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What I learned from my parents when I got my first period

What I learned from my parents when I got my first period

Having the first period talk can be a daunting task. That’s why we wrote a guide on how to talk about it. We also asked two teens to share their first period experiences with their parents from This Teenage Life. This Teenage Life is a youth dialogue and podcasting program exploring identity-based issues relevant to teens, preteens, educators, and parents. They’ve also developed educational resources including conversation and activity guides to support educators and youth. 

If you’re interested in using this podcast and related educational resources, visit the website or tune into the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you like to listen. 

Becoming a Woman

My first period was unexpected, to say the least. When I noticed the splotch of red after the shower, I frantically texted my mom, eloquently writing: “come here. my vagina is bleeding.” She bustled into the bathroom with me, and evaluated the situation with maternal calm and amusement. My older sisters stood outside the door giggling to themselves while my mom told me what to do. Later that night, my father patted me on the shoulder and treated me to a descriptive explanation of the menstrual cycle and the biology of the female reproductive system — the kind of description only a medical professional could give.

Olivia Ho, author

But even though I was privileged enough to be born into a family that practices necessary honesty and transparency around menstrual health, I still felt off. My diary entry from that night in 2016 reads: “I know I’m supposed to feel all happy and womanly but I’m just really scared and unwilling, like I was forced into this. I can’t look at myself the same way.” For whatever reason, I associated my period with a deep sense of unsettling shame — perhaps because I didn’t feel like I had “become a woman”, despite being told otherwise.

That phrase is thrown around a lot, whether joking or serious. Not only is it trans-exclusionary (not everyone who menstruates is a woman and not every woman menstruates), it also forces an unwanted responsibility onto people who are getting their first period. Perhaps my issue isn’t with the phrase itself, but rather the implications of the phrase: that womanhood is characterized solely by the reproductive system, and the notion that I’d transformed, over the course of a night, to someone completely outside myself. Nevertheless, that mystical, unexpected transition from a 13-year-old kid to a fully formed woman freaked me out. I thought there would be new expectations for me, that I would undergo some fundamental change deep within myself.

I found out the next day that none of that was true. I was the same person, with the same aspirations, the same expectations, and the same affinity for the cartoon Adventure Time. I hadn’t “become a woman.” At least, not in the transformative, oppressive sense that I’d come to internalize. Really, I’d just started off on a new journey in my life, one that would fascinate and frustrate me in equal measure. And getting my period didn’t automatically turn me into a woman — I’d been growing into a woman my whole life and I haven’t stopped. -Olivia Ho

Olivia is a 17-year-old high school student who enjoys reading, writing, and making the podcast This Teenage Life. Here’s an episode she helped produce on periods.

Dads, Daughters, and Periods

My first period, in my 13-year-old mind, was terrifying. My parents had recently separated, and on the morning it started, I was alone with my dad and brother. I luckily already had talks with my mom when I first experienced discharge and we had pads on deck. But talking was much different than experiencing. In a panicked, crying state I had updated my dad on my unfortunate first visit from my forever monthly subscription to pain, headaches, and blood. He calmly took me to the bathroom to learn how to put on a pad. We read the side of the box and after some configuring, we figured it out together. He calmed me down and told me there was “nothing to worry about” and that “It’s completely normal”. Although I’m sure he had no idea what he was doing, his reassurance and love helped me realize I wasn’t dying and everything was going to be okay.   

Cami Sweet, author

 When it comes to men and periods, the stereotype is that men are typically supposed to be disgusted or indifferent about the matter. In movies, you only see men bring it up when a woman is too mad for their taste. These stereotypes didn’t play out in my household. In fact, I grew up surrounded by two parents who did not play into stereotypical gender roles. My dad cooked and cleaned for the most part and my mom was the main breadwinner. And when my mom had to take night shifts, my dad was the main caregiver. Our connection stayed pretty strong, even after my mom went back to a normal schedule. 

I think the pretty loose gender roles in my house plus my dad never being the toxic masculinity type really helped him not fall into the disgusted category of men (which in itself is misogynistic) when it came to periods. As a 13-year-old, my expectation was to have another woman beside me to help me out, whether it be my mom, a close family member, or a friend. All the stories that I had heard so far about my friends’ first period were with their moms or they were on their own. Having my dad there was admittedly terrifying, yet looking back on it now, I couldn’t have asked for a better response from him. His calm voice and supportive approach didn’t make me feel disgusting —  it made me feel safe. I still had someone to help me even, if it wasn’t my ideal choice. Now, it makes me think of all the dads out there who have to play the mom too, whether they’re the primary caregiver of a daughter or a single dad. I think we need to have a shift in society where periods are normalized so any dad who’s in this situation can be prepared to help their daughters when they need them.   – Cami Sweet

Cami is a 17-year-old girl who enjoys volleyball, acting like a grandma, and being with her friends on This Teenage Life. Here’s an episode she helped produce on periods.