The first time I got my period, I was eleven years old and furious at Mother Nature.
I was supposed to be spending a day with my little sister at a family friend’s pool but when I went into the bathroom to change into my bathing suit, my plans were immediately spoiled by the sight of blood. A combination of confusion, fear and denial about what was going on with my body led me to burst into tears and continue to cry uncontrollably until my mom came home from work to comfort me. After she explained that getting my period was natural and that it meant I was growing up, she showed me where we kept the menstrual products in the house and gave me a pad to use. This just made me cry harder. I didn’t want to get my period, I didn’t want to grow up and I definitely didn’t want to be told that I couldn’t go swimming with the rest of the kids.
Flash forward a few years, I’m thirteen and stuck sitting with all of the adults under a tent on someone’s porch, watching all of the other kids splashing around happily in the pool in the middle of summer. Needless to say, I was dying to go swimming with everyone else but at this point, I was already used to my period coming at the most inconvenient times – when one of my friend’s was having a pool party or when my aunt was trying to plan a beach day. I loved being in the water and I resented my body’s poor timing for ruining yet another summer day for me.
By the time the night was over, I had decided that I was through letting my period stop me from going in the water. I was going to try using a tampon.
I had always dismissed the idea of using a tampon. Something about shoving a foreign object up there just didn’t sound pleasant to me, especially after my middle school health ed teacher warned us of Toxic Shock Syndrome and the other potential consequences of leaving a tampon in for too long. But this time, I was ready to give it a shot.
I followed every instruction on the brochure inside the box but no matter what I did, I could feel that it wasn’t in place and I got freaked out. I went through 3 or 4 tampons, unable to maneuver it to where it needed to be, before I finally gave up, shoved the box of tampons into the far back corner of the bathroom closet and swore I would never use a tampon.
For the next few years, I was perfectly content to use pads. Contrary to popular belief, anything that you can do when you are not on your period, you can do while wearing a pad. From soccer practices to dance rehearsals to track meets, I silently proved anyone wrong, who thought that menstruation and sports didn’t mix. For the most part, I had no real motivation to try tampons again.
It did make me feel self-conscious when other women I talked to would bash the use of pads in conversation, wrongfully assuming that everyone in the group was just as against using them. I heard girls commenting on how they were offended that they could see the slight outline of another girl’s pad through her pants. I watched as women asked each other for menstrual products and then turned away disgustedly when someone tried to offer them a pad, as if it was below them to use it. Adult diapers, wads of cotton, “no better than balled up rags” – these were the phrases I heard other women use to describe pads.
It took nearly 4 years before I felt comfortable trying to use a tampon again. During those 4 years, I lied to friends when we talked about menstruation and the products we used. I was ashamed to admit that using tampons freaked me out because it seemed like that was everyone’s product of choice. I didn’t want to have to deal with being on the receiving end of pad shaming. It wasn’t until recently when I talked to some of my college friends that I realized how many of them had also felt like they needed to lie to their friends about their aversion to tampons, be it in the past or currently. I took a lot of comfort in the fact that people were not only willing to talk openly about periods, but that they were also willing to talk openly about the personal shame they had felt in regards to menstruation.
I guess you could say that I’ve outgrown my aversion to tampons. Now I use them just as often, if not more frequently, than I do pads. Looking back, I realize that I had the same logical fears that most people had as teens. We were afraid that it might get stuck up there, that it would hurt to put in or take out, or that we would do something wrong and manage to disrupt our whole reproductive system. I also acknowledge that society conditioned me to think a certain way and to feel ashamed about my period, particularly about my choice of menstrual products. But that’s just it, it is my choice to decide what to do with my body. It is my choice to choose what menstrual products I want to use and no one else’s opinions have any business playing into my decision.
My body. My rules. My choice.