We’ve all been there. We all have that one (or several) horrendous tales that we tell our girlfriends over the G&Ts, about our monthly duelings with ‘her downstairs’. An embarrassing accident on the bus, or that one time you wore white and, well... Every woman battles it at some point. And it's a journey you can't wait to start, until it happens. I had one friend at secondary school who managed to stave off having a period till she was 15, and we were all incredibly jealous. And yet, she couldn't wait to get it and be 'part of the gang'. The gang that had to endure P.E lessons in shorts because trackies weren't allowed. Or the excruciating embarrassment of changing in front of your entire year group, only to discover your pad was hanging out like a chavs tits. She couldn't wait for all that? I assured her, she really wasn't missing out, she was one of the lucky ones.
My journey to 'Womanhood' began at the tender age of 10. Yes, you heard correctly. I hit puberty nice and early, being 5ft 7", size 6 in shoes, and needing a B cup bra, I stuck out like a Grayson Perry pot in a garden shed.
It gets worse. Not only did I have to get my head round bleeding from my vagina every month, before I'd even heard of Sex Education, I also began my very first period during the classes weekly swimming lesson. I distinctly remember feeling the, now all too familiar, ache deep in my stomach as I bobbed in the pool. 'Maybe I'm sick? Maybe I won't have to go to school tomorrow! Oh, wait, it's Friday.'. I didn't think anymore of it until I got out the pool and went to get changed. For once, by some small miracle, I managed to go in a cubicle of which there were only 3, and 8 pupils. I took off my swimming costume and noticed an odd reddish, brown mark on the gusset. I stared at it for a short while, having absolutely no clue what it was, as it looked nothing like blood, perhaps something to do with the chlorine in the water. I dried off and scrunched the costume into my towel, thinking no more about it until I got home.
I made my way upstairs for a wee and sat on the loo, only to look down on what can only be described as carnage in my, once white, High School Musical knickers. The following debacle involve tears (from my mother), confusion (very much from me), and The Book. We all know about The Book. Handed to most adolescents at the dawn of puberty, The Book offers all, and yet, none of the answers to the questions you will shortly be asking about your body. It does not however, explain the blatant inequalities of biology.
If you’re one of Mother’s finest you hardly flinch as you roll out of bed, skip to the loo and notice a pinprick of pink as you wipe, simply say ‘oh’ and place a thin, dainty strip on your panties before you’re good to go and frolic about your day. But for a few of us, life ain’t so sweet.
In recent months my period or ‘The Bitch’ as I commonly refer to her, has taken to waking me at 5:30am to notify me of her incoming presence. It’s with this exact gurgle of my stomach that I know I have 6.47 seconds; to scrabble out of bed in my bleary eyed state, grab the thickest pad I can find and stick that sucker down, before adorning a second pair of pants over my now nappy-like arse and flop back on the bed, awaiting her majesty’s arrival.
And boy does she like to make an entrance.
Not only is she not a fan of the regular, store bought painkillers, she also loves to rob me of the ability to stand up, work, or even think straight. Not to mention making my, usually useless, nose into that of a sniffer dog, so that the slightest whiff of...well anything, will send me lurching for a bucket.
Don't get me wrong, I'm aware that there are people out there with far worse afflictions. After all, it is just a period.
It's just a period. No PCOS. No Endometriosis. No Cysts or twists or anything. Just your period.
So why all the fuss, right?
Well, actually it isn't. It's the agony of the event. It's the chore of having to clean sheets, underwear, clothes and furniture. It's the embarrassment of leaking somewhere other than the safety of your own home. It's having to cancel on friends and dates and events, just because it coincides with that week. It's having to miss days at work because you can't get out of bed without needing a change of clothes. It's having to explain to employers or colleagues that you really can't make it in today, and no you know you don't sound unwell, but you promise it's not a hangover, and yes you know you had time off last month and the month before. It's not allowing yourself to start new relationships because you think that the second your whole personality changes for a week, he'll run for the hills, never mind rub your back. It's knowing that people, including other women, think you're weak. That you should be able to soldier on like the rest of us. It's just a period.
For some of us, it's not just a period.