In the early hours of a young morning, a girl of mere 13 years startles herself awake. A sudden, stabbing pain flares within her lower abdomen. She sits up, feeling wetness in between her legs which soaks through her clothes. Her eyes widen and she clambers down her bed. Her heart thrumming wildly, she peers at the red splotch on her bedsheet.
It is time. She calls for her mother, who walks into the girl’s room, rubbing the remnants of sleep from the corner of her eyes. The mother’s grim expression at being awakened at such an odd hour dissolve into a pleased grin. Her daughter has stepped into womanhood.
The young girl sits on the counter by the sink as her mother washes her soiled linens. “You will have to take care,” says the mother. “You are a woman now.”
The girl frowns. The mother adds, “The first blood is special. Every month, from now onwards, for a few days, you shall bleed. It might cause you a little discomfort but that's the beauty of being a woman, I suppose.”
Now the young girl trails behind her mother as she carries the washed clothes towards the balcony. Resting against the ledge of the balcony, she looks at her mother.
The older woman continues, “Your body, in the span of a few months will be capable of conceiving. Not that you will be giving birth, you are far too young and have far too much to achieve before all that. My point being, menarche, that is the first menstrual cycle doesn’t necessarily mean you will start ovulating. Periods for the first year are 80% anovulatory. Which roughly translates to, ovulation isn’t happening and thus, the body isn’t capable of conceiving. But that doesn’t mean this is the way it is for every girl. Sometimes, in some people, ovulation starts before menstruation.”
The women are now seated around a table, an older lady with grayer hair and a stoopy built has joined them.
The mother says, “The flow initially might be slow and spotty, that’s okay. Or it can be heavy. It all depends on the person’s biological build. Mor-”
The mother is interrupted by the older woman, “Child, I have kept pieces of cotton cloth torn and stitched for you. You must use them during your menses every month. And don’t tell anyone. It attracts bad intentions and vibrations.”
The mother shakes her head, “Menstruation is as natural as birth, Mother. Especially the first one,” the mother turns to look at the young girl, “depending on your flow, you must choose the correct sanitary pad during your period. Come with me, I’ll teach you how to wear one.”
The mother guides the girl towards the washroom, and inside the washroom, she opens up a cabinet- the treasure trove of menstrual sanitation. The mother plucks out different packs of sanitary napkins, “Niine’s wide range of sanitary napkins will take care of your flow.”
The advent of a girl’s first blood is kind of a big deal in a lot of Indian households. It is, after all, the beginning of womanhood; the process of transition of a child to an adult. Menarche brings with itself a possibility of fertility- a possibility of creation.
With menarche comes a hundred different changes in a woman’s body- adolescence is a tough time for everyone. Your body starts growing in places that make you raise an eyebrow, the voice coming from your mouth suddenly sounds shriller, thinner or deeper. The weird hair growth and skin darkening. It’s a confusing terrain to map, especially when you’re a female and you experience blood gushing out of your body every month.
Everything is going good and on one fine day, you wake up with blood in between your legs and cramps that will bother you for a very long time in your life, the first time of many to follow can be disorienting. You’re allowed to be confused and shaken.