Aside from being the last girl in my middle school class to kiss a boy, I was also the last one to get boobs AND my period. I remember the day Jill came to school wearing a bra. She had to, she said. Her boobs had come in and were poking through her shirt. Her mom ran out to K-Mart and brought back three off-while cotton bras, size 32B.
I stood in the middle of the group of girls as she told us the story. We were fascinated as she went into great detail about her bras and her boobs and what a pain it already was to have these little melon balls getting in her way all the time. She couldn’t even sleep on her stomach anymore, she said. It was too uncomfortable. As I listened to her go on about her size 32Bs, I panned the other girls’ chests. There were definitely noticeable buds there, just beginning to bloom. Very soon, every one of these girls would come to school with a story just like Jill’s. It was inevitable and I knew it. I looked at my own chest. Nothing. Not a hint of a gland or a bulge or a knot. Just two flat pink circles taking up space on my too-flat chest. And this bothered me.
Stupid Jill with her stupid boob story.
It wasn’t long before Jill and the other girls had a new story to tell. It involved blood and maxi pads and the ability to now birth a child. You know, if they wanted to. In health class one day Mrs. Miller sent the boys to the gym to play kick ball while she went into a forty-five minute discussion about Our Changing Bodies.
I remember thinking how unfair it was that the boys got free time while we had to sit and stare at the mole on Mrs. Miller’s left cheek while she explained how to properly insert a panty-liner into your underwear. I noticed that the mole seemed to be bigger than it had been the year before. Yes, it was definitely bigger.
And one time while I was asking her a question about something having to do with the respiratory system, her mole moved. I swear to god. It was the creepiest thing I’d ever seen. It was like it was alive and moving. It seemed to pulsate like it had a heartbeat and everything. I wondered how Mrs. Miller ever convinced a man to marry her with that gigantic black mole on her face. Was he blind, perhaps? Or at the very least, far-sighted? Or was he just into gross stuff like that. Because looking at her mole made me want to vomit. Personally, if I had something like that on my face I wouldn’t be seen in public until it was promptly removed. In my opinion it needed to be studied by scientists. It was that bizarrely human-like.
As she went on about how our bodies were going to be changing over the next few years and how, after menstruation began, what a huge responsibility that was, because of the possibility of pregnancy and everything, I thought to myself, “what did starting my period have to do with pregnancy?”
I was so dumb.
Seriously, it’s hard to even tell this story without realizing what a complete idiot I was back in junior high. But in my defense, it wasn’t my fault. My mom wasn’t one of those moms who talked to her kids about uncomfortable stuff like that. In fact, I looked to my friends for getting most of the useful information I needed. Like about shaving your legs, applying mascara, and which direction to swirl your tongue when French-kissing a boy.
In the spring of my 8th grade year I was running track. I had mistakenly told the coach that I enjoyed running long distances so he put me in all the long distance races. The mile AND the two mile.
On one track meet day, a storm moved in. It rained and thundered and there were threats of tornados. So the track meet was canceled. But not because my coach wanted to cancel it. No, he was pretty sure we could still compete (AND WIN!) even though it was raining side ways. But the principal made him call it off.
I was grateful. My stomach was hurting but that wasn’t unusual for days I would be competing. I always got nervous. I wanted to perform at my peak and everything that entailed, so it was very common for me to literally make myself sick about it.
I’d missed the bus since I was staying after school for the meet, but my friend Amy’s mom was able to drive me home. My mom was still at work.
After getting out of Amy’s mom’s car, I said thank you and waved goodbye. Then I had this overwhelming feeling—like I needed to use the bathroom and it couldn’t wait. I fumbled with my house key. I needed to get inside—AND FAST!
But I couldn’t make the key work (I still have no explanation for this) and decided to drop my sweat bottoms right there in the bushes in my front yard. And that’s when I noticed all the blood.
I started my period in my front yard.
(That’s also the name of my new TV reality show—all rights reserved)
Horrified and freaked out, I pulled up my sweat pants and once again fumbled with my house key, my hands shaking with fear. When I was finally able to get the key to cooperate and unlock the door, I ran inside the house and called my mom at work.
“Mom. Something terrible has happened.”
“WHAT? Are you OK?”
“No. I’m not. I’m bleeding.”
“Oh my gosh, where are you bleeding? How bad is it? Run to the neighbor’s house.”
“Mom. It’s not like that. I’m bleeding. From my you know what.”
“You started your period?”
“OHMYGOD MOTHER. Don’t say it OUT LOUD.”
