I was 16, and I thought it would never happen for me. I mean like really, I had watched each and every one of my girlfriends get their periods (not literally), some as early as 9, and here I was, old enough to drive a car yet not old enough to have a valid excuse to sit out of gym class. It was just like what Britney Spears was always singing about.
I had delayed growth, my doctor told me, which meant I was about three years behind in the whole “developing” department. This included everything from my height—I was under 5 feet for most of high school—to my boobs—you guessed it, totally flat—to body hair to widening hips to yes, my period. I knew I should have felt lucky. The longer you can put off bleeding out of your vagina for several days every month, the better. But I didn’t feel lucky, I just felt different. I wanted to complain about pads and tampons and cramps like everyone else. I wanted to share horror stories of the time I got my period on a camping trip or at a birthday party. I wanted an excuse to sit out of gym class.
And then one day in my junior year of high school, I woke up in the middle of the night, went to the bathroom, and there it was. Just a little red spot on the toilet paper. So anticlimactic. My mom had given me a “period starter kit” several years before, so I found the dusty box under the bathroom sink, used the way-too-big pad, and went back to sleep. When my mom came to make sure I was up the next morning for school, I stated very plainly, “I got my period last night.”
“Really?” she said. And that was that.
It seems whether you got it early, late, or right on time, the story of your first period is one of shame, excitement, confusion, and horror all wrapped into one giant sanitary napkin. It’s such a huge moment for so many women, yet we don’t talk about it, not really. We’re afraid of grossing people out, especially the men in our lives (God forbid they hear about the process that made it possible for them to EXIST). But I think we should change that: The more we talk openly about our periods, the less stigma there will be. Plus, it’s really fun.
Below are several “first period” stories that are sure to bring back allllll the fun puberty feels. Enjoy.
~ I was 11 and noticed while going to the bathroom at home. Because I have an older sister, I sort of had a feeling what was going on, but still awkwardly asked my mom what the weird red stain was in my underwear.
~ I was 11 years old at a piano lesson. I was wearing white jeans (of course) and when I stood up to leave, my piano teacher and I both slowly realized what was happening. She was very nice about it, though I was mortified. She helped me strategically hold my music bag to hide the stain so I could walk through the waiting area. She also told me not to worry—she’d take care of cleaning the bench before her next student (who happened to be boy I had a crush on, of course). Could have been so much worse.
~ I was 9 and my mom decided to throw me a celebratory dinner. All red foods. Steak (medium rare of course), ketchup, beets, Cherry 7-up, etc. Of course it was a family meal, so my dad and two teenage brothers were also there. It was a very quiet meal. My mom still thinks it was her finest parenting moment.
~ I was 11, and got it the one weekend my mother ever spent away. I always knew that my mom felt a tinge of melancholy watching her children grow up, and I’m pretty sure my body waited for that moment of independence to do what it had to do. When she got back she was devastated to have missed it, and said, “Now I’m supposed to slap you, but I’ll just touch your cheeks instead.”
~ I received mother nature’s divine gift, in the most symbolic way, during my 8th grade graduation while wearing a white dress. There’s a picture somewhere and my skin was purple, B12 and iron deficient at its best and the white dress didn’t help. But it wasn’t until a year later that I realized I actually started getting it the day before graduation, at a party on a lake. Spin the bottle was played and I thought that there was just dirt in my bathing suit.
~ I was 12, and gassy because hello, first period, and I saw that my underwear kept getting stained a muddy brown. I assumed it was the farting. Then I showed my mom.
~ The first time I got my period, I was in a hot tub. I was 11. I was convinced that I was dying from some sort of intense stomach pain, but it never occurred to me that I’d have a period. It felt like I had at least a few years to go. Then I saw the bright red stuff coming out while sitting in this hot tub with my mom, my friends, and my friends’ parents. I was mortified. I limped out of the pool with all the shame ever. Later that night, I begged my mom not to tell my grandmother I’d gotten my period. Because obviously my grandma would judge me, LOL.
~ The first time I got my period was the summer I turned 14, in a movie theater watching Batman Forever with this boy I liked. I totally knew to expect it would happen at SOME point—I already had these little breasts, and my waist dipped in, and there was HAIR (!!!)—and my mom had given me The Talk, but I DIDN’T expect it to happen in the middle of the AMC movie theater next to a cute boy. I stuffed my underwear with toilet paper—which kinda hurt—but more than that, I was bonkers terrified that I’d leak through and everyone would know. A fate worse than death, believe you me.
~ I got my first period while on a field trip to a Medieval Times festival. I was totally unprepared and so when I saw blood on my pants I was MORTIFIED. I ended up having to buy a medieval costume to wear for the rest of the day—and all of my friends thought I was really crazy—because ya know, middle school…
~ Basketball camp. Had to call my mom from the campus phone at the college it was at. Let me tell you I was hoping that day never came cause I was such a tomboy I wanted to continue on hipless and boobless. That year at b-ball camp I didn’t compete in my usual 3-point contest. I was a mess.
~ I was 11. My mom bought me a book called “What’s Happening to My Body, for Girls.” It had images that I did not want to look at with my mom. She then outed me at a Mother Daughter Tea with her friends. I was horrified.
~ I was 12 and in basketball practice. We were doing sprints and I just thought my crotch had gotten super sweaty from all the exercise. But nope, all of that “sweat” in my underwear was blood. I remember feeling like, woah, so this is it! I went home and immediately called my mom at work. She congratulated me and said she’d pick up some pads for me on the way home. But—and here’s the awkward part—that night right before dinner my father gave me a pair of ruby-red gemstone earrings and congratulated me on “becoming a woman.” It was really awkward and basically mortifying. I still have those earrings. They make me want to cry for whatever reason when I think about them.
~ Kol Nidre. First time fasting. Boom.
~ I got mine the day before my bat mitzvah party and was like smh, seriously?
~ My first time was post-Passover on a drive home to Connecticut from visiting family in Ohio.
~ Jewish summer camp, around my 12th birthday. I found those brown splotches in my Limited Too underwear and, rather than telling my counselors or friends, went straight to the infirmary. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “I think I’m pooping myself,” I said. I believed that I was, that I had lost control of all bowel movements, that I was socially doomed for the rest of my life. A camp nurse explained everything to me and let me stay overnight. I called my mother. Cried a little. Fell asleep reading “Go Ask Alice” feeling like an adult with a great secret. I thought breasts would come the very next day.
~ Mine was early on a warm September Sunday morning as I was getting ready for Hebrew school. I told my mom, who hugged me and slapped my cheek. Why did no one tell me about that ridiculous conflicting reaction (Hug/Slap)?
~ Thirteen. Happened early one morning before school. Woke my mom up to tell her at which point she sat up out of a dead sleep and smacked me across the face. I hadn’t yet learned about this lovely little tradition, so needless to say I was a little traumatized in the moment.
~ I knew I’d get my first period when I was 12.5 because Sassy magazine said so. I was prepared. I kept one individually-wrapped maxi pad hidden in my bedroom closet. At 12.5 I started bolting to the bathroom at every light bit of crotch-sweat and discharge. Ella’s bat mitzvah was exactly 20 days after my half birthday. I was very good at bat mitzvah party games and didn’t want to miss the limbo or hula-hooping contest, but my bladder, full of sparkling juice, eventually required the bathroom. There it was. In my underwear. Unmistakably red. Luckily it was winter in Chicagoland and I’d worn dark tights and a skirt. I stuffed a solid wad of toilet paper into my undies, checked myself in the mirror, and went back out in time for the Electric Slide. Then I wrote this in my diary: