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I Hated Talking About Periods. I'm So Glad My Kids Are Different.

The secrecy and shame of our childhood seems to have missed today’s teens and tweens.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

When I got my first period, on Valentine’s Day in 7th grade in 1997, I couldn’t tell anyone about it. I struggled to even get words like “pad” and “blood” out of my mouth when talking to anybody but my mom. She prepared me for it well and encouraged open conversations, but the broader message from society made me feel more like a witch in Salem than a girl experiencing a normal event. I was furious my mother told my dad, because now he knew. I vividly remember my best friend, who is almost a year younger than me, peppering me with questions about this new — and to her, exciting — change in my life. I clammed up. We were not going to talk about this. I curled up with a heating pad and a Danielle Steel novel for nearly a week and shut out the world.

Part of my embarrassment, I think, stemmed from the hushed tones often used to talk about the very normal act of menstruation. My own mother didn’t get periods due to a hysterectomy following the birth of my younger twin brothers, and older female cousins spoke of the event in side convos as they raised knowing eyebrows at each other. Even commercials for periods and tampons used a suspiciously small amount of blue liquid that seemed entirely unrelated to the painful deluge I now found myself dealing with. Even references in fiction and movies were couched in vague terms like “monthly time” or “female way” or even “Mother Nature’s gift.” Honestly, it took me until college to be able to buy a pack of tampons while making eye contact.

But apparently, it’s all different now.

As a parent now of two girls, I noticed a shift in the period conversation early. My girls saw me get periods, and we talked about it. My older daughter, by fourth grade, began to tell me about slightly older friends with periods or comment on commercials and products in stores. Girls are getting periods at younger ages now, so she knew plenty of girls who were already menstruating.

They even discussed it with their brothers and dad in the same way they would discuss a headache or paper cut. It seemed to be just another part of life, to them. When I got an age-appropriate illustrated guide to bodies, my daughter looked through it with her brother and her friends. I would’ve hidden it under my mattress, but it’s just sitting on our bookshelf.

It’s not just my household, either. At a recent PTO meeting for our elementary school, a group of sixth grade students asked to have some time on the agenda to present an idea. They wanted funding and space for a closet of menstruation supplies that would be located near the sixth grade bathroom. They stood confidently before a room of parents — and our male principal! — and talked openly about the thing I had felt scared to even whisper about at their age.

With her mom’s permission, I asked one of those students about their decision to advocate for access to period products. “My friend and I didn’t know exactly how to present it, we just had the idea because a lot of girls don’t have access to period products and basic hygiene products,” she told me. Their concern was both for those kids unexpectedly getting a period at school and for those that can’t afford pads and tampons. She said that most of her friends are comfortable with talking about periods, but still have moments when they are embarrassed — even though they know it’s just a part of life. Having a closet that anyone can access solves that issue.

And she’s right. According to the World Bank, approximately 500 million people worldwide can’t afford the supplies they need each month. While my family growing up was financially secure, being able to grab a pad without an awkward conversation with the grumpy old school nurse would have been a salve for 14-year-old me. I admire the bravery of these kids to just advocate for what students need, without shame.

When I think back to my own adolescence, I would have had such a healthier relationship with my body if these conversations were more regularly brought into the light. I would've realized long before my late 20’s that I had PCOS and that my periods were not considered “normal.” I cannot go back in time and give my middle school self more confidence, but I find myself very thankful that, for my girls, their experience already seems wholly different — and far more positive.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.