By Hope Docherty
Those who menstruate will spend roughly 10 years of their lifetime bleeding. Bleeding of course being their period and not a slice to the finger whilst chopping some veg…
But with this fact why do so many of us feel uncomfortable talking about our ‘time of the month’, namely at a younger age? It is bizarre that we mostly teach ourselves that menstruating is a completely normal bodily function and is nothing to be embarrassed about.
The stories below help to present that we all have a story to discuss openly if we wish to. With such a ‘taboo’ topic the stories help to remove any stigma attached to menstruating and create a safe place in writing form:
I was quite late in getting my period for the first time compared to my school mates. It’s easy to forget when you’ve been having a period for a few years amid the cramps, hormonal spells, and blood, but I was quite desperate to get my period before I actually did. The first time you have a period, it definitely can feel like a rite of passage into womanhood, hopefully with the subsequent need to wear something more than a training bra. A definite hypochondriac, I thought that something must be wrong with me if I hadn’t got my period at the age of 14. My friends had all discussed their periods and how annoying they were, whilst I felt irritated with my body for keeping me stuck in that limbo between child and teenager. So, when I finally got my first period there was a flurry of mixed emotions about it. For starters, I was on holiday, and I’d been speaking to a boy on snapchat. The conversation began with the classic “Wuu2”, and was veering into “truth or dare” which, for some reason, every teenage cis boy believes is a dynamite way to lure a girl into sending illicit messages. However, as a young teenage girl buoyed by the male validation (systemic sexism, anyone?) that his attention gave me, I was seriously considering choosing “dare”. In some brilliant twist of natural fate, I realised that the cramping in my lower stomach wasn’t the butterflies of a crush, and that I had, in fact, started bleeding. Perhaps it was Mother Nature’s idea of a joke, giving me the hallmarks of attraction, when in reality I’d started a major part of puberty (plus, I am a lesbian, so Mother Nature was definitely messing with me). I had to wake my mum up at 1am so that she could give me some pads to use, ignoring any more messages from the boy, and thank god, too, because he wasn’t really my type.
I am not lying when I tell you the first time, I had my period it was in the idea location – the toilet. As young and naive as I was, I didn’t have the slightest clue as to what my next series of actions should be. With my shorts lying on the floor, an alien smell in the air and the over-arching fear of helplessness, I began to cry unstoppably. Between snotty sniffs, I heard a few knocks on the door followed by a particularly nonchalant, ‘Are you alright?’ I remember feeling this innate sense of relief and telling her how I didn’t know what was happening to me or how to stop it. Having studied in a Convent (boarding) school, surrounded by girls one would think that we would’ve discussed periods and the ways to handle such situations at some point, before it all became a full-fledged reality. We didn’t. Had it not been for the girl who like an absolute boss, educated me with everything I needed to know about sanitary napkins and tampons in the very spur of the moment, I would’ve been crying, uninformed and bleeding out of my ‘vajayjay’ without any kind of help in sight. A little information on the subject and mere conversations about it, would’ve undoubtedly helped a great deal. This is why we need to make Periods a topic that is discussed in daily discourse. It is not something we should feel ashamed about or deem as ‘stigma’, it isn’t something we asked for, we are wired that way and the least we can do through all the back pains and the cramps is drink hot soup or eat a bucket load of ice-cream while we ‘talk’ about.
If you’re someone who menstruates, then I am 99% sure you’ll have a story just like mine. I had been excited to go and see Dua Lipa at the Motorpoint Arena for months. My best friend came to stay in Cardiff to go to the concert with me, and we’d spent the afternoon excitedly getting ready. We’d put glitter on our cheeks and had a drink or two, dancing around to a Dua playlist as we put on our jeans and nice tops. Stopping to get burgers before the show, we were laughing and choosing which songs we were most excited about. We were ready to dance! Then I felt it, the feeling we all know too well. No, no, no no no! I was gutted. There was no time to walk all the way home to Cathays and back without missing at least 3 songs, and I had no pads with me. Forming a temporary solution from toilet paper, I headed for the concert hoping for the best. I knew my makeshift pad was not going to survive my expert Dua Lipa inspired dance moves, so I turned to what I hoped I could rely on: solidarity between those who have periods. I searched out an approachable face in the crowded entrance to the arena. The first person I approached smiled back at me “of course love, here you go!” Donated pad in hand, my night was saved.
I have always faced nausea when on my period and this did not stop for a Tesco shift. I was midway through serving a customer when my stomach churned and I had to sprint to the staff toilets to throw up. The poor customer was left with little explanation but I arrived back swiftly to serve them their bread and milk. Though we shouldn’t have to push through like this, sometimes period pain is unbearable. Alongside this, my managers all believed I was hungover due to the sickness. I luckily felt confidence enough to state it was my period though many others after such a belittling comment would have been silenced. I think it is so important that the symptoms that come with menstruating are taught to us and spoken about without stigma.
I have never been the most prepared and would often forget to bring period products to my secondary school. If my friends could not lend me any I had no idea where to get anything. This would leave me constructing a toilet paper pad to try and get me through the day but I would more often than not bleed straight through. I wish I had not been so embarrassed to go to the nurse’s office as I knew so many other students would have been there. Even when I did have period products, I would find myself putting them up my blazer sleeve to hide it when I needed to visit the toilet during a lesson. Schools should have a safe designated spot to get products when needed and I wish I had been educated that there should be no embarrassment attached to my bleeding.
All five beautifully honest narratives help to present that the more open we are with discussing menstruation, the less embarrassment and awkwardness we will feel towards the topic. As Summer has stated, we can always find “solidarity between those who have periods”.
This article is the first of a series of articles for Cardiff University’s ‘Period Dignity Campaign’. Polly Denny, the women’s officer of Cardiff’s student union, has worked extremely hard with ‘Welfare and Campaigns’ officer, Georgie East, to create this campaign. Sustainable period products can now be found across campus, meaning no Cardiff student will go without like they may have in the past.
The main aim being to remain inclusive and destigmatize talk of menstruation. Georgie has stated:
“‘products will be available in the SU as soon as the building is open, and we are going to expand across campus as soon as we can, and when there is more student footfall. We have kept the products in gender neutral areas of the SU, located close to bathrooms”
Though as Martha’s narrative explains, some students may not be comfortable to openly collect products. Georgie has also covered this:
“we will also have a provision of products behind the Welcome Desk, in discrete, unmarked paper envelopes, to ensure all students can access the products in whatever way they want.”
Menstruation Stations within the Student Union will be found:
• The welcome desk on the 2nd floor.
• Gender neutral toilets, also 2nd floor Y-Plas.
• The toilets, adjacent to the balcony bar, 3rd floor, Y-Plas.
Hope Docherty is the lead writer for Spotlight’s “Period Dignity” article campaign. If you have any questions or pitches- all around the topic of periods- that you’d like featured in this campaign, please get in touch with [email protected] and Hope will get back to you as soon as possible! You can have a look at Cardiff University’s Period Dignity Campaign here.