Eleven years-old is young — very young — and it's also when I got my first period. Besides the logistical nightmares it caused (I lived with just my single father), it wasn't too bad, all things considered. Of course, in my case, All Things Considered will be the title of my future memoir and shall include a chapter on how I would have rather been eaten by bears than ask my father for money for maxi pads. So instead, I would load up our ancient wagon with his Molson Export empties and haul them to the beer store for return money. The local pharmacy was kitty-corner to the beer store, so it was all very convenient, once you looked past the inevitable glass breakage and smelling like a pub-urinal factor. (Note: The follow up to my memoir is going to be Raised Feral: Why Jeni is No Fun at Parties.)
I didn't suffer from any real cramping or pain, and my regular routine of alcohol-empty transport continued swimmingly. This is why, when my own daughter "BECAME A WOMAN," her pain took me off guard. Like, "come-to-school-and-bring-me-drugs-I-am-probably-dying" off guard. It's hard to understand pain you've never experienced, as I told my partner, when he attempted to say he "understood childbirth" because he once had a kidney stone. (RIP boyfriend's left ear.) My daughter was NOT impressed with this new development on the puberty wheel-o-fun. This was not the period experience she had been conditioned to expect from soft-edged tampon commercials. This was pain. This was something called "dysmenorrhea," I explained, and relayed the medical explanation:
Primary dysmenorrhea is defined as painful menses with cramping sensation in the lower abdomen that is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and tremulousness. All these symptoms occur just before or during the menses in women with normal pelvic anatomy.
Essentially, that's what period pain is. "No," she replied. "It's essentially complete and utter bullshit." (She prefers layman's terms.)
"Welcome to womanhood," I told her, as I passed the painkillers. We needed to have a little chat, a chat about what I call The Three Golden Rules for Period Having Lady People and All Others Who Bleed from their Vaginas. (I really need to work on a shorter title.) It consists of three parts:
Any young girl who either has her period or has it coming, needs a "Period Pal." That's what I call the bag I prepared for my daughter to keep in her locker or backpack. She even has a version at home and it covers all of her (and several friends') needs. It includes:
If you always keep this bag accessible, your daughter will become a goddamn hero by Grade 12. The sewing and design students will make her a red cape. I promise you.
People who say they have a problem should be heard. Pain is real, whether emotional or physical. No matter the source or subject, everyone deserves to be heard and respected, FULL STOP. My daughter is spirited and fun, and she knows what it's like to miss out on things because of a back ache from ovaries and uterus's and such. If someone says they can't do something because they are suffering, honour that. This goes beyond periods and missing parties, but any story with "respect" as a tagline gets airtime in my house. Let's give this issue the respect it deserves. I don't use a reusable menstrual cup, nor do I make my own toilet paper or breast milk hand soap but that doesn't mean it's not cool if you do. I couldn't use tampons because a) my dad sure as hell couldn't show me how, and b) I WAS 11! WHAT IS A TAMPON?
Respect choices and circumstances, period-based, or otherwise.
The best fun is heavily-planned fun, right? Even if you're not Type A, you must admit that being prepared for the unexpected can make things more enjoyable. When they go out, I advise both my kids to carry things like $20, a granola bar, gum, house keys, and a spare smart phone charger. In coming years, this will mean pocket birth control (condoms, etc.) and if I had my way they'd each carry a full hiking backpack complete with shark repellent and helmets. But maybe that's just me.
Yes, womanhood is not without its pains, she is learning. And she was right about the bullshit part. She missed pool parties because she didn't have tampons and we were given side-eye from soccer team captains for being absent too many times to count before we figured out the best pain strategy for her. I think these coaches don't understand that between 16% and 93% of menstruating adolescents experience primary dysmenorrhea, and severe pain "is perceived in 2% to 29% of the studied girls." If I had known period pain was this prevalent in young girls and teens, I may have brought her to the doctor sooner, because this is real. My daughter should be in the game, not watching from the sidelines. Something as simple as a plan for getting on top of period pain before it causes missed days at school and social events means MORE FUN, LESS BULLSHIT.
My daughter is in the majority - 70% of girls with menstrual pain self-manage. So for now, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like Advil or ibuprofen) along with heat packs are all we need. But we have options if things get worse before they get better,. One day we may need to discuss hormonal menstrual cycle management like oral contraceptive pills with our doctor. I teach my daughter that SHE owns her body, and that also means pain. Knowing she has agency and can seek help for her pain is important but it's my job as a parent to help her now, while she's young. Luckily, she doesn't need to haul beer bottles to get pads, and she has someone to help her with hygiene and pain control options. Like the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research is doing, we should be encouraging research to help manage period pain. It's definitely as important as fighting all the bullshit stuff women face, like the wage gap, mansplaining, and more expensive haircuts.