Real life stories from people about what their first periods were like.
I’ve got information about why people get periods and why they can be random here at Bish, but I don’t have much about how it feels to get one. I don’t have a womb, so I asked people that did to tell me about how they feel. Especially about the first time they came.
I thought it might be interesting or comforting for people to be able to read about other people’s experiences of getting their first period. How they felt, how they felt about it looking back, what it made them think about themselves, how everyone reacted, how they would deal with their kid getting their first period.
I’ve collated, edited and posted these stories below. Massive massive THANKS to everyone who contributed and helped. I hope you find this useful – please please let me know in the comments box what you think about this idea of sharing stories.
I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did.
Getting your first period isn’t a race
One day, after school, my mum and I went to the shops. I needed the loo, so said I’d catch up with her in the shop. As I emerged from the bathroom my mum knew by the look on my face what had happened. I was 11, and none of my friends had “started” yet. It made sense though, as I was about 5’9″ or so with size 11 feet!
We went into the shop, bought some pads, and I went to fit one. It was easy, and the whole experience wasn’t as scary as I expected, more surprising than anything else! My friends were strangely jealous, but the other girls at school took the mick out of me when they found out I was sitting out of PE due to cramp. I’m guessing they were weirdly jealous too, knowing I was developing first.
The thing about starting is that it’s not a race – you might start at 10, you might be 16, it doesn’t matter. Your body will do it when it’s the right time for you and your body. Just remember to look after yourself, and know that hot water bottles are your friend!
I ‘knew’ all about periods
I was 12 I think….. I ‘knew’ all about periods from Judy Blume books, sex ed and an awkward chat with my Mum at bathtime once.
At school (a girl’s school) we talked about it and speculated as to who had or hadn’t started blah blah, this was facilitated by a well meaning form tutor who got us all in Year 7 to close our eyes and raise our hand if we had started our period, of course there was much peeking and gossip afterwards! Recently a group of us recalled this and we could still reel off the girls who ‘had’!
Anyway getting my first period wasn’t some kind of life affirming moment, or beautiful experience of coming into womanhood. I went to the bathroom one morning and looked in horror at my knickers then went into my parents room where my Mum was getting ready for work and with a cold stone expression said ‘I’ve started my periods and it’s your fault for having a girl’.
My Mum said the look of recrimination on my face was both terrifying and hilarious! I was allowed the day of school to cope with it with the caveat this wasn’t going to be the case every month. ….I still think it ought to be!
I wasn’t afraid, I knew what it was
I knew my period would come, having learned about it in sex education in year 3. My period came when I was in year 7. My mum had even bought me a pack of sanitary towels to carry around in my school bag in case it started in school. As it turned out, it did.
I used the loo at school and was surprised by the sight of a bloody gusset, but I wasn’t afraid; I immediately knew what it was. The thin brown discharge on yesterday’s pants suddenly made sense (I’d assumed I hadn’t wiped properly after weeing). I left the cubicle to get a sanitary towel from my bag, but I had to keep going back into the cubicle to check it had really happened; I couldn’t quite believe it.
I had problems later because my flow stopped after 2 days, so I stopped wearing the towels. It re-started later that day and made a mess of my knickers. I quickly learned this odd pattern my cycle had: bleed for 2 days, 1 dry day, followed by another 2 days of bleeding. I now bleed for 4-5 days continuously, though often the flow will lessen for a bit in the middle.
It was a bit of a trial at first getting the sanitary towel in the right place. Often I’d put it too far back or too far forward and end up with messy pants. I think it took about 5 or 6 periods before I’d cracked it.
School sex education had told us ‘your uterus will shed its lining, you can use towels or tampons to catch the mess’ but not enough of what this would be like or why it even happened. After first learning about periods in year 3, I assumed that we’d have to piss the stuff out. This seems to be a common misconception! Most of what I learned about periods came from my mum or books for teens from the local library.
I was relieved when I got it
I think I was 14 or so. I was relieved when I got “It” – I’d been wondering when “It” would show up.
