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What is wrong in telling my son about periods and buying pads while he is around? Isn’t that one more step towards normalising menstruation?
Yearly trips to Assam are regular as my husband hails from there. It also means a darshan of the reigning deity of the Kamakhya Mandir in Guwahati. Last year while we stood in queue, I seized the opportunity to orient my son about the ‘bleeding Goddess.’
The story of Shiva-Sati and the significance of the 51 peeths left him astounded. And the story of how Sati’s yoni/vagina fell there, the yearly occurrence of menstruation and the red cloth left him intrigued. By the time we reached the dark sanctum, the excitement was palpable.
Lit by huge oil-lamps, we could make out the triangular structure on the floor. Shaped like a vagina and moist, it was an experience that one would never forget.
Menstruation as a topic is not shunned in my household. The men in my family, my father and husband actively get involved in our discussions. My boy became aware when he turned five years old. It happened by fluke.
I had returned home from the hospital after delivering my second-born. My stitches hurt. The flow was heavy and I constantly had to be on my toes for the baby. My little helper – my boy went around doing all the odd jobs.
One night we were on our own, when my stomach knotted in acute pain. All of a sudden, I felt my stomach tightening. Bouts of pain came and went as I lay bunched up on the bed. And then I felt a rush of sticky fluid between my legs. I rushed to the bathroom.
The floor turned red. It was not the first time for me. I had faced it after my first child was born. Known as postpartum haemorrhage, I was ready for it. I shouted out to the child to lend me the bulky pads which I kept aside for such a scenario. The then five-year-old handed me what he called, ‘mummy’s diapers.’
Once we had settled down, the boy wide-eyed with shock had asked me, “So much blood, are you okay? You won’t die, Ma?”
It was finally time to explain this to him in detail.
“Go and get a sheet of paper and a pen.” I had instructed him. Drawing the vagina, I had explained about the uterine lining and how it is shed every month.
“It is known as menstruation and happens to every woman.”
“Even to Nana (grandmother)? Moni (aunt) gets it as well?”
“Yes yes, every woman who has grown up gets it. It happens once in a month.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Yes we do get cramps. They can be painful. But it varies from woman to woman.”
“And how does it feel to wear a diaper?”
Taken aback by the question, I had replied honestly. “Oh… it’s very uncomfortable. During summer it’s especially tough. With the heat, humidity and the constant wetness we get complications. The abrasion bruises the skin making it tender. Rashes also come out.”
“That’s tough, Ma.”
We had ended the chat that day by reminding him. “Now that you know what it is, call it a sanitary napkin or a pad, not a diaper.” He had nodded his little head thoughtfully.
Since then he became my partner. Every month when I prepare my monthly grocery list, he reminds me, “Ma add two packets of your napkin.” Or while watching TV, he comes running in. “They are showing a new ad for pads. You might want to try them, Ma.”
The first two days of the cycle are tough with cramps and heavy flow. Managing one’s menstrual cycle along with the daily chores can be taxing. I usually finish my chores and lie down.
On one of those days, I heard the ten-year-old telling his sister, “Ma is not well. Why don’t you watch TV and let her rest?”
“Nooo…I want to play.”
“Okay. Let’s play. But quietly!”
And then after a while I hear them moving to the kitchen. It’s time for their evening snacks.
Worried, I stepped out. Two bowls were laid out on the table. Biscuit, bananas and home-made muffins were piled up.
“You can go back to bed, Ma. We can handle this.” The boy informed me. Relieved, I went back.
Another day another conversation enfolded.
The four-year-old had taken out my pads when the older one caught her doing so.
“Mummy’s diapers.” She said.
“Yes…but why have you taken them out? Do you know if you take out the outer covering, you are exposing them to germs and she might get an infection? Do you want that to happen?”
“Keep them aside.”
Menstruation always brings back an incident at the departmental store in Ranchi, Jharkhand. It was an up-market locality. My son was seven-years-old and my daughter was only two.
As I piled the groceries into my trolley and headed towards the billing counter, my son ran out shouting, ‘You forgot diapers!’ At the billing counter, he came scurrying in carrying two packets of sanitary napkins.
The people who had queued up after me could hardly conceal their disgust. A middle aged woman retorted, “Oh what is this? What are you teaching your son?”
The young boy took over. “My mother’s diaper. She had forgotten.”
“Look at that boy. He is answering instead of his mother. Arrey! How have you raised your son? Openly buying? Teach him decency. Sanitary napkins are not to be purchased this way. And why should you make your boy do it? It’s disgusting. There is nothing called privacy these days,” The lady grumbled in anger.
I kept mum as I saw my son preparing to reply. “My mother wears diapers. Every woman wears, she told me. Even you. So why should we hide?”
I was proud of my son that day. It was time to take charge. “Raise your son the way I have raised mine and then come and speak to us. Not before that.”
Armed with the groceries, I paid the bill and marched out.
The boy is almost eleven now. He knows when my periods start. If it’s delayed he looks concerned. If I have cramps, he knows which medicines I should take. I am allowed to rest it out while he acts as the big brother. On nights, when the flow is heavy, he reminds me to spread another sheet over the bed sheet so that bedspread doesn’t get stained.
Periods are not a taboo in my household. Everyone knows and talks about it. Disposal is not covert. The choices regarding brands are discussed at home.
It is a woman who gets her periods. But why not involve the entire household! If the woman, who is the fulcrum of the households suffers from it, make it imperative that the entire household shares the emotional burden.
Engaging the younger ones paces way for a better future for the next generation. Not only you teach your daughter to be open about menstrual health and hygiene, you also impart important lessons to your son.
If more and more men join the bandwagon, then the day is not far when the taboo and the misconceptions regarding periods will vanish. Society will heal and become healthier.
Make each and every member in your family a partner in your menstrual cycle. Let them play an active role. If this starts on a micro level, the revolution will soon start at the macro level taking us to new heights.
Picture credits: YouTube
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Sreemati Sen Karmakar holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) From Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She
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