I was 12 when I got my first period. I was well-prepared. By that, I mean that I had sent away all the coupons in my Dolly and Girlfriend magazines to get free samples of all the pads and the kind of tampons that came in what appeared to be a cardboard launching tube; what a marvel of engineering that thing was. I had also been to the vague and mysterious talk that all the girls at school went to (no boys allowed), given by the school nurse. Periods, until the age of 10 or so, had been a complete mystery to me.

E Street- an education.

I have this vivid memory of watching an episode of E-Street (yes, I’m old as fuck) that involved the local skateboard-riding tomboy getting her first period.

The local GP, Dr Elly, played by Penny Cook, reassured her that it was normal and a part of growing up. What was? From E Street I learned that you might not feel like riding your skateboard during your period. There was some implication of pain but nothing about the bleeding. Was it just a monthly stomach-ache?  No one I knew seemed keen on answering my questions directly, hence I was referred to the human body book on my bookshelf.

Not content with clinical explanations and unlikely diagrams that I found in there, I did what any kid of my era did when they wanted to know something. I went to the library to read all the teen magazines.

Dolly and Girlfriend, oh my!

These magazines were like the teenage bible. The first period, Dolly explained, was the first time your body would be able to get pregnant. An egg would be released. A lining would build up. When the fertile time had passed without conception, you body would eventually shed the lining. It might hurt.

By the age of 12, I was buying Dolly with my pocket money rather than relying on back-issues in the library. What can I say? I was proactive about my own education. Plus, the librarians didn’t like it if they caught you cutting out the free sample coupons and competition entry forms.

Judy Blume.

Like any other child of my generation, I read Judy Blume, too. In fact, I blame Judy Blume for the entirely misplaced sense of happiness and excitement that came with my first period. ‘Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret’ had me thrilled at the idea. I wasn’t alone; loads of girls at school were just as excited to get their first period. We were women, goddamn it. Grown ups! Walking around in training bras (could there be any less rigorous form of training? But, I digress.) and making a point of using the only cubicle in the girl’s bathroom that had a sanitary bin.

The other reason that book made us glad? We were so modern that our (giant, unwieldy) sanitary pads were adhesive. Margaret and her friends had to wear a sanitary belt with hook-on pads. If you’re wondering, subsequent modern reprints of this book has seen the descriptions of pads updated- I know because I didn’t want my girls to miss out on the misplaced sense of excitement, you see.

The fictional account in Blume’s book was not matched by the reality of cramps, mess, hormones and skin break-outs. Not. At. All.

Mums and Dads: When your kid gets her first period…

I remember that I was home alone, on a pupil-free day from school, the day my first period arrived. I rang my mum, still in a Judy Blume induced haze of happiness over it all. The cramps wouldn’t kick in for a couple of hours, so I was all: Mum was quiet for a second then asked me to hold on. I could hear her putting her hand over the phone mouthpiece (which is a very poor substitute for the ‘hold’ button’) and the muffled sound of her telling all the women in her office.

Don’t do that. How embarrassment. Mum then made sure I had all my samples, knew how to use them and advised me to take an of asprin. I already knew (from E Street) that I probably should avoid riding my skateboard (though I still wasn’t clear on why and it had never been covered in Dolly). I remember wondering if I could get a Carefree sample. Those girls went surfing and horse-riding. Surely they’d be okay for skate-board use?

Another thing to avoid is ambiguous language. I remember my Aunty coming to visit around the time of my first period. No, not a euphemism- an actual aunt. She said, without preamble, “So, Amy, I hear you’ve got the curse?” A lot of confusion could have been avoided right then and there by explaining that “the curse” was an old religious expression meaning “your period”. Instead, 12 year old me blanched and stuttered, wondering what this curse was, how I got it and how I could break it (in between Dolly mags, I read quite a few fantasy novels). It was a good week or two before I knew for sure she hadn’t meant a literal curse, cast by a witch of some kind.

