Once Upon a Time of the Month

A way of talking to each other about our lives.
Interface still in process, but will make our stories find-able across time and space.

E.L., NGO caretaker; menarche 1972 in Merti, N.E.Kenya

Transcript of edited interview (v2):
I don’t know what year it was. I’ve never been to school, and it’s hard to remember.
And I didn’t have parents; I used to stay with relatives. I didn’t know about periods, but I do remember that day. It was the afternoon; I went to the toilet – well, we didn’t have toilets, it was a bush by the house – I saw blood, and I was worried. I checked all over my body but I couldn’t find a wound.
From the toilet place I went straight to bed. There wasn’t anyone like a mother or a sister to ask about what it was. I thought I must have cut myself somehow.  I couldn’t sleep. It got really late at night and the flow got more and more. I just sat there waiting for it to come, and then wiping it up with an old cloth. I didn’t sleep at all, I was so troubled.
We didn’t have pads in those days. We used bits of old clothes. I could fix a bit of it to my pants. But if you’re not careful, it falls off when you move.

In the Borana culture, while a woman was menstruating they used to dig a small hole in the floor where they slept, and sit around it during their period. You’d sit there and the menstruation would drain into the hole; you cover the hole with soil again when the flow’s drying up, and walk away. But us, we didn’t do that. Some in our community could afford cotton wool; and if you were lucky enough to have someone like an elder sister or a mother, you could take a piece from them. You still wouldn’t go outside; you don’t have to fetch firewood or carry water, or do hard work; and you’re not supposed to run, either. During periods you’re supposed to stay indoors and eat well for those 7 days. After that, back to your daily routine.
But nowadays people carry loads, go to fetch water, run around; before, you couldn’t even get on public transport! You might hear people say:  “Oooh, I got on a bus while I was having my period, now I’ve got a terrible headache.” I don’t know idea if that’s true or not!

Lots of girls get married before their first period. They start menstruating when they’re already living with their husband. And some girls don’t even get a period at all. They get pregnant before their first one.
I didn’t understand how I got my first child, Diba. How I carried through that pregnancy and gave birth; it was like a big joke! I don’t know how old I was then, either; you know that I didn’t have a mother or a father, I was staying with relatives. I had 2 periods, and before I even got my third I was already pregnant. With Diba. The day I was married I was having a period, and that was my last one for a while, until I’d had Diba.
My period pains were less, after I’d given birth. It was a long time before I got my second-born, though, and the pains came back again like at the beginning. Before I had Suri, it was as bad as when I started. The only times I ever missed work and stayed home was on my period.
You can sleep in the same bed as your man, but you can’t really get intimate. It’s horrible to be intimate when you’re on your period. How can you even enjoy it, when there’s blood oozing from your body? You make your partner dirty, and you make the bed dirty.

I’ve been 2 years without periods now.
So for 2 Ramadans I’ve been able to fast properly, because I wasn’t having a period during the whole 30 days. I’m lucky!
Yeah, it’s different when you stop having them. There’s no worry “oh, I’ll start bleeding, or get pregnant.”  I can work when I want to. There’s nothing at all tying me down.

T.M., photographer; menarche 1968 in Auckland, New Zealand

Transcript of edited interview (v3):
It was in New Zealand, and I was only about ten or eleven.
I remember feeling very whoozy, and dizzy, and a bit strange, and I came home and then there was blood in my knickers, and I knew what it was.  My mother had prepared me very well; erm, being a nurse, she had sanitary towels, and a ‘sanitary belt’, what a horrible thing; seem to remember she was washing her hands or something in the bathroom and I just went and told her, and she had – all the equipment up in the cupboard, that she had shown me where to go and get it. And I remember being congratulated by one of her friends, which was quite nice. So I wasn’t bothered about it, it was quite exciting really.        I seem to remember at that age I didn’t really have any sort of close girl-friends, that sort of came a couple of years later.
I think at that time being a new Person in a new Country, I was still forging new friendships and I think we were still making clothes for our dolls or something, you know. Periods didn’t come into it.     You sort of kept to yourself, and that you wouldn’t ask anyone to borrow a sanitary towel or anything like that, you know; I mean I just, I just, bumbled along, and rode my bicycle, went to school and just sort of you know had ‘joined the ranks of the Women’, as it were.
It’s an indication of fertility, isn’t it. When a girl reaches a certain age, well they start ovulating, so the womb gets a ‘lining’ of blood, vessels, and if you are not made pregnant the lining of the womb will just – well, you just bleed through your vagina. For about five days, and then it stops. And it can be accompanied by horrible cramps, pain, erm and discomfort, or it can be – OK.      I would start getting pretty cranky and emotional, tearful, um; angry. I would, I would get depressed and think the world was going to come to an end and life wasn’t worth living and feel pretty suicidal sometimes actually, when it was particularly bad – but I, I did sort of work out that quite often it was what was going in your life would seem worse because of PMS, but if things were alright it, it wouldn’t be as bad so, I probably carried on, but maybe not in the first couple of days when it was really painful.     I wouldn’t sort of put things off, because I had my period; not usually.    Well you had to be careful about what you wore, wouldn’t you? Like if you had a heavy flow and the fear of ‘The Leak’!

