I was 16 years old (late bloomer for the win!) and in the middle of a gymnastics meet. All evening my lower back had been killing me, and I was sure I’d sprained it doing too many back handsprings. So when I went to the bathroom and saw the brownish streaks in my underwear, it took me several minutes to put two and two together. Finally, I realized that I’d gotten my period… and my first cramps. Thankfully, my leotard was dark purple and nothing was running down my legs in public (I’d save that fun experience for summer camp!).
While getting your period in nothing but a leotard with an inch of crotch-concealing fabric sounds bad, it pales in comparison to some of the experiences other women have had. What amazes me about these first-time menstrual monologues is a) how many of us were surprised and b) how many of us thought we were legit dying.
1. When they talk about “surfing the crimson tide,” they don’t mean literally!
“A few months before I turned 14 I had sudden debilitating pain. So much, that I couldn’t leave the couch and eventually my parents had to take me to the doctor. I was tested for a bowel obstruction, a UTI, and appendicitis before he finally decided I needed an ultrasound. I was still in such horrible pain that I could barely walk in. A few seconds into it, I could tell that the tech knew something was wrong but she wouldn’t tell us anything. Then the doctor informed me that my uterus was completely full of blood because I had an “imperforate hymen.” (An imperforate hymen is a congenital disorder where you have a hymen without an opening and it completely obstructs the vagina.) He did a quick but super embarrassing procedure involving a scalpel, stirrups and some Fentanyl. And then tons of blood gushed out of me, splashing all over the table, the floor, and the doctor. I don’t think he was expecting so much blood at once but I felt so much better! I had probably a whole year’s worth of periods stored up there. Bonus: My belly got instantly smaller after that!” — Jill
2. Period or diarrhea? It’s a legit question.
“I was 13 years old and it was the opening night of a play I was in. All day I had had a stomachache but I thought it was just nerves. But when I went to the bathroom before the show, I looked down and it looked like I had pooped my pants. There were all these brownish things in my underwear; I was mortified. I had no idea period blood could be brown! I really thought I’d diarrhea-ed all over my undies. But the show must go on! So I wadded up toilet paper and went on stage. I’d already made plans to stay overnight at my best friend’s house so I had to call my stepmom (who I absolutely hated) and tell her I needed her to bring me fresh underwear because I’d had an ‘accident.’ She had to tell me I’d gotten my period. 15 minutes later she showed up at my friend’s house with a brown paper lunch bag, with my name written on the bag, full of the largest pads ever. So. Embarrassing. My friends laughed for weeks.” — Jeni
3. The tampon goes… where?
“I was 12 years old and at an all-girls camp one summer. At first it wasn’t too traumatic. I went to the port-a-potty and saw blood on my legs and was like oookay. All the other girls were so excited for me, they decorated my tent with pads and tampons. But the next day we were going swimming and I didn’t want to miss it. So I got a tampon and went into the port-a-potty. No one had ever told me how to use one so I kind of stuck it up in the folds, horizontal, like a hot dog in a bun. Thinking everything was cool, we jumped in the water. When I came back up, so did my bloody tampon, floating in the water. Everyone started screaming. Then a couple of friends who already had their periods, went with me back to the bathroom to try and talk me through it the right way. 20 minutes later and struggling with a wet swimsuit, I finally admitted defeat. So my best friend said she’d come in and show me. And she did. She literally had to show me where my own vagina was. There’s no merit badge for that but I tell you there should be!” — Kelly
4. But then, how do women ever wear tight skirts and pants?
“I was in 7th grade PE class, a month shy of 12, and noticed some blood when I went to change out of my sweats. Luckily, there wasn’t much flow and I had a long black skirt on that day. But when I got home and told my mom her response was, ‘Oh, honey, so that’s why you’ve been such a little bitch lately!’ She used the super-sized generic pads that were basically diapers so that’s what I got too. (We never discussed tampons, I don’t know why.) As if walking around with a huge pad wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t realize you could stop using them — I thought that once you ‘became a woman’ you just had to wear them every day for forever! So 10 days later, when I asked my mom for more pads, and she was like, “Oh my God, are you still bleeding?” I told her I wasn’t and we were both relieved.” — Lyndsey
5. How Easter dinner became about more than just figurative blood.
“Every Easter Sunday we had a huge family gathering, think 40-50 people, including 2nd and 3rd cousins, crammed into a tiny house. The year I was 10 years old, I went to the bathroom and I knew immediately what had happened. But I couldn’t get my mom away from everyone else to privately tell her. So I had to survive with just toilet paper in my underwear for 12 hours when I finally got a chance to tell her privately. Of course I told her not to tell anyone. The very next morning I woke up and the first thing everyone says to me is, ‘Congratulations on becoming a woman!’ I died.” — Jenny
6. Cardinal (ha!) rule of menstruating: If there is white clothing, there will be blood.
“I was 11 years old and playing softball outside while wearing white and black shorts when I got my period. Of course I bled on the white part! I had a massive stain on my butt and there was no way to hide it. So I improvised with toilet paper until I could get home and show my grandmother. She thought I sat in jam and didn’t know what it was.” — Jana
7. The one instance when you really don’t want to be like the French women.
“I was 11 and on my first trip to Europe. My stomach started cramping but I thought it was just jet lag or something I ate. But then my period showed up while staying at a charming bed and breakfast in Normandy, France. Let me tell you, at the time, Europeans didn’t get the concept of absorbent pads, and washing my clothes every night in the sink was no picnic. I spent the rest of the vacation with a sweater tied around my waist.” — Diana
8. Bears can smell blood, right?
“12 years old and we were on the road trip from hell — 17 days, 4000 miles from Houston to Yellowstone and back — crammed in a Suburban. We had already fought rock slides ripping off the bumper of my parents’ brand new car, lost reservations at Yellowstone, our tour bus breaking down in the back country, I had accidentally scalded my mom by flushing the toilet while she was in the shower, and two days later my sister fell off her bike and had to get 12 stitches at a ski clinic in the Rockies. But when we were getting settled at the one place in Yellowstone that hadn’t lost our reservations, I innocently went to the restroom and surprise! I panicked. Like, I absolutely lost my mind, sure that I was going to die. My mom tried to calm me down while my dad went down to the hotel gift shop. He came back with the thickest, most gigantically horrifying pads you’ve ever seen in your life and tampons. I cried even harder. My mom didn’t know how to use the pads because she hadn’t used pads since they came with their own belt. More crying. So I spent the rest of the trip alternating between the pads that made me feel like I was wearing a diaper and panty liners and flooding out. I ended up staining my new souvenir boxers and refusing to go on any more Yellowstone adventures because I was convinced the bears could smell blood and would eat me. My dad had to cancel the hot air balloon trip and the whitewater trip he had booked. 20 years later, I’m still so sad about it.” — Meghan