In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans tries to emulate Biblical practices and so she camps in a tent in her front yard during her period (among other things). My how times have changed. Periods have gone from something that made you “ceremonially unclean” and unworthy of touching anything a man touched (lest it also make him “unclean”) – to Superbowl Sunday Twitter chatter. In 2015, the Superbowl ad that generated the most buzz was an ad for Always maxi pads called “Like a Girl.”
We’ve come a long way.
So far, in fact, that we don’t even have to have periods anymore.
That’s right. Unless you explicitly want to conceive (as in grow a baby right now), there’s absolutely no reason to have a period anymore. The first continuous-use contraceptive pill came out in 2003 and now there are several safe options for stopping your period that don’t involve surgery or affect your future fertility. But in my experience as a physician, I’ve found that many women are still unaware of this.
The #1 myth about your period is that you have to have one.
Read on for my embarrassing period story (with a point).
I started my period between the summer of 6th and 7th grade – right at the average age, but I was probably more prepared than average. My mother bought me every puberty book at the local Hallmark store and I pored over them like copies of Teen Beat.
I started my period on the 4th of July. Whoo Hoo! Fireworks! I can grow a baby! Except nobody should have a baby that young – and that’s the ONLY reason to have one. In 7th grade, a period is a useful as a unicorn core wand is to a Muggle.
My 7th grade science teacher was incredibly zany and he came up with this great idea to create a sort of “space camp” experience for us. He planned a full 24-hour mission and designed a “Mission Control” center. It was a huge honor to be selected as an “astronaut” and I was one of them. We planned for months. We bought freeze-dried food and planned experiments.
The DOS computers in Mission Control were linked to our “space ship” with thick cables so we could communicate (this was pre-internet, pre-cell phones). Our space ship looked like this:
We put 8 people and a lizard in that thing for 24 hours without opening any windows. Please, don’t even try to imagine the smell of 8 gleeful co-ed adolescents and 1 nervous lizard. Thank goodness we had a fan.
Anyway, lucky me, I was on my period! Yup. That’s how luck works: get picked to go to Space and then have to manage the delight of tampons on a rocket ship. We hadn’t been in Space for very long when we got word from Mission Control that the septic tank had to be emptied.
I was in the bathroom when we got this message. Someone knocked loudly on the door and said, “Don’t flush!”
What was I supposed to do? My used tampon was already in the bowl. The fear sweat started.
They said it would only be a few minutes so I opened the door and acted nonchalant about blocking anyone from entering.
Then, from Mission Control some quick-fire kid typed “OK to flush.”
Those green letters appeared on the screen in our space ship and my fellow astronauts yelled out, “You can flush!” And I did.
And then the words, “DON’T FLUSH YET!”
The green cursor blinked like my frantic eyelids.
The ramifications of this Mission Control error only became apparent the next day after we “landed” and finished television interviews with a local news crew. (Don’t you just love local news?)
A friend whose dad was a teacher said conspiratorially,
“Someone must have been on her period.”
“Why?” I asked, dread rising.
“Because my dad had to pick up a used tampon under the rocket with a shovel.”
My tampon. Off the ground. With a shovel. The mortification was nearly unbearable.
Clearly I’ve gotten over it because I’m writing this, but I still remember the hot-faced, breath-holding, gulping embarrassment of the whole situation. Painful.
I’m betting a lot of you have stories like this – okay, maybe not quite like this – but stories of less-than-ideal scenarios caused by your period. The whole point of telling this story was just to be able to say: What I would have given back then to just not have a period!
And now I don’t. I can count how many periods I’ve had since my wedding on one hand and I hope I can count the number between now and menopause on the other. If a woman has a 4-day period from age 12-42, she spends 4 YEARS of her life menstruating. It’s time for all women to know that menstruation is not an uncontrollable physiologic phenomenon.
I love being a woman. The fact that we possess the kind of lifeblood that can grow a new human is something to be proud of. Menstruating is in no way shameful. However, let’s be honest, as great as it is to be a woman, “I just love my monthly visit from Aunt Flo,” said Ms. NoOne Ever. A little truth about periods:
- They come on somewhat unexpectedly. Even if you are completely regular, you have no idea what time of day it will start – hence they ruin/stain pretty panties, lovely sheets and sometimes favorite clothing.
- Leaks are potentially embarrassing and messy.
- They are time-consuming. Having a period is like adding 6 extra errands to your day. You have to remember to pack supplies, carry those supplies, and remember to change them. Each bathroom trip is like 5 minutes and by the end of the day you’ve lost at least 20 minutes devoted to something that has never crossed your male counter-parts’ minds.
- Feminine products are expensive! (5 tampons a day at 17 cents a tampon for 4-day periods for 30 years = $1,2010.40)
- They can cause health problems like pain/anemia. I write a lot of school and work excuses in the ER for menstrual symptoms.
The American College of Gynecology has come out in favor of LARC (long-acting reversible contraception) for adolescents. Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma about teen birth control use.
For me, letting my daughter use LARC or continuous-use OCP’s has absolutely nothing to do with sex or birth control and everything to do with preventing menstruation.
- I want to spare my daughter a “tampon and a rocket ship” kind of story.
- I want her to be able to compete in sports without worry of leaking through her uniform during a game.
- I don’t want her to be caught with a tampon string hanging out of her swimsuit. (Which may or may not have also happened to me.)
- I don’t want her to miss school for cramps.
- I don’t want her to be late for class because she just started unexpectedly and has to find change for the machine… or a friend… or the school nurse.
“Like a girl,” is an awesome way to do things and there should be no shame in being a woman or having periods. BUT everyone needs to know that to bleed, or not to bleed is a choice; and the choice is ours.