I think amongst women there’s just this tacit understanding isn’t it, on what a period is; we don’t need to go into it. It’s like being a sort of a balloon that fills up with all this air that’s making you feel really sort of pressured, and sad, and all the rest of it. So a period is like suddenly the, all the air’s being released from the balloon you know, it’s just:     “Ahhh! God, I can feel like a normal human being again!” It’s just great when the blood comes and you know that you’re gonna, you know get your equilibrium back.

Well I did get pregnant 3 times, through ignoring my cycle; I mean I started off on the pill and all the rest of it, sort of in my teens, but I never liked taking the pill.   I never had a problem getting pregnant, so in my sort of mid-thirties and sort of actually being prepared to go a, ahead with being pregnant, and there was bleeding and I had… I had sort of worried that I’d lost the baby, but just went to the hospital and apparently it’s a sign of implantation. When the embryo implants. It was like:     “Phew! You know, I am gonna go through with this thing!”   You know, we’re, ‘we’re in it to win it’, as it were.
You bleed for a long time anyway after you’ve had a baby, it’s like having a week-long period or something until the womb, gets rid of everything; and then you just go back to ovulating. You know once your periods start you know you’re fertile again after having a child, so.

Everyone goes on about the menopause but I mean, when it means that you’re not bleeding any more I think that’s– it’s a bonus! It means you don’t have to spend a lot of money on sanitary wear, you don’t have to worry about staining your clothes, it means you don’t have the hormonal fluctuations, you – a little bit of menopausal rage, that’s OK, you get over that.  No, I don’t feel less of a woman; that’s ridiculous, you know. I’m, I’m just an older woman who doesn’t have her period any more.
I mean they’re kind of interesting, if you think about it. People that don’t have periods can’t have children. So: “What you gonna do!?” It’s almost like you would feel blank without them. I mean, it is what makes us human, isn’t it?
It has a smell, it has a particular sm- which I actually used to quite like, there’s sort, something quite sort of earthy about it, and sort of even though they’re not the most comfortable thing, even if you go mad, it is still part of being, you know: “`a human of the female species”, you know. Your body just clears you out and and then it builds up again just in case you’re going to, sort of, maintain the human species.
I suppose it’s like a nest isn’t it, it’s like a tiny little nest, a ‘Bloody Nest’. Sorry, I’m being a bit poetic there.

K.I., sales assistant; menarche 1972 in Lusaka (Chilenge), Zambia

Transcript of edited interview (v5):
So we lived in the city. I was born in, in Lusaka, and the place was called ‘Chilenje’. We lived in a council house, and we were always playing outside and yeah, I used to run around really! Disappear for the whole day and then come back in the evening.    If I remember correctly I think I was 16 or more, it could be 16, I was a bit late. I only knew from friends, your breasts start growing and then they say you know at one point you’re going to have a period. But my mum never said anything about period. All they tell you about is ‘stay away from boys, stay away from boys’.
I never went to my sister or anybody because I think my elder sister was not living at home then. Actually, I was in the bedroom and suddenly I’m thinking ‘Oooh!’. I felt like I am wee-ing, and then it was blood! Got scared, really really frightened and then ‘ooh, ooh’ I went to my mum, and then my mum said ‘Now? No, no, let me take you to the neighbour’. And she was the one that took me in, and says ‘now you are a woman, you’ve started your period’. She, I think she made a cloth, did – you know, folded it nicely in fours, you know? And showed me how to wear, before I could buy my sanitary towel.     But it’s the neighbour, you go to the neighbour.

