The world observed Menstrual Hygiene Day two weeks ago. Reading articles related to the event got me thinking, “Do we prepare our young girls early enough for this or are they always caught off-guard? Is there the best age to talk about menstruation with our young ones or do we just wait and gamble?” These and many questions crossed my mind as I rode back to my early teenhood where it all began.
In primary school, most of my classmates were caught unawares by their monthly flow. The first menstrual experience never really announces its arrival or if it does, it’s unlikely that one will know the signs since it’s a whole new thing. There was nothing as embarrassing as staining your uniform before the whole class.
Many girls have innocently risen to go out for a break only to be followed by whispers of “Waaaaah! Haiyaaaaaa! Ghaaaaaai!” Those are the days you would wish for an immediate and long lasting solar eclipse till you gained the courage to face your classmates again. It felt like your classmates henceforth look at you like you had given birth to twin antelopes which were now hopping all over the school.
Seeing this happen to many girls haunted me for the longest time ever. To date, I am always conscious whenever I rise in front of people. Even when I am sure I am not on my period, I will still rise and check my behind before I make the next step. I would rather people think I am measuring the size of my behind than face the embarrassment of a stained dress.
I wish there was a much stronger sign to prepare young girls for their first flow ... perhaps a warning that comes days before the flow. You see, not everyone experiences cramps every month. Even when you are experienced and have had your monthly period for years, your flow can catch you off guard. You might be relaxing somewhere assuming that cramps will alert you of the impending flow only for your uterus to start weeping impromptu. While other pupils will be rushing out for games, you will remain seated in class because of the mess. I cannot even remember the number of times some of us stayed put in class till dusk just to take off like deers in the dark as we cursed the day we were born girls.
A sweater was a very important accessory back then. It would come in handy to save the day even though there were those teachers who looked out for pupils with sweaters tied around our waists. From nowhere, they would shout from across the block, “Beryl Itindi, can you remove that sweater from your waist and come here running!” Those were like two horrible punishments! Removing the sweater from your waist meant showing the whole world our mess and running was like stepping on the accelerator of the flow.
When I first learned about menstruation, I imagined that if a woman could hold pee until she got to the washroom, then she could as well hold her menstrual flow. Little did I know that the flow is like a ghost! It respects no boundaries. No one told me it flowed like a permanent river for the number of days it wished. I wish all girls would be prepared early enough for the flow, not just emotionally but with sanitary towels too. In an ideal world, no one has to walk around with a sweater around her waist, no girl has to miss school during her period. As much as it’s a painful process for some, menstruation should not be the reason a girl loses her self-esteem.