I have been obsessed with periods since my precocious 9 year-old self got her hands on her first Judy Blume book. I explored my parent’s bathroom, rifling through the cupboards to find my mom’s secret stash of lady things. Tampons (Maria was hip, she used O.B.), pads, deodorants, razors, and the countless tubes and bottles of makeup – I wanted to understand it all! I cursed my hairless legs and underdeveloped body, when would I be hairy and stinky enough to claim these as my own?!
I still remember the hours of whining that went into convincing my mom I needed a training bra (I didn’t). I’m still mortified that my dad saved the bag from The Broadway to commemorate the event, but I’ll never forget how sophisticated and adult I felt slipping on my lacy
glorified undershirt bra. I try to remember that feeling when I’m driving home after an especially long day at work, fighting the urge to take my bra off and fling it out the window onto the 101.
But back to the bad mama jama of it all, our periods… the crimson wave, Aunt Flow, the curse, your monthly bill – so many names, so little time. Those of you lucky/unlucky enough to know me in person will remember that this post was originally inspired by Christina Aguilera’s escandalo at Etta James’ funeral. Photos of Xtina were all over the gossip blogs with what appears to be a dark brown/red liquid running down her legs. The official explanation is that it was self-tanner, but in my mind that was Aunt Flow’s dark mark (like Voldermort, but scarier). That scenario is basically my worst nightmare, after being eaten alive by a shark. I know someone who lived through pretty much the same thing (keep reading, her story is included later in this post). Luckily, it wasn’t a world-wide event, but still. I died a thousand deaths with her, but also thanked my lucky stars I won’t even get up and do Karaoke at a bar, much less take the stage. But the OMG factor aside, there was a heartfelt blood sister feeling that if I’d been there I would have whipped off my jacket and shielded her from any embarrassment.
It’s that connection that has kept me so period-obsessed after all these years. When I was younger, I was just wrapped up in the idea that it meant I was *~a woman~*, and would finally run screaming into adulthood. Now, I see it more as being ushered into a secret sisterhood that has never ceased to fascinate me. Discovering that a group of about 5 co-workers and I had synched up our cycles blows my mind. Our ovaries are like WIZARDS! Through the cramps, stains, and cycles, we ladies are all bonded and it’s something no dude (no matter how understanding) can ever really fully comprehend. It’s why I carry two spare tampons with me at all times – one for me, one for you.
A big part of our collective experience about our periods is all the Aunt Flow folklore we hear from our moms, older sisters, friends, teen fiction, etc. – tales that terrified, amused, and confused us all at the same time. My mom told me tampons would swipe my v-card, and I’d be a shameless hussy if I used them. Her Mexican mom guilt/fear worked for about two years before I made the switch from pad to tampon. A popular period myth is that you can’t get pregnant during your period (fact: it’s not likely, but yes, you can). We were told not to go swimming because sharks would smell blood in the water and gobble us up. My friend’s grandmother told her women weren’t allowed to have ice cream while they were on their periods… not sure of the logic there. But she also said it was a time to celebrate because, “the men leave you alone!”. When guilt didn’t work, my mom tried fear and told me tampons could “get stuck” inside you. If you have any understanding of your body, you’ll know that’s simply not true, that sucker ain’t going nowhere! I have talked a friend through a stubborn tampon removal, so if you’re ever in a panic, call me. The craziest myth I’ve ever heard is that your fillings can fall out during your period – WHAT?!
What’s slightly worse than misinformation, is no information at all. I had an inkling of what would happen when I got my period – I knew I’d bleed, basically. My mom kept me in the dark about the biology of it all, and I don’t know if it’s because she was trying to protect me or that she wasn’t too clear on it herself. I’ve heard from a few women who were totally unprepared for their first period, no idea what was happening or what to do afterward. We’ve got so much information readily available to us now, I suppose if anyone wanted to find out any info they’d just Google it. But back in the day our best outside resources were Judy Blume and the occasional education film/lecture in school. It always makes me feel like a corny 75 year old granny, but I think of how exciting it would be to grow up in 2013 with all this information at your curious little fingertips!