When you are become of age, you start your period, you go through initiation ceremony.     But I know boys in certain, certain tribes, these boys they do circumcise them; they have to stay in the bush, that’s the part for boys. But in Zambia, women – they don’t cut the, anything, any of, any of their bits, they never do that. They don’t cut you or anything, you just go through the initiation ceremony just to make sure, prepare you for…     They make you stay in the house, sometimes it’s weeks, others it’s months, it depends on the tribe. People coming in teaching this girl how to behave, how to respect her elders. I didn’t feel like doing that, it’s like putting a man as an important person; to me it’s subservient. Then there is a big ceremony, the coming of age, and then dancing, and then all the boys will know that I’m, I’m having my periods!     My sisters they did, but I never went through with that, ‘cos I wasn’t a conforming person. I don’t like to be in the centre of attention. I just wanted to keep it to myself.
I found out later, sometimes they even show the way people make love. You know, have sex. It’s a pretend, they never have sex, they just show the girl ‘if you do this and that’, you know – one on top of you – and then say ‘if you do this, you’re going to get pregnant’. But it doesn’t stop them getting pregnant, because they don’t tell them about the contraceptive!         But my mum never told me anything. ‘Cos when you’re young, you’re just learning to look after yourself properly, so you’re scared that ‘if I wear trousers probably the blood will start showing’, or you know you’re worried about things like that and even then, I was embarrassed to go in the shop to see – ask for sanitary towels, in case they knew I was having my period! They sell them in the compound – probably they use some, that, you know towels… I’m not sure. I can only imagine like people in Linda compound, they were so poor, they can barely afford to feed the kids, take the, the school fees, and so I don’t know how they do it. Because I think obviously you, you are bleeding, and you’ve got to get on with it. I’m sure my mum, she never had sanitary towels. I don’t know, maybe later in life but I think when she was having us probably maybe just cloth! Maybe.         It’s before the period you just start feeling backache and then my breasts and then you just; you feel down, you just don’t feel yourself. Really, you don’t. And then when it comes, I, I don’t like it and I used to go for, 4, 5 days having my period. Your body changes, definitely. I used to feel moody, ‘cos I think you – it’s uncomfortable, you want, sometimes you want to stay home. You’ve got a pad on, on, and then you’re thinking ‘oh, oh’ you’re worried about it, and you feel frustrated and it’s like you can’t do things, you’re thinking ‘Ooooh’. It’s just a complicated time, for any young person growing up.         I never wanted to get pregnant, that’s one thing. And I just didn’t want to have kids with different men, I just wanted to have kids when I’m married. I’ve always had only one person and then my husband! It’s a relief when you’re not having a period when you’re breastfeeding – it’s like ‘Yessss!!’
They take time coming back, when you’re breastfeeding.
When you’re getting your menopause, first you hear all the stories; no-one explains to you about menopause. You hear these stories – ‘flashing’, I didn’t know what ‘flashing’ is. I was waiting for the ‘flash’, whatever that was. But you feel sweaty, it’s not a nice thing, to have menopause, it’s not. Because you just, your body’s confused, you don’t know what you’re doing, your mood swings up and down until you learn how to control. Someone told me you exercise, that helps with the menopause; I went to exercise and just balanced my hormones.
Whether you have a period or you don’t, you’re still a woman; it’s how you feel yourself. It’s just that you stop worrying about bleeding every month. I feel – nice. I feel – I don’t have to worry about having babies or anything like that, I don’t have to worry about any period!

B.D., civil servant; menarche 1974 in Bradford, England

Transcript of edited interview (v3):

I think in our society, getting your first period is just plain nasty. I was the last one in my class, to start, and I’d heard all the other girls talking and their horror stories and but nothing could have prepared me for how painful it was. And the embarrassment, and the shame.
And the fact that my mother immediately told the entire family. And I think half the street.

I remember sitting on the floor, because I couldn’t find a chair that eased my stomach ache, I was just trying to – get rid of the pain and the, sort of, extreme tiredness I’ll describe it as, in my legs. I – it was just horrible. I had time to tell my mum ‘oh dear’, and she went and got a packet of Lil-lets. But forgot to tell me that you take the plastic covering off, so that was a bit of er, um, awkward start. After that it was just trying to hide, not let people know! And that carried on of course throughout life. You don’t let people know. I’ve heard a number of people say it’s unclean. Which I do know scientifically is ridiculous. Erm, it’s not ‘unclean’ in any way. But of course it’s very difficult to hide. Erm. And difficult to control!
At school it was very regular and always, I think, six days. And it would always start at lunchtime. I’m sure the teachers knew; I also think the teachers knew which girls were faking it to get out of classes. And which girls were genuinely perhaps in pain. Or embarrassed.

