No knowledge of what periods are and how to manage them can be traumatic to a young girl. Education and banishing of menstrual taboos is key.
I must have been around twelve when a friend’s mother who saw me after a gap of three months smiled at my mother and said – “You may have to distribute ‘puttu’ soon”.
“I hope not,” my mother replied.
I had an inkling that the conversation had something to do with me but I did not give much of a thought to it. I did not know at the time that ‘puttu’ was prepared and distributed in Tambrahm households when a girl started her periods. Nor did I know what periods were.
My mother isolated herself during her monthly periods as was the custom in Tambrahm households but I kind of accepted her explanation that she was overworked and needed to rest for those three days. I couldn’t however understand why we were not allowed to touch her and often wondered how a mere touch could hamper her period of rest. More than other things, I wondered why we children were made to change our clothes and have a quick bath if we accidentally touched her when she in her ‘resting’ phase! I also wondered how she came to know when to rest. She would go about doing her work in the morning and in the evening on our arrival from school we’d find her in her self imposed quarantine.
“Don’t come too close!” she’d warn us if we went anywhere near her.
So, in a way I was totally unprepared when I first spotted blood in my underwear when I returned from school on a winter afternoon. My first thought was that I had perhaps hurt myself while playing. I quickly changed my inner wear, washed myself clean and went to have my evening snacks. I felt uneasy and went to check on my ‘wound’ and was horrified to find that the flow of blood had not subsided and called out to my mother.
I was sure that I would bleed to death and felt sorry for picking up a quarrel with my best friend Baljinder. “What if I don’t see her again,” I wondered.
My mother realized that the time to distribute ‘puttu’ had indeed come and taught me to use disposable home made pads because she had not heard of sanitary napkins till then.
It was then that I realized that I too would be forcibly rested every month. At first the thought was exciting. My younger sister was curious to know what was happening and why I was being asked to rest when I did no chores in the house and I felt superior. However, later I felt it was trifle unfair that my freedom to move around the house was being curtailed and tried to reason with my mother that the isolation did not bind me since I didn’t do any ‘real’ work in the house and needed no rest. She would have none of it.
The next day I hoped to be allowed to skip school. I wasn’t confident enough and felt scared of staining my skirt. But my mother would have none of it, too, and sent me to school with an extra pad to change if required. I took around three months to actually identify the routine of my monthly cycles and it was not before I reached Senior School that I understood the biological significance of the menstrual cycle.
Even in my 11th grade my Biology teacher seemed so nervous and ill prepared to explain the structure and function of the human reproductive system that I actually thought that it was something to be embarrassed about and avoided discussing about the pain and cramps I experienced during my periods even with my best friends.
Looking back, I realize the importance of preparing your girl child for the onset of her periods. It is important for her to understand that it is just part of growing up and certainly not a subject to be discussed in whispers. My granddaughter who is just 10 has been briefed about it in class and had no hesitation in discussing it with me. She may have a couple of years more before the onset of her periods but her teacher is open to any questions the class may have in this regard.
And although I kept on postponing the discussion with my daughter when she was on the verge of attaining puberty -not knowing how to bring it up – I am glad that my daughter is able to answer her questions. I am sure that by the time my granddaughter starts her periods she will know what to expect and how best to deal with it. This, I feel, is the way it should be.
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