When I was nine, my mum sat me down and told me told me all about puberty and menstruation. She’d made us cups of tea and snacks, and suggested we sit in the comfy lounge chairs on our veranda for a ‘grown up’ conversation. I’d heard whispers about periods around school, and I knew a few girls in my class had special products they’d use in the bathroom. I was excited to be ushered through this quintessential right of passage into womanhood. I’d sat on the cusp of puberty and looked on at all the grown up girls I knew, cousins and friend’s older sisters, and I struggled to imagine I would ever grow up. But for the first time it felt like the gateway to adulthood was open for me when I was ready, a biological birthright.
Part of the conversation I still remember clearly today, was my mum emphasising the importance of talking to my friends about periods. She told me that she’d spoken with my friends parents, and that we’d all be getting the ‘period talk’ this weekend. She said we should be able to talk comfortably about the topic and eventually, when we start menstruating, we’d be able to compare experiences and support each other.
At school the next day I was so excited to talk to my friends, but when I bought it up each one of them shied away from the topic, sinking into their shame and even lying to me, claiming they didn’t know what I was talking about. I felt confused at the time, but I left it there, slightly disappointed. I found new friends when I started high school to share my menstrual journey with. They’d happily talk about anything and everything, but only in whispers behind closed bedrooms doors.
It wasn’t like this at home, my mum and I spoke openly about it, and never attempted to keep it a secret if it was our time. I always felt comfortable asking either of my parents to pick up tampons and kept them, not hidden away, in the bathroom I shared with my brothers. It wasn’t like I grew up in an overtly liberal household, my family were just practical about it, they never tried to deny it’s existence or keep it hidden away.
I was fascinated by the stigma I’d noticed surrounding menstruation at school. There was always an air of secrecy surrounding the topic amongst the girls, and the boys would preferred to pretended it didn’t exist. They were always quick to cover their ears in disgust at its mention, and acted as if they’d sooner scoop their eyes clean out of their heads before seeing an unused tampon, still in its wrapper. I quickly realised it wasn’t entirely their fault. Looking around it wasn’t difficult to see that we were living in a world that stigmatised and villainies women’s bodies. Like pieces of a puzzle coming together, the culmination of sex based inequality came crashing down around me.
If we couldn’t even reference periods socially, how could we be expected to tackle the deeper issues attached to menstruation and women’s health.
In 2018 I started a blog called My Period Story. I got the idea talking to a hairdresser about how everyone has a story about their hair journey, it reminded me of my conversations with women about menstruation, especially women who’d been getting their period for many years. I’d heard so many different perspectives on menstruation, and I’d come to learn that the more we experience them, our relationship with our cycle grows and changes. I’ve found most women think very differently about their period at each stage of life.
I started the blog by asking women and girls to submit their ‘Period Life story’. I encouraged writers to talk about how their relationship with their cycle has grown since they first learnt about their period, what they have learnt about themselves and their body during this time, their experiences with period stigma, how they’ve learnt to manage their period, and the challenges they’d faced along the way. My Period Story has given me the opportunity to hear so many different stories; The blog has opened my eyes to the endless list of cultural, financial, environmental and political implications of the stigma surrounding menstruation.
I’ve learnt that no good can come from treating menstruation like a dirty secret. When we ignore this fundamental backbone of women’s health, we do a major disservice to all women and girls.
Hannah Forsdike is a writer and editor at Ramona Magazine, her blog "My Period Story" asks women to reflect on their relationship with their period to promote the normalisation of women's health and helps facilitates Ramona Magazine's "Period Witches" workshops.