It starts off with the embarrassment of this new thing happening, and – then you’re told you can’t do this, that and the other; including silly things like ‘you can’t wash your hair’. My great-aunt Kath who was a wonderful woman, told me ‘you mustn’t wash your hair when you’ve got your period’. And I of course believed her because I loved and respected her, but – I did have to question the logic. It’s very embarrassing when you have a boyfriend, for the first time; erm, and people say ‘well you normally come down on a Thursday night, what’s why aren’t you coming this Thursday?
So it’s about planning in advance. So for instance; I’m not sure there’s a toilet en route to where I want to go so I won’t go there, an hour maximum, or – I’ve got two bus journeys to get to school, I know there are toilets in the subways, I can make my journey go that way that week. An hour maximum, at that age. But I thought that was normal!

We weren’t a well-off family, And by then I was fourteen. I had started working illegally at thirteen, but nevertheless the pennies I brought in didn’t cover additional expenses of, well, tampons, Lil-lets, or if you’ve got heavy periods you need a, er, towel or a pad as well. You have to carry things, so you need a larger handbag, and you’ve got to make more visits, and on top of that spending the whole time worried about, a ‘leak’. No, just Yuck! And I wish that women didn’t have to go through that.

It’s a pointless evolutionary throw-back, we don’t need it any more. For the increasing number of women who don’t want children, like me, I think it’s a waste of our time. Women could be far more productive, pardon the pun, if we were able to just ignore that issue altogether, just get on with life. And plan to go places, plan to do things, without all the worry.
There were a number of times, in younger years of course, when I thought ‘Oh my god, is there a risk I could be pregnant?’ Which for me would be the worst thing, on the planet, ever. Oh my god, that fear, that fear, until the period finally arrives and you know that – phew – life’s OK.
So the one time I was pregnant, when I woke up from the operation being sterilized, as well as a termination, it was like I was bathed in golden light. Because for the first time in my life since 13, 4 – 14, I didn’t have this huge depressive cloud over my head, the risk of pregnancy.

I wish I could have had it done at 5. I think people ought to be able to switch on fertility, for those women who do have a reason to have children, but it shouldn’t be the default position. When you get rid of periods, through whatever means, it makes you realise how much hassle they’ve been.
When I was querying friends about having a hysterectomy:
“Oh you could be very upset afterwards, because- you’re less of a woman.”
And I just totally reject that, that is ridiculous. I would not be less of a woman if I had my left arm amputated it’s a piece of me, that I don’t need, and my best friend said to me: “Why keep a lawnmower, if you don’t want a lawn?”


W.D., horticulturalist; menarche 1977 in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Transcript of edited interview (v4):
I grew up in Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina. When I was teenager was the time where the militaire was in power. Twenty or thirty thousand people disappear in the country. Even if you was not actually a terrorist if you was with er left-wing ideas er and, and more revolutionary ideas, they was trying to exterminate the different way of thinking. And when I was going to school we used to have a uniform was very strict, and the hair needed to be very tight not makeup at all obviously.         When I was, my body was start changing my mum was start preparing me, but I don’t remember talking at school or with friends about. Er she said well it’s the perio-, you start having the periods and that will happen again next month and she told me the practik thing of writing down in a calendar.     At the time was not erm, pads they was not existing or were very expensive and we’re using cotton wool, change the cotton and throw it away every couple of hours and my mum said well you will have to deal with that all your life. I was eleven. And that was it! Yeah.
Getting older I was knewing when was ha, going to happen because I was having a a small er pain on the breast and, er I was start feeling a little sad why normally I, I’m never sad and that was a signal of the period was going to happen. Yeah. Or I was putting like 2 kilograms up and I was feeling I was more fat. I knew after that point I was getting back the the body and – well after the 4 or 5 or 6 days. With the bleeding. It was like a release.
And then when I was a little older I was start using the, er, tampons, was a easy way to allow me to carry on with the normal activities or when I was playing volleyball also.     I did not have any, er, boyfriend until I was twenty-two. I was going out with with many friends who were boys, I was sleeping with some of them but just as they were brothers, not thinking er about sex – I don’t know why!     I knew since very young I did not want to have childrens. Was very difficult in Argentina when I was in my 20s to express that because everyone thought you must have a child. All my family’s Catholic; and cultural, also. A mother who has child has a little necklace with each child I have. Or in the car, they put stickers with the father, mum; kid, kid, kid, pet!

