What I know now, that I wish I knew then…
I was fourteen when I had my first period – it was while we were on a beach holiday over the summer break, and on my first day back at high school I remember nonchalantly telling my friends “oh yeah, I got my period over the holidays” like it was no big deal. On the inside, however, it felt like, finally, I had been let into the sisterhood. It felt significant. Like I was part of a secret club, or that I was finally in the same cohort as my older sisters and no longer a “child”. It was big.
While I was excited for that first bleed, my second wouldn’t be for about 12 months later, and the next another year after that. I went through high school without so much as mentioning my period to any of my friends, not talking about whether or not we were experiencing pain, not talking about what products we wore… nothing. It turns out have a period really was being part of a secret club whose secrecy was its biggest downfall. Which begs the question: why are periods so secret?
Looking back now, and with the wisdom of Chinese medicine under my belt, I can clearly articulate what I wish I knew, but was never told, about my period when I was fourteen.
Five things I wish I knew about my period when I was fourteen
- Pain – we weren’t born to be in pain. The human body is capable of so many wildly beautiful and incredible things that I simply cannot comprehend that menstruating people are *meant* to be in pain each time they bleed. It simply does not have to be the case. Periods can be pain free, they can be beautiful, they can be a time we look forward to, a time of release, a time of joy. I bet you’ve never heard of periods spoken about like that before, I know I certainly didn’t when I was younger. What we typically hear about our periods is that they’re dreadful, embarrassing, and painful. Period pain, though common, is not normal and there are many ways you can influence this through diet and lifestyle, however, I think the most profound way to understand that period pain is not normal is to actually understand periods. When we have knowledge we have power, and the way we take back our period power is to actually know what’s going on when we bleed.
- The colour and consistency of your bleed matters. Actually looking at your period blood with a sense of curiosity is super important to understanding your period. Do you have clots? If so, what size are they? They might be the size of your fingernail, your thumb or even your whole fist! It’s also important to notice how many clots there are and whether they’re bright red, dark red, black or mucusy. These are all clinically significant from a Chinese medicine point of view, and it’s important to flag to a parent or health professional if you are noticing blood clots in your period. Another thing is the colour of your period – is the blood a fresh, bright red or is it brown and sticky or dark and almost black? These things matter, and they can tell a compelling story about what’s going on for you. You can use a period tracking app or even a journal to write notes about your period so you have a record of your period in case you need to share it with a doctor or medical professional in the future.
- Cervical mucus is normal. I remember once asking my mum if it was possible to have a “clear period” before you get a “red period”. Bless my mother, but she either had no idea what I was talking about or perhaps she also felt the shame of talking about periods. I never got an answer to that question, but knowing what I know now, that “clear period” that I was getting before my “red period” was cervical mucus. There are many different types of mucus that we notice change throughout the menstrual cycle. Before ovulation you might notice clear mucus that resembles egg-whites. After ovulation you might notice the mucus change to a more opaque colour that’s thicker in consistency. These are totally normal things to be occurring during your cycle! They aren’t gross, or anything to be ashamed of. If you ever notice mucus that’s smelly or a colour other than white, then that’s something you want to get checked out.
- The best period product is the one that works for you. I remember in high school being terrified of someone hearing me unwrap my pad for fear that they would know I was bleeding, but in the same token was terrified of using a tampon for fear of no longer being a “virgin”. Really, the best period product is the one you feel most comfortable wearing. Be it a pad, tampon, period undies or a moon cup – always choose the option that feels the most supportive for you and your body.
- The secrecy of this secret women’s business isn’t serving anyone. When people that menstruate share their stories about menstruation with each other, it empowers each person to understand if their period is on the spectrum of normal, or not. Education is a tool for empowerment. I wish someone had told me the pure magic of the menstrual cycle – that it could be harnessed as my super power, that I could learn to live in flow with my cycle to harness more energy from my days, to fuel my goals, to feel alive in my body. It’s such a shame that so often we only find out this magic when we are well into our twenties, thirties, forties, and sometimes beyond. There’s no need for something that half the world does on, typically, a monthly basis, should be secret. Talk to your parents, your friends, cousins, sisters and boyfriends. The taboo of periods means that more people suffer in silence, when we share our own stories, we empower others to share theirs, too, and that could be the difference between you or your friend finding out if something isn’t right with your menstrual cycle.
Michelle is available at Mornington Chinese Medicine from 2pm to 8pm on Monday and Friday.
138 Tanti Avenue, Mornington, VIC
03 5973 6886