And then she started to laugh. “Oh Shauna. You’re not a little girl anymore. Surely I’m not old enough to have a daughter who has her period.”
“Mom. MOM. Can we focus on me please? What do I do? And can we make it stop? I don’t want to do this.”
“Look under the sink in my bathroom. There’s a box of maxi pads. Put one in your panties.”
Later that night I was in my room getting ready for bed when I heard a knock on my bedroom door. My step-dad opened it, came inside, and handed me a paper sack. I looked inside and found a box of maxi pads. My face turned bright red and I thought I was going to die—right there on top of my brand new JC Penney comforter.
HE KNEW? I wanted to die.
I threw the bag on the bed and ran out of the room, leaving him standing there. I yelled out for my mom. I found her in the kitchen, washing a pan.
“You told Don?”
“I had to, Shauna. What if he went in the bathroom and found you in the tub covered in blood?”
Wait. Hold the phone. There was a possibility I would, at some point, to be COVERED IN BLOOD? I couldn’t focus on THAT then. I was too upset.
“Why would he come in the bathroom if I was in there? He’s never done that before! God Mom, you have such a big mouth. This is so embarrassing. I can never look at him again. EVER.”
She told me she was sorry, but I know for a fact she wasn’t. She seemed proud of the fact that I was growing up—and could now, biologically and physiologically, bear children—if I wanted to—and had I, at that point, put two and two together that sex plus getting your period meant the possibility of having a baby—which was what Mrs. Miller was getting at—you know, if I’d understood all that. Which I didn’t.
While most of my friends were switching from wearing bulky maxi pads to inserting tampons in their vaginas, I was still wearing maxi pads. When I asked my mom about tampons I think her answer was something like, you think you’re ready to stick your fingers in your tee-tee?
I honestly had no idea what your fingers, your tee-tee, and tampons had to do with each other but just the sound of all three of those things together terrified me. So I just stuck with maxi pads and never brought up the subject again.
But one day Amy was over and was on her period. And so was I! This was so great! We had something to talk about and compare and what have you. She pulled a tampon out of her purse…
I had seen one before you know. But only because at school one day this girl, Shelley, dropped her purse on the floor in the middle of class and two or three tampons fell out. Some of the boys started laughing and pointing and Shelley got all embarrassed and ran out of the room. One of the boys picked one up and said “Looks like somebody’s on the rag,” and everyone around started laughing. I felt horrible for Shelley. And I made double sure my purse was zipped, snapped, and attached to my person at all times.
So Amy walks to the bathroom with a tampon in her hand. I cleared my throat and asked, “You have any extras?”
“Of course? You wanna try and use one?”
I got a sick, nervous feeling in my stomach, but at the same time I wanted to know what it was like to not have a gigantic, bulky cotton blood soaker-upper in my underwear.
I didn’t say anything. I just nodded.
Next thing I know I’m squatting over the toilet while Amy is explaining how to properly insert a tampon in my vagina. After several failed attempts, it worked. Or at least it felt like it was working. I had no point of reference up to this point. But I kinda liked it. It was way less uncomfortable than having a pad with wings taking up all the space in my crotch.
What I didn’t consider at the time was that at some point I would need to remove it. Amy was long gone—her mom had picked her up a few hours earlier.
Mom was downstairs and I was sitting on the toilet, tugging and pulling on the tampon string. Here’s the thing about vagina muscles—they’re strong. And if you’re not relaxing them, they’re engaged. Like having your head caught in a lion’s mouth, engaged.
But I didn’t know this. I didn’t know to relax. And breathe. And that the combination of relaxing the vagina muscles and pushing and breathing would help you with the task of removing a tampon.
Instead I panicked and screamed, “MOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!”
She heard me and raced up the stairs. She tried to open the bathroom door but it was locked. Naturally. I always locked the door these days. With two younger brothers there was never any privacy. And a girl with a bleeding vagina and pubic hair needed her privacy.
I hobbled, legs spread, shorts at my ankles, to the door and unlocked it.
“What is it?” She asked, panic-stricken.
“Amy helped me use a tampon and now it’s stuck. Do NOT tell Don!”
Mom walked me back to the toilet, told me to sit on it and relax. I sat. I tried my best to relax. She told me to breathe in and breathe out. In and out. And then on the next out she said, “Pull.” So I pulled.
And dammit if that tampon didn’t come out of my vagina and plop itself in the toilet.
What a relief. Also, I’m pretty sure my mom told my step-dad even though I specifically asked her not to. It’s like they needed my every day drama for their own amusement.
I can see why adults have children. And after a few years I finally GOT how periods and babies were related.
See? Late bloomer.