I remembering my first relation who I was worried to became pregnant, and I was counting the days to have it back the period.     Before when I did not have HIV I, I did not care about h-, with some partner they did not care if you was bleeding or not, but when I knew I, I have HIV it was no go. No-one was going to touch the the, the menstrual blood. Because it’s more in, intimate blood I think than the, than the blood who can came from my cutting.
Yeah, I was very careful because I did not wanted to infected my, my partner.     With my, my husband, we live apart for ten years and we was met in two or three times a year. I was living with HIV. And he was negative. I remember in one occasion we met in, in New York, and the periods arrive early. And I did not want to have sexual intercourse, because I, at the time I, we thought the blood could infect him. And also was before the time when they discover you couldn’t pass HIV to your partner if you was with a virus undetectable?     3 days, and the 3 days was nothing! And then was 6 more month to see my… him.      Then I was start thinking: periods! When will be the day I will finish having them?
I have like 2 menopause; one was induced, and the other one natural. I have breast cancer when I was 40, and they said the periods could stop, because I was under chemotherapy.     And the periods stop for a year and a half or something like that – and I was happy – but they come back.
When I got the menopause I was completely happy.

When women finish and their hormones change, some friends they say they bring them quite a lot – to me they brought it down. Libido. If I want it, I’m back as I used to be. But I have to make an effort. Before was, was more er, what you say, er like more aroused more easily. Now I, I have to ‘get into the mood’.
Yeah, for me it’s a biological difference and that’s it, yes.

Q.S., mother of two; menarche 1994 in Feira de Santana, Brazil

Transcript of edited interview (v2):`
I came from Brazil, the North-East, in Feira de Santana – the second city of Bahia. But the place where I used to live was a kind of suburb; the house was small ,but the area was big. We had fruits, we have coconut trees, we have mango tree. I would say it was a really happy childhood. I used to feel free in that s- in that space; was kind of my space!      I was wild, I used to get like a big knife and cut coconuts leaves and make houses.
And then suddenly when I was thirteen: “Oh, you cannot do that.”

I was the only daughter; I had two brothers. I used to listen my mum’s talking with other mums and her sister about daughters having a period. They had this expression in Portuguese called “They broke the pot!”
And I used to ask “what is ‘broken the pot’?”
And I was 14 at the time, and when it came, was quite disappointed. Because I had that feeling I was going to be grown up more responsible, more serious. Breast is, is growing; you have some hairs in your private areas. And then when it came I was just like: “Oh gosh, this is just blood, on my legs!”
At the time my mum didn’t used to buy toilet towels, so we used to have cloth. Old cloth. Between my legs. And I used to find it disgusting! Because after I need to, to wash it; and then it was quite unpleasant. And er, the toilet didn’t used to, to have like a flush, or was just like the, the seat.

We needed to get a bucket of water to have a shower – then my mum decided to put a door in the toilet. So, I had more privacy, to deal with the situation.     I used the cloth for about 2 years, and then after that, I used the sanitary towels, like:     “Yessss!!!!!”     I find so special that moment, like:      “Oh, so nice I don’t need bloody smell, uncomfortable.”
Because it was disgusting!

We were quite religious; we were Catholics. My mum is really Catholic. No contraceptions at all. The funny thing is, for my brothers she used to, discuss:     “Oh, they need it.”     She even tried to arrange girls, for them, to have a sex.
For me, the law was completely different. Instead of being happy about being growing up, my parents was kind of trying to restrict me. Once you became fertile you are more susceptible to became pregnant. Friends and people who I knew from my age, they actually got pregnant. They were 14, 16, and now they are grandmothers. I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 17!

I started living here, in UK; I was with my, my husband but I was just thinking:
“It’s not a place to have a kid, here.”
I remember feeling really pregnant. And I was like:
“No!’ I really don’t want to have a child right now!”
So I never had such a relief in my life.     “I love you, period!”
Was I would say was in the right moment when I decided to, to have 2 children. The period didn’t came I was like:
“Oh yeah, maybe I will be pregnant!’”
I had 2 pregnancies and I didn’t have a big gap between one pregnancy and another.
So I stayed, almost like 4 years without a period.

I really like um not being, not having a period. I don’t need to think about buying sanitary towels, don’t need to think about this uncomfortable feeling; I don’t need to think about those things right now.      When I’m nearby my period I became really sensitive, and moody. This kind of: “The world is going to fall apart!”
I think like my mum, she had her menopause, now I can see after she passed through it I can feel she is free.
And there’s quite a negative, I heard, but after you went through it you are free.

Having or not having a period doesn’t define you, about… being a woman. Is something your body produced, and you just need to deal with it: it’s nothing that is going to define you.
Biologically the women bodies work in one way, the male body works in a different way. In a way my body is a tool for me, so I think kind of represent me, my body, my person. My body, my person, they work together. I think they are together.

F.C., film-maker; menarche 1999 in London, U.K.

