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Illustration: Katrin Friedmann

Life Stages

Do you remember your first period?

Many people remember their first period, and for some, it was an unforgettable experience. We asked people to share their story from that day.

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Many people remember their first period, and for some, it was an unforgettable experience. We asked people to share their story from that day. The main commonality we noticed was the feeling of anxiety when it came to sharing the news of menarche with family members - all around the world. There’s still a long way to go opening up the conversation about menstruation.

Check out a few stories of humor, shock and curiosity:

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Name: Kim Location: New York City Did you know what menstruation was before your first period? Yes, my mom literally threw a book at me when I was in 5th grade (9-10) years old. “Here! Let me know if you have any questions!” For the longest time, I didn’t know that the vagina was a hole, and I thought the man just put his penis in between a woman’s legs (the illustrations were poor). I was able to learn a bit more through my school’s sexual education program, but I mostly learned through experience. How old were you? 14 Tell us what it was like when you got your first period. (Where were you? What were you doing, how did you feel?) I woke up on a weekend morning with blood in my panties.

I was embarrassed to tell my family, but excited to tell my friends. The first “person” I told was my dog, Cinnamon.

I’ll never forget that. A month or two later, the cramps began: I was shopping at an outlet mall, and screaming in pain. People stared. I told my mom I thought I was going to throw up; she didn’t believe me. I did eventually throw up all over my lunch, in public. It was the worst pain I had ever experienced. To this date, if I don’t get a head start on the ibuprofen on heavy days, I am in severe, debilitating pain. Overall, was the experience positive or negative? Negative

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Name: Susana Location: Mexico Did you know what menstruation was before your first period? Yes How old were you? 11 Tell us what it was like when you got your first period. (Where were you? What were you doing, how did you feel?) I was home alone on vacation. I was little scared but mostly excited to call my mom and share the news. And by the end of the call I just started crying for no reason! Later

I got some balloons from my godparents with a Snoopy congratulations card.

I actually felt embarrassed that my mom told people. Now I get it. Overall, was the experience positive or negative? Positive

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Name: Beth Location: England Did you know what menstruation was before your first period? Yes How old were you? 11 years old Tell us what it was like when you got your first period. (Where were you? What were you doing, how did you feel?) I had just been on a camping trip with a really great tyre swing. But every evening as I lay in my sleeping bag I got these terrible pains around my crotch. It felt like I was bruised and someone was pressing down upon the bruises. It was enough to wake me up. I blamed the big tyre swing. The morning after getting home I had slept great. I got up and went to the loo like normal, but as I flushed and turned to the sink something caught my eye in the toilet bowl. Something red. Checking myself I found blood. Lots of blood. I ran back to bed and cried. I knew what it was and what it meant, but for some reason I could not stop crying. My dad was confused when I refused to tell him what was wrong and asked for Mum instead. My mum came, calm as anything, showing the towels and repeating the phrase “girl power” until my sobbing had shifted to snuffles. For some reason I felt like this was the end of childhood, like a massive responsibility had been thrust upon me and that terrified me. Even with very good sex education lessons in school and full understanding of what was happening.

It was that moment that I suddenly became incredibly self-conscious about my body.

Could people tell? There is a photo taken by my grandfather of myself and my younger sisters. My sisters are happy, kids smiling away. I’m trying to smile, my body turned away from the camera, a hand “casually” placed in front of my crotch in an attempt to obscure it. I was embarrassed and frightened, even with all the education and kindness from my mother. However, my mum’s calmness and openness from the beginning did mean that as my confidence returned I had no problem going to her for towels and advice, and that is something I am incredibly grateful for.

Overall, was the experience positive or negative? Positive

Name: E, not pictured Location: Germany (grew up in the U.S.) Did you know what menstruation was before your first period? Yes How old were you? 12 Tell us what it was like when you got your first period. (Where were you? What were you doing, how did you feel?) I knew what it was, thanks to Judy Blume books and sex ed in school, but wasn’t expecting so little blood and wasn’t expecting it to be a strange rust color. I noticed it when I was on a family road trip to visit relatives over Thanksgiving. On the way back, we made a pit stop to go to the bathroom. I noticed a little staining in my underwear. It took a few minutes for me to realize what it was and didn’t feel like announcing my period to my whole family, so I shoved a bunch of cheap rest stop toilet paper in my underwear for the remaining five-hour drive. When we got home, I threw out my underwear and snuck some pads from my parents’ bathroom. My parents are fairly conservative and not very open, and

I didn’t know how to tell my mom that I had gotten my period, even though it was bound to happen sometime. It was somehow too embarrassing and even shameful.

After a few months of sneaking pads and throwing out stained underwear, my mom had a very awkward conversation in which she simply said that she put some pads in my bathroom for me. Twenty years later, I have loosened up a whole lot, but my mom hasn’t. I have a slew of problems with my reproductive system and for years, I’ve been trying to get my mom to say “period,” “vulva,” or “vagina,” and she always finds a way around it. If I ever have a daughter, I hope she doesn’t feel bad about her changing body.

Overall, was the experience positive or negative? Negative

Tell us your first period story.

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