“I need pads” is what my cousin said in front of my entire family.
From an early age, my parents spoke about education with gravitas and imbued me with the notion of tenacity. The lack of educational opportunities hindered many aspects of their life, but to prevent me from facing similar hardships, they told me to dissipate my ignorance through the power of knowledge. However, their regressive attitude towards menstruation further perpetuated ignorance and perverted my relationship with menstruation.
I scrutinized my parent’s appalled expressions and realized I was supposed to be ‘revolted’ by my cousin’s statement. Thus, I remained silent and allowed my mother to berate my cousin. My perception of menstruation worsened, especially when my mother was diagnosed with severe premenstrual syndrome. The shame of menstruating instilled within both of us impeded us from supporting each other through tumultuous situations. Seeing her going to her OBGYN countless times but still not receiving the medical care she deserved made me realize how uninformed we are when it comes to issues about menstruation. We are taught to silently take the pain, no matter how debilitating it is, it is normalized to endure the excruciating pain and silently smile through the tears. However, my mother’s silent tears were a catalyst for me to alter my perception of periods.
During the pandemic, I decided to become more educated about period issues by reading books, watching documentaries, listening to period stories, and joining Bleed the North. Over the two years, I have become more accepting of my period. While there is still shame and underlying disgust towards my periods, I am slowly working towards eradicating the internalized stigma that has accumulated over the years, and the shock factor is that I do not find menstruators to be ‘unclean’ or ‘disgusting,’ the revolting feeling regarding menstruation only occurs with my period. Slowly I realized that my repulsive demeanour towards my period is due to how debilitating it is; I cannot even express how many times I have puked on my period or had to take a day off because I simply could not get out of bed. However, the worst part was that my severe pain was normalized. I thought there was something wrong with me, until I met a group of menstruators who have had a similar experience.
To this day, my silence haunts me. Not only did the incident harm me, but it also distorted my cousin’s relationship with menstruation. If a similar situation occurred now, I would unequivocally prevent the individual from further discriminating against menstruators and use the incident as a learning opportunity, but eleven-year-old me did not know any better. Through the incident, I learned that a majority of South Asians equate menstruation to inferiority; a cultural problem that has plagued several generations of menstruators. By providing educational resources and igniting worthwhile discussions, change is possible.
Ignorance vanishes through uncomfortable discussions, and while discussing periods arouses polarity, it will ultimately lead to necessary change that will sustain inclusivity and belonging within the menstrual realm.