Transcript of edited interview (v3):
I probably was around 14; living in London, shared a flat with my mum: I had my own bedroom, there was a bathroom – running water, hot water; I was going to secondary school, it was all pretty easy!
I was at the cinema, was watching ‘The Parent Trap’, with um Lindsey Lohan! And so I was with my friend, one of my best friends, and I went to the toilet in the middle of the film because I th-, I think I could like feel something. I don’t really remember it being painful, just remember there being a lot of it. Sss – I just wasn’t prepared, and like I didn’t really know – yeah I probably wouldn’t have felt confident in going to the shop and just buying something. So you know for the rest of the day I was just dealing with tissue.     But yeah it kind of freaked me out a little bit at the time; but then you know I just went home and told my mum about it. We didn’t talk about it, I think she just gave me some sanitary towels. Got the practical side of it out the way and, and it’s – and the same with my friends you know, I didn’t really talk about that kind of thing.          It was really regular, actually. I remember in my school diary counting the days when the next one would be. From the start date counting 25 to 28 days, later, and just putting like a little star or something, on the page. And it was – yeah, really really regular.      I’d known some friends that had already started their period; I guess I saw them change a little bit. Maybe there was some sort of negativity surrounding; I guess it’s sort of like a nuisance, you kind of see people moaning about getting period pain, or just moaning about that they have to use pads or whatever. Obviously at that age sort of 14, 15, you’re going through a lot anyway. It all kind of blurred into one big sort of er hormonal emotional mess!
I haven’t had any time where I, where I’ve wanted to be pregnant. Hopefully that will come another – you know, in a few years or something. So I’ve had moments where I’ve wanted it to come, yeah I went through a phase where I’d just broken up with a boyfriend who I’d been with since Uni. Kind of started this quite drastic healthy regime, and then I wasn’t like purposefully starving myself or anything like that, was just eating very, very healthy and I’d cut out dairy, and not eating any, any fat or sugar or anything, er it just made me lose weight quite quickly. And then my periods stopped? And I really did not like what had happened to my body at that point. I’d never been that skinny before, and I would look at other women who were maybe skinnier than me and be like:     “Oh, she looks really good.”     But I’m like “Oh, I’m too fat right now”.     But then once I was skinny I, I would like look at curvy women and be like:     “Oh, she looks really nice and like really womanly and like, I look disgusting!”     But the fact that my periods stopped; that had never happened to me before and there was a huge thing and I was like:     “Well, that’s really weird, and when are they going to come back?”     And I had to put on more weight basically. The doctor said      “Well if you go onto the pill, that might kick-start your periods because you’ll have a, like a pretend ‘pill-period’.”     I kind of thought “Oh I don’t want to be on the pill, ‘cos it’s not natural, and…”     So I just presumed that it would be fine, ‘cos I hadn’t had periods for a whole year before that. Erm, and then I got pregnant like the first month I came off of the pill. Clearly my periods – my, my menstruation – had started again, quite quickly!
That was like a big complicated long thing that – to do with my body and my periods that then ended up with me getting pregnant! And having a baby!     6 months of breast-feeding and then normal periods.     I definitely remember that normal periods returned; it’s almost like a comforting thing, I don’t know, I don’t really know why. When they stopped, that was just a really horrible experience. ‘Cos it just, it was like something unnatural was happening and that I could just see that something was missing. I just didn’t feel normal. So I think yeah maybe it’s just a kind of a very traditional symbol of being a female, and fertile and young. Maybe you just take it for granted when you – when it happens to you every month!

I don’t think of women that have stopped their per- having periods as any less like women! Erm, it’s just that they can’t have kids any more! I haven’t done any research into menopause, it’s almost like er I’d be approaching that from the same position that I approached periods to begin with! And again, it sounds like a sort of physically difficult, annoying thing to go through. I mean hopefully it will, it will come at a time when I don’t really mind. Maybe that’s kind of one of those things where something changes and there’s a bit of a delay in like your mind catching up with it. And then, and then you have like moments of harmony where it’s like:     “Ah! I’ve figured out my body today!”
I’ve always felt kind of comfortable in my body, I guess.