And now, we’ve reached the Seventeen Magazine-“It Happened To Me”-embarrassing period story portion of the evening. Sharing the stories usually ends up in all of us dissolving into giggles, but I think it’s yet another way we ladies connect and grow closer to each other. Even if we have nothing else in common, we can all feel each other’s pain (and mortification) and our bond as blood sisters grows that much stronger. The names have been changed to protect the mortified, enjoy…
Cady Heron: I first surfed the crimson tide at the young age of 9. Being an early bloomer and scared shitless, I obviously screamed bloody murder (pun-intended) at the sight of my stained Powerpuff Girls undies. My mom stayed with me in the restroom while my dad went and bought some pads. I finally made my dramatic exit to find both my brothers cheering and clapping my arrival to womanhood.
Olive Penderghast: For some unexplained reason I decided that when I started my period at 13, it wasn’t information my mom needed to know. I knew everything and I needed no help. Luckily pads were kept in the bathroom cabinets. I was fine with stealing pads up until it was time to go camping. My know-it-all 13 year old self knew you couldn’t swim with a pad. So I bought some tampons, I ended up with god-awful cardboard ones and had no idea how to use them. Camping was not the place to teach myself either. In a cramped, scorching hot bathroom stall I never realized a tampon had an applicator. I did realize it didn’t seem very comfortable. In 100 degree heat the directions weren’t making sense to me so I said eff it, and used it like that anyway. That is my tampon horror story, I think I used the whole box while camping incorrectly. And I couldn’t quite figure out why anyone would prefer tampons??!! Eventually I got everything figured out and I’ve never bought cardboard tampons again.
Elizabeth Bennet: I started my period at 11 years old… In, low and behold, gym class. I was so embarrassed to go out of the locker room that I started crying and went up to my gym teacher. She gave me a pad and called my mom. My mom left work and came to pick me up. The next day I had the worst cramps that I couldn’t go to school. I went to school the following day and a few of my friends asked me if I was sick. I told them there was a death in the family. Going home that day my mom brings home birth control. I knew about it, but was pretty shocked. My mother is a nurse and informed me that birth control helps with cramping. So my next period wouldn’t be as bad. I’ve been like clock work and on birth control since I was 11 years old. Two years ago I got the IUD, Mirena… Guess who hasn’t had a period in almost two years!!!!
Veronica Mars: My worst period was during the last week of 8th grade, where I bled so much I stained a seat (luckily was wearing black). My graduation dress (the one I wore under my yellow gown) was white (my cycle was irregular when I started, so I couldn’t plan ahead), so I was super paranoid and wore overnight pads and changed them on the hour.
Sheila Albertson: So just recently I was playing an Ron & Sheila show, I had my period but at this point in my cycle, it usually just calls for a tampon and we’re golden. Boy was I wrong. I’m on stage, you guys, wearing a really tight pencil skirt. In the middle of a song I feel it… and think … Oh god…please no. I’m currently singing and playing ukelele so I just figured I would press my legs really tightly together until there was a break in the song so I could look down and assess my situation. To my horror, when that break came about… I see it … smeared on my legs…I give Ron a look of terror…drop my ukelele, jump off stage and run to the bathroom. Frantically talking to myself in the bathroom, I change into a pair of shorts I brought “just in case”… thank GOD. Clean myself up and walk back on stage, only to people clapping and cheering my return, which made it worse somehow. I sang the rest of the show with my hair directly in front of my face and told Ron shortly “TWO MORE…THAT’S IT'”. I have never packed up my gear so quickly. The whole time thinking… “Do they all know what happened and are just playing it cool?”. I was mortified, I thought at 28 I’d have this down by now haha. [dead. -vanessa]
Glenn Coco: I have had a horrible period my entire life…seriously. I actually started my period on Halloween in the fifth grade. I was dressed as a glorious pumpkin princess in a flowy orange 70’s gown (don’t ask), and I started to get a stomach ache so I ran home assuming I had to poop…When I got in the bathroom I realized that there was blood all over the back of my dress and as I frantically tried to rub it out and verify that it was indeed blood, I proceeded to get it all over my hands. It looked like the scene from Carrie…and I really was worried that they “were all gonna laugh at me”.
