Dear Lily June,
The moment in the 1976 film Carrie that scares me most is not when the titular character uses her powers of telekinesis to rack up a body count with fire and impressive property damage at the prom. Given the bullying she’s received throughout the course of the plot, that seems fairly reasonable.
No, the moment that gets me every time is when she’s confused, scared and alone in the school gym showers, and she gets her period. Not knowing that she isn’t going to bleed to death, she begins to cry out, as anyone experiencing a spontaneous hemorrhage might. And then the teenage sharks, figuratively smelling the blood, come into the locker room and pelt her with feminine hygiene products while chanting in unison, “Plug it up! Plug it up!”
That Carrie’s mother never prepared her is a travesty, but what do you expect from a woman whose technical term for breasts is “dirty pillows”? Lily, I vow you’ll never be in the same predicament. I promise that I’ll prepare you as much as possible for your period so that you never feel the need to go on a murderous rampage against countless numbers of your own classmates. The desire? Maybe. (Puberty is hard, and teenagers can be savage beasts.) But the need? Let’s hope not.
It’s important to know some basic facts first of all, so you feel armed and ready for this perfectly natural process:
Boys don’t get periods. This is going to feel very unfair to you at some point, and that’s okay. Just remember that boys don’t get them because they can never be mommies. Some people refer to periods as “the curse,” but the real curse is not having the power to create human life through the force of your love and the strength of your body. Pity the poor boys, Lily. When it comes to periods, they know not what to do.
Periods are part of a process. Just like a period at the end of a sentence, that indicates the words should stop, a period in the body is an indication that a process within you has stopped, specifically ovulation. You see, Lily, hormones, called estrogen and progesterone, release from different parts of the body to help prepare for pregnancy, and the start of a “cycle” is when those hormones create an egg (or ovum) in a place called the ovaries.
The egg gets released around day 14 of a 28-day cycle, and moves into one of the fallopian tubes (the two tubes that lead from the ovaries to the uterus). In the meantime, your hormones also trigger certain changes in the lining of the uterus (also called the endometrium).
In this time, if an egg is fertilized by sperm (which comes from those boys we talked about), the fertilized egg will travel down the fallopian tube, attach to the thick, blood-rich lining of the uterus, and create a baby. (We’ll talk more about where babies come from later, and how birds like storks have absolutely nothing to do with that process.)
If it’s not fertilized, an egg falls apart, hormone levels drop, and the uterine lining breaks down and is sloughed off — this bleeding is what’s known as a period.
If that sounds scary, it’s not. Boys might be scared, and some like to joke that
“You should never trust an animal that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die.”
But that’s what makes girls so tough: we do this once a month! Considering that our bodies are made to pass babies through them, as well as deal with periods, if someone calls you a “pussy” to mean “coward,” they clearly don’t have their head on straight. You have to be brave to be a lady, and Lily, you will be. But like I said, it’s not so scary.
There will be blood. But not that much. When you see your first red drops, you might think it looks like a lot. But it’s only two tablespoons full of menstrual fluid, made up of blood and mucous and endometrial tissue.
It doesn’t last that long. I’m not going to lie to you and say that this is the week of the month you’ll most look forward to. While your first period should be exciting–we’ll celebrate your advancement into womanhood!–after that, you’ll mostly just be counting the days until it’s over. And luckily, at max, that count should be seven. (For some lucky few, it’s as little as two!)
You won’t have them forever. Somewhere between 45 and 55, your body will run out of eggs to drop, and then you’ll go through a process called menopause. Since your own mommy hasn’t been there yet, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.
We’ll talk about them a lot. I wanted to introduce you to what they are, and I’ll admit something: I had to relearn a lot of this stuff. Eventually, periods will be second nature to you, something that comes and goes without a lot of fan fare or care on your part. You may get to a point where you want to know about products like pads versus tampons, and we’ll talk about that along the way. You may want to complain about PMS (something we’ll talk about later) or how stupid hygiene product advertisements are. Or you’ll want to know why oh why they’d jazz up the lingo of pad’s tabs by calling them “wings.”
I promise, whatever your questions, I’ll answer you. I may have to look stuff up, but in doing so, I’ll learn, too. And some of the facts I’ve already picked up in anticipation of this talk are pretty cool, too:
Like, did you know that there’s an Hindu goddess named Saraswati who is associated with both menstruation and knowledge? Neither, before this, did I. Her name translates to “flow woman,” like the euphemism some Americans use for periods (They say their “Aunt Flo” has come for a visit.) And there’s something to that, Lily: Once you get your period, you’ll have knowledge into what it means to be a woman. I don’t want to scare you, but you’ll learn some things about pain and compassion, too.
Carrie didn’t have the knowledge she needed, and that’s what makes that scene so scary. Also, your peers can be ignorant at best, and at worst, cruel. You may have to fight the urge to wanna draw blood from them.
But don’t worry: If it’s a girl you’re mad at, nature will do that for you. And if it’s a boy? Let’s just say, if they’re worth their salt, they’ve got midnight runs in their future to buy pads and chocolate for you. And if they’re not worth their salt? If they’d try to embarrass, mock or hurt you because of your period? Mommy will teach you where to kick ’em.
- “Sissy Spacek as Carrie White, 1976” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sissy_Spacek_as_Carrie_White,_1976.jpg#/media/File:Sissy_Spacek_as_Carrie_White,_1976.jpg
- “Rhynchocyon petersi from side” by Joey Makalintal from Pennsylvania, USA – A Fascinating OneUploaded by Richard001. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rhynchocyon_petersi_from_side.jpg#/media/File:Rhynchocyon_petersi_from_side.jpg
- “Brown chicken egg” by Garitzko – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brown_chicken_egg.jpg#/media/File:Brown_chicken_egg.jpg
- “Illu cervix”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Illu_cervix.jpg#/media/File:Illu_cervix.jpg
- “Saddle-Billed Stork” by Steve from washington, dc, usa – saddle-billed stork. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saddle-Billed_Stork.jpg#/media/File:Saddle-Billed_Stork.jpg
- “Teaspoon” by S Sepp – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Teaspoon.jpg#/media/File:Teaspoon.jpg
- “PikiWiki Israel 11327 Wildlife and Plants of Israel-Bat-003” by Original photo: אורן פלס Oren PelesDerivative work: User:MathKnight – File:PikiWiki Israel 11327 Wildlife and Plants of Israel.JPG by אורן פלס. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PikiWiki_Israel_11327_Wildlife_and_Plants_of_Israel-Bat-003.jpg#/media/File:PikiWiki_Israel_11327_Wildlife_and_Plants_of_Israel-Bat-003.jpg
- “Saraswati” by Raja Ravi Varma – http://abhisays.com/art/selected-paintings-of-raja-ravi-varma-part-3.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saraswati.jpg#/media/File:Saraswati.jpg