X.X., student; menarche 2006 Isle of Man

Transcript of edited interview (v3):
I lived in quite a small village on the North, in the North of the island so, I used to go out, play with my friends, ride my bike, go and play in the fields. We hadn’t spoken about periods a lot, and it was kind of left up to me.     My first period actually happened when I was on a camping holiday with my dad and my three brothers. I remember just sort of taking off my knickers at the end of the day and seeing blood there, but it was only a really small amount. And I think that’s why only in hindsight I think     “Oh gosh, that must’ve been my first period!”
But yeah, it’s only with my second period that I told my mum, and she showed me where the sanitary pads are kept.         I don’t think there was a particular change in how I felt within myself; I don’t think I felt any more grown up. I would just see blood and be like:     “Oh, ok, it’s that time again.”     We didn’t really talk about things like that. I remember once I was really getting panicky about swimming because we were supposed to be swimming in, in P.E. class. So my mum brought me home loads of tampons. I just went to the bathroom and I just practiced, how to use them, just reading the erm leaflet that was in, in the pack.         I really don’t remember it ever stopping me from doing anything. I kind of know because I get very emotional? Like the day before, and just burst out crying at everything; I eat lots of chocolate!
And I think when I was practicing religion that was much more important. Because you know you, you can’t pray when you’re on your period and you can’t, um, read certain sacred texts, and there’s a lot of issues around you know how much blood has to come out before you, can stop so can go and take a bath and then, and then get back to your religious duties.      My Muslim friends, we were open about talking about periods with each other but when it came to certain specific issues, such as the exact timing of when you can start praying again; I had to look on the internet for a sheikh you know who’s, you know studied and is qualified to give out that kind of advice. Like, it would’ve been very embarrassing to go and ask like um a sheikh in person at the mosque, with him being a man.
When I was living in Egypt, my period was a very different experience there. Tampons were really difficult to get hold of. We only had pads out there.     That was kind of frustrating at times because I’d miss out going to the beach with my friends or – because you don’t want to be wearing bikini bottoms and a pad, kind of thing! Absorbing all the water or, or just sitting on the sand and…     Yeah, I remember going to the beach once with a group of friends – and some of them were Egyptian men – and just really worrying about being discovered that I was on my period.     ‘Cos I had a boyfriend when I was Muslim so I used to have sex, and you’re not supposed to, have sex on your period. And obviously like because he grew up in a more Islamic culture, he never wanted to have sex when I was on my period. That sounds incredibly hypocritical! Because you’re supposed to be married to have sex anyway! We both still kept to that kind of, thinking, yeah.     It’s not seen as this amazing beautiful time of the month, it’s – it’s kind of disgusting.     And that time of the month it’s, you know, it’s supposed to be more enjoyable for the woman as well because all her senses are heightened and all her hormones are kind of heightened as well.
Menopause is like when women stop having their periods.      They probably feel much more free!      But nowadays I see I see a period as sacred. You know that that blood is sacred; it comes from a life-giving place, from a care-giving place.      And I kind of wish that the, the mainstream media you know they didn’t push on us that at that time of the month you, you have to keep on battling through it and, and kind of be this warrior that just gets through it on the same level as a man.         When I was younger I would see it as something more just ignore and just carry on doing eh, everything. But now I think, I think make – having periods makes women super-special.     It’s ok to really take some time out for yourself and care for yourself.     This is, you know, a time of the month where I should slow down a little bit and take more care of myself.

B.D., sex-worker; menarche Christmas Eve 2013, Lusaka (Linda compound), Zambia


Transcript of edited interview (v4):
(The interview is in English, but it can be harder to ‘hear’ for listeners unaccustomed to African speech.)
We are growing in the one room; just one-room house. It was 24th December, when we were about to go in er, Christmas time. That’s when I started doing period; then my mum waked me up: “Annie come on just wake up, you wee-wee.” So I just waked up and started yawning. Because we used to in a container, we cut the container, and we used to go and urinate in it – go and wee-wee there. Then I just saw something dropped there, just er like a drop of blood. I thought as if I have hurted myself. I even told my mum: “Mmmm, mummy! What’s happening to me, I don’t know what this…”     “No, my daughter, it’s happened; that’s a woman, that’s why we can say that you have now grown.”         They are saying that the first one is dangerous. They can get everyone to be sick. So they separate you. You will be sleeping alone, eating food alone. So they can’t let me sleep like small house with my mum, and my young sisters. So they took me to the neighbor, who has got a big house. I sat in the house for five days, without going anywhere – just to bath and wash my things, and come inside the house to go to sleep. They won’t even let me to go to the market, they just told me: “Stay inside the house, unless I told you to go.” You have to keep it secret. No-one knows about that unless – the second period. That’s when you can – mmm? Eat with your sisters. That’s what we do, in our tradition.