Mum was out at choir practice the evening “It” arrived, so I had to ask my dad for help. Bless him, he was fine with it all, and we soon established the code-word “supplies” for sanitary pads/tampons, meaning that I could subsequently ask him to pick up some “supplies” from the supermarket, and he knew exactly what I meant.
I’d been a keen reader of fantasy books all my life; the “heroine’s first period” was often a turning point in such stories (in “Alanna: The First Adventure”, by Tamora Pierce, the eponymous heroine is disguised as a boy in order to train as a knight, and has no-one to turn to when her period arrives, for example – great book, you should all read it).
I didn’t really feel like my first period was a gift or a watershed or anything – more a reminder that, like it or not, I was growing up. My mum can be a bit of a hippy sometimes, so I think she had some sort of ideas about menstruation and Feminine Power (!) and so on but she never went overboard with that, thankfully. (And now I know – as I did not at the time – that people who are not female can have periods, too, and there are many women who don’t menstruate.)
My parents did buy me a ring to commemorate the occasion – I wear it every day but don’t think of it as my “period ring” or anything. It’s just a ring I wear every day that happens to have been bought for me as a present when I passed a fairly arbitrary milestone in my life.
Back to my first experience of menstruation: I remember telling my friends in school the next day, relieved I could join in the whispered chat about Secret Stuff with some authority. I didn’t know at the time that a very close school friend of mine has a medical condition which means she will never menstruate. Listening to the rest of us bond over complaints about period pain, and notes to get out of swimming lessons, must have been incredibly hurtful for her, reminding her of her condition. I wish I could go back in time to tell my younger self to be more sensitive.
Now, my period is a routine and uneventful pain in the posterior – or, rather, the lower back – which always seems to arrive when I’m visiting my family, or my boyfriend’s family. For me it is a fact of life, not a “mystical reminder of my feminine essence” or anything like that; it’s simple biology. I’m lucky in that – while I do suffer some PMS symptoms, and do get some period pains – they’re not that severe, and I can carry on regardless with the help of some painkillers, some chocolate (sorry to be a cliché!), and a hot water bottle.
It’s funny – I’ve been menstruating for over 15 years now, and this is the frankest I have ever been about it. It’s good to have a space to unload some of my feelings and memories.
I felt dirty and out of control
I was well informed when it came to periods, or so I thought, all the girls had been trooped into a class room at school for ” the talk” at about the age of 11. The boys had found this both hilarious and a subject to be avoided. My mother had asked if I had started, and provided relevant leaflets when I answered no. (She was a health professional who worked with young people.)
I may have had the practical information but I was not well informed at all. I woke up one morning to discover there was blood on me, deep crimson blood, covering my thighs, on the bed sheets. No one had warned me how this might feel, I felt dirty and out of control, or the sheer volume, I had imagined the odd spot.
How could I tell my parents of the mess I had made? How could I even leave my room? I worried about it staining through my clothes . (There was probably not that much blood, but shock was in control at this moment!)
Looking back I can still feel that sense of shame and confusion, and horror that my own body was doing this to me.
Your first period should not be shameful but for too many girls I think it is.
I didn’t tell my mum
I think I was 12 when I got my first period. I remember waking up one morning and things hurt. Somehow I knew what it was, though I can’t now remember why I knew that. I didn’t tell my mother, though. She didn’t say anything until afterwards when I’d stopped bleeding. Really quite embarrassing. I mean, she was cool about it, but I probably should’ve told her when it first happened. I still can’t remember why I didn’t tell her.
I have a vague memory of sneaking into the toilets at school to grab some toilet paper to put in my underwear. I can’t remember if they were teasing me because of that, or just because they always teased me. That didn’t make that first period any more fun, though. I felt like I was even more different than the rest of my classmates because I’d started bleeding.
My parents were cool about it
I was about 11 when I got my first period, and after having sex ed in the last year of primary school I started reading ‘Have You Started Yet?’ which prepared me for what was about to happen.
