From bathroom pep talks to period parties, we’ve all got a unique tale to tell
There are a handful of dates that we remember for the rest of our lives and the day we got our period is one of them. We’ve all got our personal tales to tell and so to shed light on the wide variety of menstruation memories out there, we asked a range of different women to share the details of their first time with us.
From locking themselves in a toilet to tampon applicator traumas (we’ve all been there), period parties and Snickers bars, here’s how they dealt with the discovery and how they adjusted to the change.
“Aged 11, IT happened. No-one spoke about it like they do now - not at home, on TV, in magazines or at primary school - so I did the classic thing of stealing sanitary towels from my bathroom cabinet and hiding that the whole thing had happened because I just didn’t understand it all. This sounds like something from years gone by but this was 2000.
“I then didn’t have another one for a few months and then OH GOD THE PAINFUL ONES CAME. And they never left. Looking back now, I’m not sure why I hid it? When I finally plucked up the courage to tell my mum, we had a 'period party' to celebrate!”
"I was 12 years old. I'd been feeling a little restless, I remember. I put it down to some tense Australian drama on the TV, because I was watching Home and Away at the time. I went to the loo in the ad-break - and that's when I saw it. The deep, brown, gunky-gross stain in my underwear that seemed to glare up at me ominously and say, 'Yup, this is it girlfriend. You're a woman now.' I didn't feel like a woman. The first thing I did was cry and ask my mum not to tell my dad. I'm 38 now. I'm still not really sure if he knows…’’
“I was 13 and in year 8. I'd come home from school and was ready to start my art homework (why I remember that I have no idea). I went for a wee and my knickers were definitely not white any more. It actually crossed my mind that I might have been about to die of some disease, but deep down I think I knew what it was. I proceeded to sit on the toilet for the following HOUR AND A HALF crying, while I waited for my mum to get back.
“My brother knocked on the door a few times needing the toilet/throwing jokes at me through the closed door about how I surely couldn't still be in there. I remember shouting at him to basically PISS OFF because I was so embarrassed. When my mum finally arrived home (it really did feel like days at this point) I made her come in and sort it all out. I specifically remember saying DO NOT TELL DAD OR ROB (my brother), say I am feeling sick. Why was younger me so embarrassed? I then had to spend an hour discussing every possible tampon and sanitary towel scenario that could ever happen with her because I’m such a worrier. I opted for a sanitary towel because mum said it would be easier and I thought if I used a tampon I would never be able to get it out again - see, dramatic.”
“I was 12 when I started. I burst into tears and ran straight to my dad who immediately panicked and decided to hug me and give me a Snickers bar. Then when I was back at my mum’s house, she threw a family period party with cake and gifts; a gypsy top and jeans. PEAK 90s! My sister then got the same during her ‘turn!’”
“I was 14 when I got my first period - I remember feeling left out as most of my friends had started theirs, though I was quite happy to wait given their complaints of such bad pain that they had to stay off school. I was with one such best friend, wandering around the town when it happened - I just knew I didn’t feel right, went to a bathroom and quickly asked that we walk home. We didn’t talk about it, but my friend knew, I think - I’ll always be grateful she didn’t embarrass me by making me discuss it! I got home, tapped my mum on the shoulder and simply whispered, red-faced, ‘Mum, I’ve started’ and she got me what I needed (which for some unknown reason she always called ‘doo-dahs’ - I guess saying ‘pad’ seemed far too indiscrete!) although now that I’m older and more clued up I realise the nappy-like maxi pads she provided for me were probably not necessary...
“That was all we ever said about it, as I felt so self-conscious - so I was upset when I realised she’d told my older sister and her friend as soon as they got home. It was six months until I had my next one though, and then they continued as normal - by which time, I’d got over it, although whenever I needed ‘supplies’ I used to leave a note on my mum’s bed instead of having to say it out loud… Of course, almost 20 years later it’s far less awkward and my sisters and I now talk openly about all of it with my mum, which has led to some helpful conversations about just how much hormones affect the women in our family (turns out, a lot - severe PMS seems to run in the genes) - I just wish we’d done that in the first place!”
"The sky was overcast, the weather was awful and I was 11 years old when ‘it’ began. I was staying at an adventure park on my Year 6 leavers' holiday, it was the first time I’d properly stayed away from home. I hadn’t really listened to the school nurse when she explained what a period was in class, so imagine my confusion that day. I thought I was dying. My BFF Alex was on hand in our fancy chalet, she was 10 and also confused. She handed me a digestive biscuit while another girl sprinted in a mad panic to tell the teacher of this ordeal…turns out everything was okay and I would live to see another day. The worst part was when my teacher told me that I couldn’t go swimming with everyone else that night, I’ve never experienced FOMO quite like that."