You can see the situation that you are living, can’t even manage to buy pads, so that you can put on. So I just using the chitenge material (clothing), fold it nicely then put it. That’s what we used to do. When you are finished, you can wash and hang it at a line. When it’s dry you can take it and put on again. When you fold it nicely then you put it, don’t let the blood to come out, the people start seeing your blood. They can do magic on your blood. When they got the chitenge that you used for period, they can even get your womb. Someone got it in magic, through that period. Us Africans, we like doing magic things. So, that’s what I just know about that.

Yes, there are some things that we are not supposed to do. You can cook nshima, (maize porridge) but you don’t have to put salt in the relish. When you want to put salt, go get a child outside. Then make sure you saw that child is a male child.     “Asiya? Come and put salt for me.”     When you put salt while you are on period, people they can mmm – sick. They start coughing anyhow, like when you’re coughing and feeling as if there is blood in your throat.         Having sex while you’re on period, a man also will also getting sick. Even if me I was in prostitution, I didn’t even do that. And when I knew that I’m doing period, I was not even going to the bar. I was just staying at home. Talk to them nicely, even if they shout at you: “So let me just slip home and relax until the time that I’ve finished. That’s when I will join you guys.”         The one who knows that I was pregnant is not my mum, just a friend. Just saw me the way I was vomiting, then started asking me: “Anna, what’s this?”     “I am pregnant, I’m scared to tell my mum.” I was just thinking about how can I, when I deliver? Because other people they start scaring you:      “Oooh, it pains when you go to the labour, it pains.”     It was a pain, but not like a big pain like forever. And after that, seems as if my daughter was sucking my period, through the – the milk. Then my daughter stopped sucking then after that, in two months’ time I started doing period. Because of the injection that I do, for preventing myself to be not pregnant. Because I didn’t understand what my mum was saying. So I always say that:     “No, I don’t want you to become like me.”     That’s what I will always tell my daughter. I have to lead my example! More like I’m living testimony, and also I’m a mistaken person who done something wrong previously. Yes.

My mum stop doing period around, it was 45? The one who haven’t yet had a child, you reach at 55, but the normal it’s 45. The more you are producing eggs, the more you do periods. So the egg they stop producing, they can’t have children, but a man never stops, and as long as he has found a woman who’s produced eggs, yes.
Maybe there’s a time when God answers my prayer, to give me the man that will marry me, I will still have more childs. Yes. And that will be the time so that I will stop producing eggs.
Actually, doesn’t have a meaning, because period is even not in the Bible.
So that’s the way women we are created.

E.B., student; menarche ?TBC? translation in progress; Chara Gaun, Nepal

Transcript of edited interview (v3b) still in progress: English draft

I live with my brothers and sisters, my parents and grandmother. There’s 7 or 8 of us in the house. My daily routine is to wake up early for morning breakfast, then I go cut grass, as fodder, to feed our animals, and back home for lunch. After lunch it’s school. That finishes at 4 and we eat again. Then I help with stuff around the house before doing my homework, and read a bit. Then it’s bedtime.

My first period happened when I was in grade 6. I was so scared, and it was a bit uncomfortable. I really didn’t want to tell anyone in the family. But then I had to tell my mum, and she took me away to hide me. Nearly 25 minutes walk away; somewhere I couldn’t see our house from. The belief is that we shouldn’t see the roof of our house, when we’re in that situation. When this happened, people were curious and they knew ‘oh, she’s started her periods’.

When it started I didn’t know what to wear, or how to clean it. But my mum showed me and I followed her guide. During a period I used to use old clothes, and afterwards wash them at home. That first period, I stayed outside the house for 22 days. There wasn’t much bleeding, and it didn’t even hurt too much, so it wasn’t so bad really.

It’s the custom, the guidance is that I’m not supposed to see the house, or my parents, but especially not my brothers.
So I couldn’t go to school, either. It was only after 7 days that I could go to school again.
And even then I wasn’t allowed to see my brothers, especially not touch them.
I was hidden away for the first and the second period. Now I only have to take 3 days away, but the other days I indoors, and in limited places. I’m not allowed to go in the kitchen or cook, and I mustn’t touch my parents or brother. There’s a bed assigned to me; clothes and even the plate, glass and spoon I use are designated. And I mustn’t touch other people’s, during my period. These are our customs in the Brahman community.
These are still the practices, particularly in the Brahman caste.

After I’d started to have periods, I did feel like a different person. Sometimes I wish I didn’t ever have to suffer menstruation, because it’s pain on my stomach. It’s a difficult time, and you need to stay away from other people.
But I know they’ll stop one day.
It all stops by itself, once a woman’s 45 years old.
And I do feel proud in myself, to be a girl.
Namaste – goodbye!