It was trending on Twitter recently that periods were the last taboo. It shocked me as I work in a pharmacy where the majority of staff are women and we talk openly about ours. It’s a conversation starter.. “Hey, what time is your lunch?” “Twelve, God I feel shite I’m hemorrhaging and I want to kill someone. Do you have any feminex, ibuprofen, crystal meth?”. Any man who works with us learns quickly to put his head in a book at lunchtime and not to make eye contact. There are no taboos in a chemist where the family planning section has grown to include a variety of flavoured condoms and lubes, along with vibrating yokes and just recently an array of serums and cooling gels for your vag. I’m not sure if this was the “family planning” the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council educated us on in school. They came to chat to us when we were in 5th year and our unspoken agenda was to embarrass the shit out of them. It was all the more uncomfortable for me as it was a neighbour of mine. There was a section where everyone wrote down an anonymous question on a piece of paper and put it in a box. A memorable one was “what is a rainbow kiss?” There was no google back then and I have no idea where the question came from but in googling it now, that’s hardcore.
When we were in first year, our class tutor taught us the mechanics of menstruation and showed us how tampons worked. She put one into a glass of water and there were a couple of guys from the boys school watching at the window who got more than they bargained for, probably still scarred for life. I had read “Are you there God it’s me Margaret” tons of times and I was prepared to go shopping for Dr. Whites. That book was written in the 1970s and I thought you had to wear a belt and hook a big hammock of a pad onto it. I also thought that if I exercised my arms chanting “I must, I must, I must increase my bust” that I may stop having the body of a 9 year old boy. Talking about periods was exciting; something the girls whispered about since primary school. One girl told how her sister had to be rushed to hospital once a month for a blood transfusion. There was a scandal in primary when a couple of girls were caught throwing pads around in the toilet if I remember correctly. Some rebellious ones in the class bought some tampons from a machine in the toilets at the concert hall on one of our excruciating trips there. She had them in her pocket and if you asked, she’d give you a glimpse.
My Mam gave me a book called “Have you started yet?” about the facts of life when I was 12 as she didn’t want me to be as clueless and frightened as she had been. Her older sister had tried putting plasters on her vagina thinking she had cut herself.
I was terrified that my sister, Fiona who was 2 years younger would start before me. She already had boobs I’d be proud of now.
Diary entry 27-January-1990: Got my period!!!!!! Went to the bathroom to go to the toilet when I saw a stain. Ran down and told my Mam and she told me where to find the STs. No pain-nothing. Only the pad feels like I’m wearing a nappy.”
So 1990 a great year for Irish football and my introduction to the joys of womanhood. I could talk about that Summer for ever.. it’s my Summer of ‘69. I had my first slow dance and kiss. Sleepovers with friends where we’d watch Nightmare on Elm St or something by John Hughes and smoke cigarette butts from the fireplace. The posters of St Jason Donovon were being replaced by Michael Hutchence.. the same was going on in Kylie’s bedroom but replace the word poster with penis.
Twenty-five years of periods later what have I learnt? It’s taken me this long to document what goes on with my body but that’s helped by having an app on my phone to log symptoms etc. Nine days before they’re due I’m a homicidal psychopath. I go on a complete rampage and it’s only that night when I’m in bed that it dawns on me why. If my husband decides to ask when my period is due mid- rant well may god have mercy on his soul. This phase will give way to emotion. Around this time I will normally ring my Mam crying that I can’t cope and she’ll have to come and take one of the kids for a few hours. She’ll do this and then I’ll cry cos I feel like a bitch and I miss my child so I’ll compensate with a Double Decker binge. Two days before my period I’m euphoric, awww look at my gorgeous babies, let’s read stories and do puzzles; then the backache kicks in and I’ll want to crawl into bed with a hot water bottle and cry, not because I’m sad but I’d enjoy a bit of a wallow into my pillow. Then.. period, just a little warning for the first day and Niagara the second. It’s a game of roulette changing pads on the Niagara day as it can end up like a scene from Carrie. Every month I realise at the last minute I’ve no supplies and will do a trip to the chemist where i’ll buy a mixture of regular, super and night time pads (without wings; only stick to places they shouldn’t) feminax, Femfresh wipes, wash and spray. Then it’ll taper off and these items will be nowhere to be found for the next months episode.
The reason pregnancy wasn’t enjoyable for me was that it was like having a 10 month period. I was unstable emotionally and prone to anger. My back ached, my boobs were a no-go-zone. I ate rings around me and would have been happy to hibernate. On the plus size, the bloating is concealed by the baby bump.
I enjoy the sympathy and probably lay it on a bit thick but apart from all the biological reasons women have periods, I like to use them as a break… from kids, sex and life in general. I want to lie in bed for one day (preferably that 2nd horrible one) and have tea brought to me while I re-read Mallory Towers.
Periods have been depicted in a handful of movies.. the most memorable for me is Superbad; that scene where a girl is grinding on Jonah Hill’s leg and “periods on him” and also Carrie in the shower scene when she gets her period and the other girls throw pads at her and tell her to “plug it up”. I’ve debated the existence of this scene with a few friends because in some showings that scene is cut.. is it more offensive than when she has a bucket of pig’s blood thrown over her? If you would like to catch up on some menstruation movies.. here’s a list
I hope I’ve done my bit in de-tabooing; feel free to share your stories about transfusions and if the person responsible for Concerthallgate would like to own up and share if they’re still rebelling against society or just have a compulsion to buy stuff from bathroom dispensers, inquiring minds wanna know.