat or drink, I would politely decline the offer. I made sure that I never drank or ate from the same plate or glass that was being used by male family members and friends during those five days. I used to be quite terrified of little male spit bubbles and drops falling on anything near me during my periods. I used to be terrified that if I did consume or come in contact with any of this, I could become pregnant. The thirteen- year old me had read that women could become pregnant when they were menstruating and that semen, a bodily fluid that men have, was responsible for pregnancy. I had no clue what semen meant and I also thought that it could be present in saliva.
Fortunately, I grew up and learned to diversify and run a background check on the sources of my knowledge. All my doubts, at least about menstruation, were almost clear by the time I was sixteen. The only doubts left now lurk around sex.
It has been years since my menarche and I no longer very strictly maintain my Menstrual Cycle Diary that I used to as a kid – most calculations take place in my mind and as of now, only knowing that my period is on time is enough for me.
However, I still struggle with embarrassing stains and excruciating lower back pains and weakness every week for once a month. I am still in search of better, environment-friendly sanitary napkins and better environment-friendly ways of disposing them off. Every time I see women working – sex workers, women waste-pickers, housemaids, women on construction sites and brick kilns, female farmers, tribal women and rural women – I always wonder how they manage during their periods. What do they use to soak the blood? How do they afford it? Where do they dispose it off?
My mind boggles for various alternatives.
Ayushi is chai addict who loves as much, to devour poetry. She creates and experiments with teaching aids for children that question constructions and tries to re-invent learning through their perspectives. she had graduated from Fergusson College, Poona in Literature and is currently pursuing her M.A. from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Read her other writings here.
Edited by: Divya Rosaline0