I spent about 20 minutes wrestling with the tampon/rocket launcher of an applicator and let’s say that I didn’t nail it first time
“Mine came in a year 8 Spanish class. I was 14 and my mates had almost all started in the year previously, so I was fairly late amongst my group, but that meant I had a circle of wise, ‘been there’ women to accompany me to the tiny cupboard of a toilet and provide a pep talk. I’d been carrying around pads and tampons in preparation for nigh on a year (when was I to become a woman?!), but when the time came to actually use them I had no idea what I was doing - I didn’t know where to start with the colour coded ‘flow’ options, and didn’t go there with Tampax until a mandatory swimming trip (my P.E teacher wasn’t for ‘time of the month’ excuses). I spent about 20 minutes wrestling with said tampon/rocket launcher of an applicator and let’s say that I didn’t nail it first time, or indeed exercise my finest front crawl that day. That put me off using tampons for the good part of a year, even though I found pads bunchy and felt like I was shifting a mattress around in my pants (in hindsight I was probably using the wrong ‘colour’).
“I come from a medical family, so ‘logistical’ chat about biology and bodily functions has always been very open - I know I’m hugely lucky in this sense. I told my mum I’d started that evening, and while there’s never really been any discussion on the topic with my dad, I used to suffer with crippling ovulation pain about two weeks before my period was due, and alongside my mum he was always very aware - he’d be on the case with hot water bottles, biscuits and painkillers whenever intense egg release pain got going - it normally lasted for at least a day. I was so privileged to have support and information available at home - the menstrual cycle element of the school curriculum seemed both seriously lacking in key detail and far removed from our actual lives. I’m glad that menstrual health and wellbeing, as well as conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS , are now being more much widely discussed - I just hope that both girls and boys today receive better education on the topic in the future. Also, down with the blue liquid.”
"I was 13 and a half years old when I got my first period. It is quite funny looking back because I don’t think I was prepared at all for its arrival. It was a Tuesday morning, around 8am when I woke up and went to the toilet for my first trip of the day, half asleep. I remember pulling off my underwear and seeing some blood on the underwear.
“I went into panic mode because I genuinely didn’t know what it was! I called out for my mum but my dad answered from downstairs. I called out again for my mum telling my dad I didn’t want him but he again asked me what was wrong from the bottom of the stairs. He finally got my mum’s attention and she came upstairs to find out what all the commotion was – I showed her my underwear and asked her what it was…she started to laugh and then slapped my cheek! I was like ‘Mum, why did you do that?!” and she told me with a chuckle that back in Cyprus when she was a young girl and got her first period, her mother did the same thing to her to slap the shock out of her. I then started laughing too as it was just so surreal. After all the drama I was given some sanitary towels and I got on with the joy of being a woman. My first experience with a tampon is another story…haha.”
“I was 14 when I got my period and was one of the last people in my year. It came as a surprise when it decided to arrive one sunny Sunday afternoon and I remember feeling equal parts delight and dread - yes, I could finally join in with chats among my friends about period pains and painkillers and finally have an excuse to skip swimming, but I had a confusing feeling in the pit of stomach telling me that things were about to change - and I didn’t know if it was for the better or worse.
“I called out to my mum who was downstairs and, being the calming influence she is, she talked me through it all in her soothing way, retrieved an Always pad for me from her cupboard (in hindsight, she’d definitely been prepared for this for a while) and gave me a big hug. It’s a custom in my family to inform everyone when a girl gets her period - one that I was pretty mortified about. However, my parents are extremely cool about these sorts of things. They only told their siblings who, in accordance with another custom of ours, gave me some pretty awesome jewellery to celebrate. A definite silver lining and a tradition I’d like to pass onto my daughters one day too. Looking back, I should have told my parents to tell everyone!”
“I have a vivid memory of walking across the courtyard at secondary school with one of my best friends when we were 14. She confided in me that she’d just started her period. She tried to describe what it was like and I just couldn’t quite get my head around it. As the months went on, more and more girls started theirs. I still hadn’t come on at 17 so rather embarrassingly, mum took me to see our family doctor and asked if I was normal! Mum and I still laugh about that today! He assured me it was absolutely fine - I was a normal weight and clearly just a late developer - still stuffing socks in my bra! He said when it finally happens you’ll long for the days when you didn’t have to deal with it. I started my period shortly after that GP visit - he was right. It was better without it. I have never had any period pains or cramps but I always flood in the first 24 hours which is a huge inconvenience.”
“I was actually on holiday at the time. I woke up in the middle of the night and went to fetch my mum, panicking because my bed was wet. Luckily there was a sanitary towel dispensary in the hotel where I purchased my first ever one at 1 in the morning!”
“I remember it very clearly. I was in the second year at secondary school and just discovered a small amount of blood when I got up and thought this is it. I went and got one of mum's pads from the airing cupboard (it didn't occur to me I'd need more) and went to school. We had music that day and I was worried about banging the tambourine too violently in case it set anything off. It didn’t but how was I to know? I remember writing the date on my pinboard. I was 13 and a half. I thought I just had to get on with it. Mum didn't ask me anything for a good six months, and then probably only after she had twigged all her pads had been used. Never did she ask if I was okay or if I needed anything. Almost like if it wasn't mentioned, it hadn’t happened. It never really got discussed. So when my daughter reached the same age, I always had a kit with me in my handbag so I could give her what she needed.”