Flowers for Menstruation

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You might be wondering about the title. Daffodils are the flowers associated with ten-year wedding anniversaries (the present is supposed to be tin, which is far less romantic), but it’s not daffodil season so I got myself these roses instead. I haven’t been married for ten years, but I have been menstruating for ten years. Just like marriage, it’s a significant moment in a woman’s life. Just like in a marriage, my uterus and I have been through a lot of challenging times together. We haven’t always agreed with each other. In fact, we actually fight a lot. But in spite of our disagreements, we’re still together and we’re still going strong. To that end, I wanted to write a letter to my twelve-year-old self and share with her some of the things I’ve learned about menstruation. Happy Menstruanniversary to me!


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To little Beth,

Congratulations! You’re twelve years old, about to start your last year of intermediate, and you’re also just starting your very first period. I know, it’s awful. The blood and the cramps and the enormous ugly pads, ugh. I feel for you. But as your twenty-two year old self, I’m here to reassure you that it does get better. Like infinitely better. I’ve been doing this shit for a decade now, so you’ll be glad to hear I’ve figured out a thing or two.

But unfortunately before it gets better it’s going to get worse. I’ll give you the bad news first, so you have something to look forward to later on. I mean, the first little while won’t actually be too bad. Don’t panic when your period doesn’t come back after this for another three months – you’ve not gotten pregnant like how Jesus’s mum did. It’ll come back eventually and you’ll bloody well wish it hadn’t.

For the first little while, having periods isn’t actually going to be that bad. The bleeding is going to be pretty traumatically heavy from the start, I’m sorry, and you’re going to have stupidly long periods for a good few years. But make the most of this first year, because soon you’re going to start high school and for some reason that’s going to make things so much worse. (The silver lining is that even though you’re scared of tampons now, you’re going to figure them out before you hit 2008.)

The pain, oh my god. It’s going to be horrible from the start too, but it gets worse. Long days of high school and excruciating cramps don’t mix. At all. Sorry. You’re going to be fucking miserable for the first day or two each time it comes. And it’ll be showing up pretty regularly by then. Just make sure you always have lots of tampons in your schoolbag. Panadol and ibuprofen too, even though they only kinda help. There’s not much else I can say to sweeten this for you. The first two years of high school in particular are going to be hellish for this. You won’t learn anything in class on those days. You’ll dream about the fetal position all day long until you finally get home and can crawl into bed and curl up into a ball. RIP you.

One day in science class when you’re fourteen years old, the pain is going to be so bad that your ears will start ringing, your vision will go spotty and then you’ll actually pass out. Thankfully, your friend will take you to the sick bay and they’ll call your mum and she’ll come and take you home where you can be as fetal as you need to be.

Some other shit moments are on their way too. You’re going to get your period during school camp when you’re thirteen (a terrible place to deal with it) and it’s going to hurt so much you throw up at the train station. You’ll get your period when you’re fourteen and on holiday with your family, and it’s  going to suck. It’ll be in the middle of summer, uncomfortably hot, and you’re going to spend the day doing activities like looking at glow worms in caves and taking long walks through other caves and generally moving around when all you want to do is lie still and weep silently to yourself. When you’re sixteen and in Wellington for the weekend with your first serious boyfriend, you’ll get it then too – it’s going to be an extra painful and extra prolific one and you’re going to have a fun time dealing with a leaking uh-oh in the bathroom of the Old Bank food court. You’re also going to be too shy to tell him why you don’t feel well, even though you’ll later find out he would have been so supportive about it.

Thankfully, those are the worst of the times to come. And on that note,  now you get to hear the good news.

In a few years you’ll no longer have to deal with disgustingly heavy, horribly painful and tormentingly long periods. Let’s just take a second to feel pissed off together about the fact that the average period lasts between 2 and 5 days, and yours currently last between 7 and 9. Your uterus fucking hates you, little Beth. But believe me when I tell you that isn’t going to last! When you’re seventeen you’re going to make one of the best decisions you’ll ever make and go on the contraceptive pill, and that is genuinely going to change your life so much. It will barely hurt any more, like the pain will be so insignificant that you’ll be able to carry on with your days without even thinking about it. And what cramps you do experience won’t stick around anywhere near as long. You can look forward to a much lighter and shorter flow too. I promise you that in your future you will have one particularly beautiful period that only lasts one day. It’s fucking magical.

There’ll come a time when you’ll look forward to getting your period. I’m not kidding. I know it sounds crazy. But in the weird future times of your life (now my past, I feel like I’m time travelling here) you’re going to start having sex. Seems gross to you now, I’m sure, but one day it won’t. You’re going to be fucking dumb about the sex thing for a little while though, so it will always be a relief when you get your period after being dumb and not using contraception properly. The pill is fine and all, but you’re not always good at taking it on time so bloody well use condoms too so you don’t spend your whole life freaking out about unwanted babies in your uterus. Don’t do what I did and wait until you’re in your twenties to figure this out. Idiot. At least during this time of your life, menstruating is going to feel like a godsend. More good news: you never actually get pregnant, not once, even though you’ll always think you will!

And lastly, some advice.

I know you’re caught up in the moment of starting your menstrual life. But having your period does not suddenly put you on the same level as all your older female relatives, okay? They’ve had so much more life experience than you, you can’t even imagine. Later on you’ll come to realise that this day doesn’t actually mark the point in your life where you go from being a girl to being a woman. You won’t feel like a woman for a long time yet. In fact, I’m a decade older than you and I’m still waiting to feel like a proper adult.

When your mum wants to show you how tampons work, don’t get all weird and embarrassed about it. Take the opportunity to talk to her and learn from the wisdom she has to offer. She’s been doing this for a while and like most adult women she’s kind of an expert.

On that note, don’t be so bloody terrified of using tampons. They’re fine. They’re totally fine. In fact, when you do figure out how to use them you’re going to think they’re amazing. And rightly so. You won’t get that icky feeling of blood clumps coming out your vag, and you won’t worry anymore about your pad filling up and leaking everywhere. Tampons just make life so much better, so grit your teeth and have a good poke around until you’ve successfully got one in. You’ll thank me for it.

Don’t go to school if you’ve just started your period and it really goddamn hurts. Please don’t. See above: it will be a waste of time. You won’t learn anything, you’ll be miserable the entire time, and you’re far better off just having a sick day and catching up on schoolwork when you feel better. Rest when you need to. Don’t push yourself. Be a princess once a month. Every woman should.

You are so completely entitled to feel like shit while you’re menstruating. Just so entitled to that. So allow yourself it. Allow yourself to feel angry and tearful and shortchanged and unjustly punished and sad and irritated and tired and in pain. It’s so okay to feel all those things, and not to blame yourself for them. Periods fucking suck, and you’re allowed to feel terrible because of them. It’s not your fault. It’s not something you should try to suppress. Look after yourself during this time like you’d look after someone else who was experiencing the same things. Take a long hot shower and wash yourself really well. Make a hot cup of Milo and lie in bed reading a book. Pat Comet and tell her how you’re feeling (she’s a cat but she’s also a woman, so she’ll understand). Eat chocolate. Wear comfy underwear. Try to get some sleep. And don’t worry, because now you know you only have to make it through a few years before it all gets so much better.

With love,

Beth (the decade-older, slightly-wiser version of yourself).

P.S. While I’m here to tell you things, you should get a hairdryer you fucking noob.

P.P.S. The flowers are for you.

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