I was in primary six and about twelve years old. I had heard older girls discussing something about blood flowing from their vagina, when you ask them questions, they would simply ignore you. Some of them would even change the topic when they see you coming. Maybe they were just shy or maybe they did not want to be judged wrongly. But I could guess many of them were sharing experiences about their menstruation and probably how they handled it. I also remember my primary school teacher had mentioned it before but I didn’t really understand what she meant though I gathered from all these discussions that one day, I would get my menarche. Lo and behold, sooner than later, I experienced it, my menarche, though I had been expecting it, I wasn’t ready. This is a story about my first menstrual cycle, the bloody affair that I handle every month.
It was a beautiful Sunday, I love Sundays because I get to go to church and listen to some beautiful hymns from the students’ choir. On this particular Sunday, I was dressed in a blue-black pair of shorts and a white t-shirt. After ironing the clothes, I picked a stool and sat in the compound to polish shoes for church. It was my responsibility to iron our clothes and polish our shoes for church on
Sundays. The other children also had other responsibilities such as sweeping the compound, cleaning the sitting room, tidying up the kitchen and so on. My siblings finished their chores earlier and went to take their bath, I hurriedly finished with the polishing and stood up from the stool, as I turned to pick up the stool, I saw blood had stained it. I quickly looked around to make sure that no one was looking, luckily, I was alone, I went for a sponge, put some water on it and wiped the blood off, washed the sponge and went to take my bath. I had mixed feelings about my menarche; excitement because I had been looking forward to it, fear because I didn’t know what exactly to expect.
After taking my bath that day, I looked around for some old rugs from my mother’s used clothes which were packed in a jute bag in
the room I shared with my siblings. These pieces of cloth were her old clothes that we washed, folded neatly and kept, anytime an aunty gave birth, she would donate some to them to use as napkins for the baby. I wrapped it nicely and laid it on my panty, wore it and wore another panty on it before I finally put on a very tight pair of shorts. You know why I had to load myself with so many undies? To prevent the rug from falling! Yes I was afraid it would fall off, so I had to put in place mechanisms to avoid that. That was one of the most uncomfortable days in my life, I was walking in style; trying to keep my ‘pad’ in place and at the same time making sure the people around me will not notice I was walking uncomfortably. When evening came, I made sure to be the last person to bath, I removed the piece of rug, soaked with blood and wrapped it in a poly bag and dumped it in the dustbin in our bathroom. I was obviously hiding it from everyone, and practically applying the little knowledge I had about menstrual hygiene from some of my teachers and female friends who were already experiencing it.
I was lucky that Sunday, I didn’t soil any other clothes apart from the pair of shorts I soiled earlier in the morning. When I went to bath, I washed the pair of shorts and hanged it on the dryline in the bathroom. We didn’t share the same bathroom with my parents so there was no need to worry about her finding out that I had washed
in the bathroom. Washing one or two things was something all the ladies I shared the bathroom with did once in a while so there was no need worrying about them questioning why I was washing, just a day after we did the family laundry. After washing the pair of shorts, took my bath, folded another piece of rug, bathed and used it for the night. I had managed to keep my little secret from everyone and that was a very big achievement for me. But the bigger task was ahead, how to manage it through the period that I would be in school.
Then came the most dreaded day; Monday! I had to go to school, I woke up earlier than usual so I can be the first to bath before everyone else would wake up. Then I followed the rug routine
again; rug, two panties and a tight pair of shorts. I made sure to keep an extra rug in my school bag, just in case the unexpected happens, and guess what, I took a piece of cloth (which I would tie around my waist if I soil my school uniform) along too. Fortunately for me, my uniform was brown, so even if I stain it, I wasn’t afraid it would be so obvious to draw a lot of attention. When school was midway through, I sought permission from my class teacher to use the washroom. I took my piece of rug along. The washroom had a cemented floor and a small gutter which carried urine from the washroom to a dugout outside, and not too far away from the dugout, was a pit where we keep and burn rubbish. I removed the soaked piece of rug, threw it over the washroom, (which was open) into the pit. Just then, one of my friends came to the washroom, I think she saw me throw that used piece of cloth away judging from the look she gave me. None of us however mentioned it though we had a casual conversation about other things and went back to the classroom.
I experienced severe abdominal pains but I never mentioned it to anyone, this was the point in my life where I realized that I could endure pain to some extent. When my mother noticed I was in pain and asked what the matter was, I simply told her my stomach was painful and she gave me some first aid for stomach pains. One day
she even suggested going to see the doctor but I ‘got well’ immediately. This continued for about three or four months, during the period, no one, not even my mother was aware of what was going on with me. And for all these months, I depended solely on the pieces of rugs as sanitary towels. Those days, I had only heard about sanitary pad (I heard you stick it to your panty but I never had an idea how that was possible), I did not know we had other sanitary materials such as tampons and the menstrual cup.
Are you wondering why I didn’t tell my parents especially my mother? Well I really don’t know whether I was shy, or uncomfortable about telling my mother. Besides, I didn’t know how I was going to begin this conversation with her about some blood flowing from my vagina. Like how? It would have been much easier if we were speaking English in the family, but trust me, saying it in Dagaare is very difficult. If it were today, would have been much easier to discuss such issues with her. I think it also had to do with the kind of relationship I had with my mother
back then. She was that strict mother who did not want me to go astray so she would easily raise the cane to correct me if I misbehaved. For fear of being beaten, I would rather keep quiet about a lot of things than to tell her. I could tell she was also struggling to have the conversation with me but could not. This is the story of my menarche, my first menstruation, the beginning of the bloody affair in my life.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about menstrual hygiene among girls. I know a lot of girls from my kind of background will go through similar situations like mine and may
be in a dilemma if they should talk to their parents or not. Sometimes young people do not get to talk about their issues, but unlike me who was lucky enough not to make any silly mistakes that could mess up my life, most young people especially females take some decisions or make mistakes that put their future at risk. If you are a young girl or boy reading this, it may be tough but try to talk to someone especially your parents about your problems and challenges. Even if they do not have the solution immediately, they will always help you overcome them.
I couldn’t hide it forever though, my mother eventually found it out and the conversation I was avoiding with her had to take place. I will continue about how my mother found out her daughter was menstruating in my next blogpost. CHEERS!!!