Nearly every woman in the country shares the experience of one day, usually in the early teens, pulling down her trousers to find a suspicious brown smear in her underwear. The teenage brain flicks through all the possibilities, ranging from pen (but how?) to poo, until it finally reaches the answer: the first period.
From that fateful day onwards she learns to become a mistress of discretion and picks up tips on how to avert the most embarrassing situations. Yet, there are some moments that one cannot preempt.
A favourite question of Year Nine boys was the classic “Have you started your period?” that was usually hurled at you, without warning, when you were standing in a large group. When your teacher asked you, “Why were you late?”, you couldn’t say “Well, last night I was kept awake from excruciating stomach cramps and I wasn’t actually sure whether I’d be able to move today.” Instead, you mumbled something about oversleeping and hope he bought it. When, at a job interview, you find you can’t respond to the missile question of “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” because of the heaving contractions and somersaults in your stomach, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why you may have not got the job.
This brings us to the biggest obstacle: pain. Those who have not experienced it love gloating about a kick in the balls being the unchangeable trophy-holding winner of the Pain Olympics. I bring a worthy competitor.
Two iron fists clamping onto the centre of your stomach, squeezing and twisting, opening and closing, before dragging your insides slowly down. The whole of gravity concentrating itself to your lower-half, drawing your guts to the ground. Persistent and echoey dull aching somewhere between the skin and bones of your back and legs. It’s painful.
It’s not all bad, I admit. Many female friendships are founded on the ‘Period Bonding Conversation’. A classmate or co-worker looks uncomfortable. “You ok?” you ask. They throw you a small smile and whisper the allusive “Stomach cramps.” You respond with hardly-concealed enthusiasm, “I hate that!” Often, other female ears in the vicinity prick up and before you know it five of you are discussing the woes of being women and the injustice of the uterus. Together you express your grievances whilst indulging in the exclusivity of the Period Party, a club in which every woman is a member, bonded by the common experience of our bodies.
But aside from the occasional glow of bonding, periods are a pain. And not being able to discuss them openly can have serious implications and damage opportunities. It’s a tucked away issue that needs to be opened up.
Let’s get the conversation, ahem, flowing.