When it did, I ran downstairs and told my parents, and my mum sorted me out with some pads. They didn’t throw a party or react in any sort of shocked way; they were even-handed and cool about it. If I have a daughter I’ll be the same, and make sure she’s fully briefed on what her body does and why; it can be a shock going from nothing to OMG BLOOD if you don’t know what’s coming!
After all, Mummy will be having periods, and she should know what that’s all about too. In fact, my son will be aware too. Men should be.
I just couldn’t say anything
Ok, I was 12, I knew of them, some of my friends had them…and I was kind of expecting it. We were staying with family for 2 weeks in Sussex. I went to toilet in the morning and found I had ‘started’, as it was called then at my school. I wanted to tell my mum and my friend who had come away with us but I just couldn’t, I’m not sure why but I just couldn’t say anything. I was close with my mum but we didn’t really talk about things like that much.
I decided the best option would be to put toilet tissue (folded up) in my knickers and hope for the best. I did this for 2 days until I plucked up the courage to tell my mum that I needed a ‘box of tricks’, her term for a box of tampons, which I quite like, it makes me giggle.
All turned out well and now in waiting for my 13 yr old niece to tell me…I’m plucking up the courage to have a conversation with her but my mum tells me she’s been carrying pads around for months all ready for the day which I’m pleased about. I hope this helps in some way.
There was the time when I tried tampons for the first time and tried to put it in, cardboard applicator and all but that was the second period so doesn’t count…
It didn’t feel like a major event
I remember nothing about my first period, absolutely nothing I suspect that’s because my Mum had told me all about it so it didn’t feel like a major event.
Before I had my first one, though, I do remember wondering what the big deal was and why women were embarrassed about the whole thing. Then I started bleeding and it was all a bit messy and private and I understood why it’s not a big topic of general conversation.
I also remember the shock of the pain of the cramps! I didn’t realise they were to do with my period the first few months, I just thought I was ‘backed up’ and took laxatives : Now I know that some pain-killers will sort me out, rather than extended sits on the loo.
One other thing: I’ve got PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and was very overweight until my mid-30s, so I didn’t get heavy or regular periods until the last year or so. I’m so glad I listened to my friends who recommended the mooncup* to me – so much better (and environmentally friendly!) than tampons and pads. Plus you get to know your bits better, which I think is a major bonus.
[*this is a little flexible cup which is worn inside the vagina against the cervix, it catches all the menstrual fluid]
I have irregular periods
I have PCOS-related amenorrhoea [absent or irregular periods], so no first period moments ever snuck up on me . . . by the time I was 18, my mom was suspicious and we went to the gynaecologist to figure out what was going on.
I started birth control and knew when it was coming, but I recall still not realizing what was happening when I had premenstrual backache, cramps stomach ache, diarrhoea, etc. before the blood came- took two or three periods before I realized they were connected.
I wish I could remember more about the first time, but I guess it didn’t leave that big of an impression on me, except for the feeling that it wasn’t obligatory for me (and indeed, later on, I’d eschew the birth control and go four years without having a period).
Me and my friends don’t remember ours
Not sure this is relevant, but I don’t remember my first period, and I think that is just as important as remembering it. Having spoken to my friends a lot of us don’t remember our firsts. This means 2 things to me: – it isn’t always a big scary thing, for some people it just happens unremarkably – you don’t need to be ashamed/worried if you don’t remember it, lots of people don’t.
I don’t remember my first period … it isn’t always a big scary thing … you don’t need to be ashamed if you don’t remember it, lots of people don’t.
I spent ages feeling left out for not remembering my first, like I wasn’t a real woman for some reason. I’ve realised now that’s just silly. I guarantee whatever your first experience is (or isnt) there’s at least one other woman out there in the same boat.
I was calm: my mum freaked out
I kind of knew something was different the night before my first period started, and in the morning there was a tiny bit of blood. I was totally calm about it, put some toilet roll in my pants because my Mom was at work and I just got on with the day at school.
When I got home I told my Mom and she freaked out and gave me some pantyliners, which were in no way prepared for my incredibly heavy flow, and it took a good few months before my Mom got me proper pads that could take the amount of uterus I had to give. I was 10 years old.
