I was in the fifth grade, a month away from my eleventh birthday. I came home from school, said hi to my grandmother and my mom, kicked off my Keds, and dropped my denim backpack onto the kitchen table. I made my way into our bathroom, casually pulled down my white Guess jeans, and discovered these odd brown spots on my underwear and jeans. I had no idea what it was, so I ran to the laundry room when no one was looking, quickly changed my clothes and buried the brown speckled ones at the bottom of the hamper.
Several hours later while I was lying on our white leather sectional watching a new episode of Who’s the Boss, I heard my mother and grandmother calling for me. I should have known something monumental was occurring due to the nervous and awkward look on both of their faces.
Also, they were holding my jeans.
Fannnnntastic. And right when I was pretty sure Tony and Angela were going to finally get together.
“We want to sit down and talk to you,” my mother said.
“I know, I don’t know what happened, I’m sorry, I don’t remember pooping on myself, but I guess I did?” I said, shrugging my shoulders.
“Oh no, Pari, you are becoming a woman,” my mother explained.
I mean, I realized that. I didn’t think that I was going to have my birthday and turn into a dude, but did that mean I had to sh%t on myself?!
This confusing discovery of my period led to an even more misleading tween years in which I couldn’t use tampons (they were for adult women), swim or play during that time of the month, and if my brother even attempted roughhousing my mother would shout “Leave your sister alone! She is in her period!!” Really? Although I was elated that my brother was being given a good reason not to shove me down and sit on my head, I still think this may be overkill.
Now that I am a practicing gynecologist, I realize that misconceptions and misinformation about the menstrual cycle are very common. In fact, most people think that their periods are abnormal when they are normal and many think they have normal periods when they do not. So here are the facts on Aunt Flo:
- The first day of your menses (period) is considered the first day of your menstrual cycle.
- Your menses should last between three and seven days, and the average is five.
- A normal menstrual cycle, from the first day of one period to the first day of the next, can be anywhere from twenty-one to thirty-five days. I think that this is something that is commonly misunderstood. I have many patients tell me that they are worried because they have their cycle every three weeks. This is perfectly normal. An exception to this rule is if you are an adolescent, because it takes around three years after you start your cycle to become regular, and it often takes much longer.
- The average age of starting your period is twelve-and-a-half roughly for all races. If a girl is fifteen and has not had a period, she should see a doctor.
- The average age of menopause is fifty-one. Yep, that’s right, that’s just under forty years of dealing with this bullsh*t.
- A normal amount of bleeding during your menses is defined as eighty mL or less, but since I am pretty sure no one is holding up a measuring cup, if you think that it’s too heavy, talk to your doctor. Especially if you ever become dizzy, weak, or short of breath.
- It is normal to have pain several days before your period and with menses. If it is not relieved by ibuprofen and heating pads, or is keeping you home from school or work (and you aren’t just reaching for reasons to stay home), speak to your physician.
- If you are on birth control pills, it is okay if you don’t have your menses or just spot during the placebo pills. Please, please, take a pregnancy test, especially if you missed pills (which is another topic we will cover). If you are not on any hormonal contraception, and miss periods, especially several in a row, this is not normal! You need to see your doctor.
- If you bleed between periods, after sex, or with strenuous physical activity: not normal.
- Red blood is obvi normal, but so is pink, brown, and even blackish.
There you have it. Please pass this on and let’s talk about periods in hopes of saving a another little girl from thinking she has stool incontinence in the fifth grade.