Just remember…

If you have a kid coming up to that age, please, don’t skirt around or avoid any questions. I remember having my questions avoided and feeling like I had inadvertently asked something terribly rude. It would have been much easier to simply be told, in a matter of fact way, what periods were and what to expect. To have the options explained to me. These days, you can even use a good video like this to help explain it. Don’t just head to the library in search of Dolly back issues, especially since it’s out of print!

Yes, you might feel awkward or uncomfortable. But that’s parenting, right? A series of wonderful and not-so-wonderful moments interspersed with varying degrees of awkwardness and discomfort. I felt like that just last week while out in public but I still had to loudly ask my four year old to stop licking the side of the ATM. You gotta do what you gotta do!

 

 

 

 

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  • My mum was really open about the birds, bees and periods. Kudos to her it was never awks. I think the traditionally “tricky” topics were her favourite! I went to boarding school and although we had the more formal chats with matron and the like, almost everything I learned about periods at school was on the grapevine/from my friends. I can’t remember how old I was when I started, but I remember I was the last one in my year group and I was so relieved to be “in the club.” Little did I know what lay ahead!

  • Licking the side of the ATM 😂😂. I’ve got 2 boys so no period explanations for me. Plenty of other fun puberty times to come though.

    • Doesn’t hurt to let them know what we go through 😉

  • Ohh very funny article but also some amazing tips!

  • I remember getting my first period at school. I couldn’t wait to from pads to tampons. My mum also announced to all of her friends that I had become a woman. What is with that, mums of Australia?

  • LydiaCLee

    In this day and age I doubt there’s much embarassment about period talks? Given the conversations I’ve had to have with my older 2, I think it’s probably one of the easier ones….

  • I have no girls to chat to but I did laugh out loud at this post and reminisced over the dolly wisdom. I remember mostly being terrified of toxic shock syndrome.

  • Kirsty @ My Home Truths

    My big girl will be 12 later this year. We’ve talked about her first period and we have everything prepared but it’s probably time to revisit things again. I’m glad they updated Judy Blume’s book because I also remember the details about wearing a belt and thought it was so old fashioned even back then!

    • My big girl wants NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. ANY OF IT. 😂 I’ve got my work cut out for me!!!

    • It never hurts to do a refresher chat!

  • My first period experience scarred me for life. I woke up one morning as a 12 year old to see all the blood on my pj’s and sheets, knew what it was so went into my mother’s room to tell her. She didn’t want to get up and had no sanitary products in the house so told me to go to the corner shop and get something. Oh the agony of having to buy something and then carry it home in the not at all discreet brown paper bag. And because I had no clue, I bought these massive pads that were meant to be worn with a sanitary belt (which I didn’t have). Talk about horrific ….

  • I loooove this post. I was the first of my friends to get my period, and my “talk” from my mom was her saying, “do you know about periods?” and me blushing and saying, “Uh. Yeah.” The whole thing was so embarrassing and confusing for me. Definitely don’t want that for my daughters.

    • Thank you! Yes, it’s definitely better to just have an open chat.

  • Helen King

    Good article, Amy!

  • Oh god so awkward! I had a terribly embarrassing time with it – my mum was clearly embarrassed to talk about it so as a result I thought it was something to be embarrassed about. I hope to do a better job with my girl!

  • Lucy Dickens

    It was really confusing for me too. I was ten and had no idea what was going on! So yes, talk to your kids! And get in early!

  • Lauren Hunt

    Oh I remember the Dolly mag days! Obsessed! It’s how I learnt about life. And I was at a friend’s sleepover when I first got mine – was nice to have the girls around (I was the last one to get it) 🙂

    • Awww, thats not a bad way to start them! With your girl gang!

  • I’m very open with the girls about this sort of stuff, but it’s easy when they are so young. I only hope they are as receptive to listening as they get older and actually need to hear about this stuff!
    #teamIBOT

    • I’m sure they will be if that’s the way you’ve always been 🙂

  • My friend actually has done a lot of work on this to start conversations about menstruation to pre teens. She wrote a book about it called Cycling to Grandma’s House. Am sure you can find it if you google.