The only thing I’d been told about periods was that they were painful and messy and terrifying, and my Mom had cried heavily when she was telling me. Turns out mine are much, much worse than hers. I’m on the pill now so I only have to have a period every 3 or 4 months, much more convenient!
[Lots of people take hormonal contraception to help with their periods, for more about this click here]
My mum jumped up and hugged me
I got my period the summer after 5th grade, when I was newly 11. Oddly enough I was just talking to my Mom about that and she remembered that she, my sister, and I all had our first periods in July when we were 11. No idea why.
When I went to the bathroom and saw the stain on my underwear, I very calmly pulled my shorts back up, went into my mother’s bathroom, got a pad, put it on then went out and told my Mom and Grandma (grandparents were visiting), “My period started. But I took care of it.” And started to walk back down the hall.
My mom jumped up and hugged me, my grandmother was all aghast at how quickly her first grand-daughter was growing up, especially since I already wore a bigger bra than she did (grandma’s always been really thin). I was sort of puzzled. I mean, I was pleased that, having read “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?” I could handle it, and kind of weirded out by how big a fuss they were making.
It’s ok if you don’t like tampons. A lot of grown women don’t like them either. And some girls DO like them.
From all the period stuff I’d read already, I knew your period was supposed to be erratic at first (it wasn’t), and painful (well, it could be, but only during extremes of temperature either very hot weather or very cold weather). Mostly, the only thing it meant I couldn’t do was swimming because I hated then, and continue to hate, tampons. The thing I would want to stress to girls is it’s ok if you don’t like tampons. A lot of grown women don’t like them either. And some girls DO like them. It’s a very individual thing. Neither option means a damn thing regarding your sexuality or sexual experience.
I couldn’t handle tampons
I was a competitive swimmer, and petrified of it starting when I was swimming, I imagined a stream of red behind me. It didn’t start at training, but it did on the way out of a school swimming lesson. I was mortified, even though it was only a tiny mark. I pressed tissue into my underwear and remember the eat of my cheeks as I asked my friends for a spare sanitary pad.
I quit swimming competitively not long after. I never told my mum but I just couldn’t deal with tampons. I was upset and embarrassed and hated the little pink mirror I had to use to try and insert them. I told my mum I was being bullied and didn’t want to swim any more. I cried, not for the reason she thought.
The only time since I tried tampons they caused me to nearly pass out (anxiety, perhaps?). My mum bought me a silver Parker pen as a growing up present. I was embarrassed by it. It was a period pen. I was a tomboy. Everything about society told me boys were better. It’s taken about 10 years to stop being ashamed of periods (I now use reusable towels, washing them myself), but take pills straight through often to skip them, I still like to swim, and hate skipping sessions!
I got used to them after a while
When my grandmother got her first period in the 1930s, no-one had forewarned her about their existence. She apparently screamed the house down, truly believing she was bleeding to death. As a result, she – and in turn my mum – made sure future generations were told about periods before the event itself.
On top of information from home, I went to a girls’ school so I also had plenty of PSE-type lessons on the subject. I remember them being largely biological – all about the body’s processes and a bit about the types of sanitary products available. I don’t remember any discussion about the emotions you might experience – although attempts to calm some of our fears about the process ended up backfiring on me: one teacher told us you only lose “a few teaspoons of blood”. I totally failed to grasp that you also lose a load of other…menstrual matter…and it seems like you’re losing far, far more than a few teaspoons’ worth. (I remember insisting to my mum that I planned only to use the light flow pantyliners, and her trying to make me realise that I’d probably need a bit more coverage than that…).
Anyway, I realised I’d started my period one day after school in year 8. I went downstairs and told my mum, then cried. I had a total horror of starting them. My mum told me that a friend of the family’s daughter was *desperate* to start hers, but it didn’t persuade me that this was anything other than Completely Awful. (I also had a fear of wearing a bra and wore crop tops for far longer than was appropriate – so all in all, I had a weirdness around puberty, I guess!)
