Being 13 is rarely easy. But being 13 when you have no friends, are constantly being bullied at school, and live in a family of academic eccentrics is worse. The cherry on top? Wicked menstrual cramps.
My parents were open about most things. They never used coy names for body parts. When I was 10 Mom had prepared a kit for when I started to menstruate and shown me how to use a pad. She took the little brown bag out of the closet once a year to remind me. I was not going to be one of those girls who thought they had a dread disease and were bleeding to death when they menstruated for the first time. That actually happened to our Quebecois housekeeper.
My extensive sexual knowledge caused some confusion when, at age 11, a group of us girls were hanging out in my friend Sydney’s back yard and she told us that she knew a secret about her older sister. We had to guess what it was. It started with the letter P. The first thought that came to my mind was that her sister had started to menstruate, but that didn’t start with a P. When nobody guessed it, she finally announced gleefully, “She’s got her period!” I went home and asked Mom what that meant. I was furious when I realized that I’d been right all along. Try as I might, I was never going to fit in with other kids.
It was a good thing we had Mom’s menstrual kit, because my parents were out of town when I started to menstruate. I was too embarrassed to tell the babysitter. I knew that my family discussed such things openly but also knew that most did not.
What my mother hadn’t warned me about was menstrual cramps. She was a psychologist and worried about making me associate something as natural and healthy as “becoming a woman” with pain. And the reality is that, while 90% of women feel some discomfort when they are menstruating, only about 15% of teenage girls get intensely painful cramps. So she figured there were good odds that I wouldn’t have a problem. She was wrong.
She was also away the second time but was around for the third. We were sitting at the kitchen table, and I mentioned that my stomach hurt. Then I commented on the strange fact that I kept getting wicked stomach flus at the same time as I menstruated. In fact, the pain had been so intense that I had vomited, so the stomach flu theory seemed reasonable. She sighed, and told me about cramps. It was not just a coincidence. And it wasn’t the flu.
Simple remedies, like Midol, were not up to the task of dealing with my pain. It would usually begin the day before I started bleeding and continue for the first two days. I was missing a lot of school. I didn’t mind that part, because I had no friends by the time I was 13 and was bullied daily at school. I took refuge in my bedroom. I remember lying under my blue cornflower covered comforter, drugged on pain killers with codeine, struggling to find a comfortable position. As the room darkened and the night wore on the perfect song kept playing on the radio.
“There's got to be a morning after;
If we can hold on through the night.”
Yes, there would be a morning after. Despite what it felt like, neither menstrual pain nor junior high would last forever.
Song: The Morning After by Maureen McGovern
Memories & Facts List