Unicorn Koala: I have a less interesting history. I have used tampons from the start – my super liberal hippie mom went to the 7-11 ( I was just barely 13 i think) and got me some, hugged me and said “my little girl is a woman now” to which I say…. who THE FUCK comes up with that “you are a woman now” to children. ugh. I had a few minor accidents along the way but nothing crazy out of the ordinary. The worst I had it was getting my period on the hike down from backpacking with my dad at 15 – but lucky it was just that last day and i had a pile of paper towels jammed in my jeans chaffing the fuck out of my business but I think we all have had a day like that. [She thinks using tampons from day 1 is “less interesting”, this is why she’s one of my life coaches. -vanessa]
Beca Mitchell (as told by Unicorn Koala): I convinced Beca to use the Instead cup (although to this day she has never mastered a tampon, so you can predict the impending disaster). The trick to the cup is if you feel like you have to pee, GO PEE OR DIEEEEEEEEE! One day she was sporting a instead cup and went to Jack in the Box… and while in line to order, her cup… well, it runneth over. So an entire day worth of flow hit the floor. Yes in shorts (<—-Sheila FEEL BETTER) and I LAUGHED and LAUGHED and LAUGHED. Sorry. I did. [p.s. if anyone gets the Beca Mitchell connectionI will buy you an In ‘N Out milkshake. -vanessa]
Fiona Gallagher: I was spending the night at a friend’s house (a guy), he was on the couch and I was in his room. I woke up and realized I’d bled all over his bed, and freaked out! I ripped the sheets off the bed and ran to his mom, apologizing and trying not to weep. She gave me a tampon with a cardboard applicator and sent me on my merry way. I’d never used one before, so I did my best to figure it out and headed to school. I was uncomfortable all morning long, trying to understand how anyone would ever willingly wear a tampon. Well, it turns out I inserted the whole thing, applicator and all, into myself. Lesson learned.
Veronica Sawyer: When I was younger my periods were wildly unpredictable and, at times, extremely heavy. Like, dam busting heavy. Picture it… 10th grade history class, my tampon/pad combo was no match for the typhoon within me and I leaked so bad it left a stain on my seat. I had to sit around, pretending to pack and repack my stuff to buy time until everyone in my row had walked out. I knew there was going to be a huge stain on the chair, and I had seconds to walk out before the next class walked in – I grabbed a sheet of notebook paper and set it down the instant my butt lifted off the seat. I quickly swooshed it across the seat to pick up any wetness, turn, and ran like hell. When I went to class the next day, I saw the dried stain… which haunted me for the rest of the god-damned school year.
Juno MacGuff: One time me and a bf of the past were getting it on, and it felt better than usual and once we were done, it was just a bloody mess and him thinking he broke something in me. Fun times.
Libby Mae Brown: A friend of mine (who may or may not have been into me, I can’t verify) let me stay over on his couch because I was too drunk to drive home. So I spent the night and he let me borrow his shorts and a t-shirt to sleep in. Well, I had my lovely monthly friend and figured I’d be okay. Forgetting it was my second day, which is the worst for me, and I hadn’t thought ahead to bring any reserves. So I wake up in the morning and I knew something was wrong. I check out the situation, stand up and in the words of Margaret Cho…. it “AAAaaaaalllllll comes out”, just pouring down my bare leg. I freak out and think, “okay, the bathroom… I have to run to the bathroom.” But then, as I’m ever so carefully working my way down the hall, I hear his bedroom door open. So I quickly shuffle my menstruating self back to the living room, plop myself down on the floor Indian style, and grab the nearest blanket on the couch and cover myself completely. I blamed the frigid valley morning weather… It was June. So after 5 minutes, that felt like 2 hours, he goes to the bathroom and I rush to the nearest faucet, the kitchen. I grab a paper towel and clean myself furiously. I also hunt like a demon for carpet cleaner… I got myself… ON HIS FLOOR. I found some, cleaned it up and got the hell outta there. I’ve never really talked to him since. I also got my period while riding my bicycle. But that wasn’t so bad, because I was dating a dirty hipster with a handlebar mustache… no one was looking me.
Mary Dewey Decimal: I was dating a guy I was head over heels for, and one night we had an impromptu love-fest. I was at the very end of my period, so I knew there was a slight risk of spotting, but I threw caution to the wind and let him ravish me. It turns out a gal should always trust her gut… I left a huge, bloody stain all over his sheets and thought I was going to seriously die of embarrassment. He laughed it off, and was really sweet about it. Later that week, we were with some friends and for some reason I made a joke about being pregnant – my guy chimes in, “pretty sure you’re not, the evidence is all over my sheets.” If looks could kill, I’d be telling this story from behind bars.