My friends were also extremely secretive about their own periods. I’d suspected that my best friend had started hers a year earlier, but she was adamant that she hadn’t. We’re still friends today, and I *still* feel guilty about the time I pushed her on the subject and asked, in front of others, “So why do you disappear off to the loo for ages every month then?” – so horrible!
A year after I started my periods, one of my friends came bounding into school, proudly declaring that she’d started hers. The rest of our close friends then, one by one, sheepishly announced that, erm, actually, they’d started theirs ages ago – in some cases up to two years previously! My friend was pretty deflated to learn that she was actually the last rather than the first. I’m not sure why she was so open when everyone else was so reluctant, though it may have had something to with her being from the US west coast as opposed to repressed English girls, ha.
I got used to periods after a while, though to start with mine were very irregular and often incredibly heavy. I once had to go home sick due to the fact that the flow was completely unmanageable, and I nearly passed out in class. I was so embarrassed about it all that I lied to the school nurse about what the problem was. The fun being a teenage girl…
I could tell my mum but not my dad
I started my first period in a caravan site at the age of 13. My reaction was ‘oh. I best not tell my dad’ as it was he I was with. Sex ed left too much to wonder in my school so I understood I would get periods, but not why, or what it meant for me as a young woman.
My mum taught me how to deal with it all, telling me she couldn’t wait until hers were over- she was pre-menopause. I got the impression then that periods must be awful things to deal with. It felt pretty rotten knowing everything was changing. Since then, I’ve read a bit more & though the agony of cramps & discomfort of heavy menstruating & hormonal rollercoasters can make me want to rip my ovaries out, I have come to love that my body is doing what it is supposed to, that I am healthy and if it is late, I get quite annoyed about it.
Not sure why I was so bothered
Aunt Flow first visited me in the summer holidays just after I finished Primary School and right before Secondary. Great, as if starting “big school” wasn’t going to be effort enough, I now had to deal with this extra monthly burden.
Having had all the sex ed I knew what a period was, but it didn’t make it any less shocking when it arrived. I remember sitting on the loo thinking, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, now what?!’ It took me half a day of trying to ‘create’ my own pads out of bog roll, because I was too embarrassed to go to my Mum, before I finally admitted defeat. Speaking to Mum, I felt myself go bright red, but luckily she was prepared. Marching me upstairs she handed over boxes of pads and panty-liners. Turns out she had her first period as a girl at exactly the same time. Weird.
I’m not sure why I got so worried about it, or why I ever thought it was a burden. Fortunately I never suffered bad cramps, you’d have to ask my friends if mood swings were ever a factor. Personally I felt fine and even found I had more energy and was keener to do exercise around my period.
For the last five years I’ve been on a birth control pill that has actually stopped me having periods, which is completely normal. Oddly, I find myself missing Aunt Flow, even though periods can be an inconvenience when you’re going on holiday, or want to wear a tighter pair of jeans, it certainly makes you feel womanly and natural and lets you know that everything’s all right down there. Who’d have thought, periods can be comforting!
My periods were always very random
Got my first period a week before my 14th birthday. It was a Saturday afternoon & I was at home. It was quite simple really, just went to the loo & oh it happened! I had all the stuff so I sorted myself out, went back downstairs & read my Miriam Stoppard book & when my Mum got back I told her & she was fine. She told my Dad later who was also fine & gave me a big hug!
My periods were always very random & after 2 years of no periods when I was 19 I was told I was sub fertile & wouldn’t get pregnant without help. Imagine my surprise then when at 23 I discovered I was 22 weeks pregnant with my adored daughter!! It took another 10 years of very sporadic, painful & heavy periods before I got a diagnosis of PCOS & fibroids which I now manage reasonably well.
My gorgeous daughter is now approaching 13 & waiting for her periods to start. I’ve told her all about it & what to expect. She has pads ready for when it happens & books (& me!) to turn to with any questions.
Here’s a lovely post featuring videos from young people about their experiences of periods
This is absolutely hilarious and I should TOTALLY get a Bodyform ringtone. Watch the brilliant video.
© Justin Hancock, 2015