I was the first girl in my class to get her period. I was 10, barely in double digits, but apparently my biology thought I was ready for reproduction. I'll never forget the terror with which I reacted to my first menstrual cycle. "Am I dying?" I thought, when I first saw the blood in the toilet. No, I was just becoming a fertile woman, but at the time, it felt like the same thing.
I was halfway through in 5 grade when it happened. It was January, and I actually went several days without anyone knowing. I walked around in blood-soaked underwear, too afraid to tell anyone what I saw as my dirty little secret. I hoped and prayed no one would notice the little red marks on my clothes. I kept my legs crossed a lot.
While I had a rudimentary understanding of human reproduction by the time I reached menarche, I still wasn't completely sure what exactly sex entailed. My brain was unsure of how to make a baby, and here was my body preparing to make babies! It felt like a betrayal. It felt too grown up for me to handle, like talk of taxes or wills. My period was a subject I didn't feel ready to deal with, but my body didn't give a damn.
Simply put, I was ashamed of my newfound womanhood. I had learned at church that women suffered in childbirth because Eve from The Bible was the original sinner. In my mind, my period officially marked me as impure. I felt the stigma of female reproduction, the idea that my status as a potential child-bearer child-bearer child-bearer child-bearer child-bearer child-bearer punishment. Suddenly, I was no longer an innocent little girl; I was morally suspect.
Of course, I could not keep up the charade I was still a non-menstruating person forever. My mother noticed my blood-soaked underwear one evening while doing the laundry, and that was that. She immediately headed to my bedroom to discuss the matter. Dressed in a nightgown with dainty flowers on it, my mother got into bed beside me. She seemed baffled by my secrecy. I remember her asking gently, "Sarah, were you planning on just never telling me you started your period?" Well yeah. The truth was, until I was caught red-handed, so to speak, I'd had no intention whatsoever of telling her, or anyone else I knew. Had my diligent mother not noticed my soiled undergarments, I would have permanently dyed every pair of underwear I owned red with discharge from my own body.
The best way I can describe early puberty is that it was lonely. Developing before my classmates meant I had no peers who could relate to my body changes. Instead, they mocked me for being the only girl in Grade 5 with noticeable hair on her legs. Sometimes the boys chased me down and tried to grab my breasts. Occasionally they succeeded. To protect myself, I turned menstruation into my secret shame. I discussed it with no one, for fear they would tease me all the more when it turned out I didn't just have breasts and leg hair, I hemorrhaged out of my vagina once a month too! For too long, I lived in abject terror that someone would spot a maxi pad in my backpack and blow my cover.
By the time I was 12, most of the girls in my class were menstruating too. It was no longer Other to have your period, but I couldn't get over the trauma of feeling like the only one. While other girls I knew now discussed their brand new periods with the same giddy excitement you might find in a Judy Blum book, I remained silent. My period was already set in my mind as something gross and scary.
As the years progressed, nothing changed. I even lived for years with anemia caused by abnormally heavy periods because I was too embarrassed to bring up how heavy my flow to my own doctor. Not even physical suffering was enough to motivate me to engaged in Real Talk about my period with a licensed medical professional.
My awkwardness surrounding menstruation continued until I was 29. After accidentally leaking through my jeans one day at work, I was forced to call my boss, and inform her I had to go home to change before attending my afternoon meeting. This ought to have been a simple task. Instead, it took me about 7 and a half minutes to spit out the fact that my pants were so bloody they looked like they had been worn by Drew Barrymore in the 90s horror movie Scream. Afterword, I apologized to her profusely, as if being a menstruating person were some sort of professional failure on my part.
The workplace menstrual ordeal was a low point for me. I was an adult lady with multiple university degrees who regularly faced off with sexist trolls on the Internet, but I could barely bring myself to say the word "period" to my boss. I knew then and there that something had to change. That very day, as I removed my bloodstained black jeans to change into a clean floral dress, I declared, "As God as my witness, I will never be embarrassed by menstrual blood again!"
I resolved to become comfortable talking about my period in public before turning 30. I had already accomplished all the other adult things I wanted to do before the end of my 20s, like buying a home, and writing a book. Yet, telling someone I had my bloody period – pun intended – had always seemed far more daunting to me than applying for a mortgage.
After careful consideration, I decided the best way to get used to talking about menstruation was to do so in the most public forum I knew, Twitter. I had seen feminist women I admire, such as its creator Tracy Clayton, use the hashtag "LiveTweetYourPeriod." Since I'm nothing if not a feminist, I decided to jump into this social media dialogue headfirst. When I make a lifestyle change, I go big or go home. For my fairly risk-averse personality type, find it ultimately works better for me to jump into the deep end than to tentatively stick a toe in the water.
Now, I'm not going to pretend live-tweeting my period came naturally to me. I love Twitter. I love it even more than I love re-watching Mad Men on Netflix. I worried my followers would unfollow me if I got too specific about my cycle, so initially I focused on safer subjects, like period-related food cravings. As time went on, however, I became emboldened. I started tweeting about the heaviness of my flow and made explicit reference to blood clots. My tweets got more graphic. But rather than losing followers, I gained some new ones. I discovered a community of people who appreciated me for being frank about something that is still so taboo that many straight guys I know won't even buy their girlfriends tampons.
On Twitter, I found a bevy of empowered women who do not believe menstruation is an unspeakable act. There are plenty of articulate ladies live tweeting about everything from struggles with their divas cups to period-related cravings for salt and vinegar chips. It was their words that motivated me. I didn't always know the people who used the "Live Tweet Your Period" hashtag, but their 140-character posts to the world kept me company on the long journey to overcoming my menstrual shame.
Over the last 6 months, live-tweeting my period has become a central part of my monthly routine. I can truly say I no longer see the 6 days I bleed every few weeks as a curse. Sure, cramps suck and I resent the high cost of menstrual product, but I've also found a Twitter-shaped bright spot regarding my "time of the month." I genuinely look forward to finding new and creative ways to describe my monthly visitor.
Thanks to the process of live-tweeting, menstruation is no longer a source of terror for me. In fact, I've learned to see the humour in it. Just today, I tweeted "Menstrual blood is harder to wash off than regular blood. Anyone else feel like Lady MacBeth when they change a tampon? #LiveTweetYourPeriod." I followed that tweet by declaring, "Inserting a tampon makes you feel POWERFUL. It's like Moses parting The Red Sea." Sometimes, life literally is a bloody mess, and I've learned it's best for me to laugh at it.
Of course, I know my jokes about periods may not be to everyone's taste. You may find my tweets juvenile, silly, or even gross, but I actually don't care anymore. Why? Because they make me happy. By putting all the gory glory of my menstrual cycle out there for consumption on the Internet, I've learned my period is nothing to fear. I've discussed it as publicly as I can, and nothing terrible has happened yet. I've taken the power out of the period shame I once felt by reclaiming my menstrual cycle. No one can embarrass me by revealing the secret shame of my period any longer, because my period isn't a secret anymore.
After two whole decades of menstruating, I've finally come to peace with this biological process through the expressive power of social media. Once a month, I bleed for days without dying, and I share the absurd wonder of that experience with the world. I've come a long way, baby...