Breaking Blood: My Period and Other Misc. Joys of Being a Woman.

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Breaking Blood_white

I got my first period in 10th grade.

I was a fragile teenager with a faint mustache and widening hips. I had a fresh harvest of body hair and trembling water-balloons for a bosom. I was a unibrowed Ugly Betty with a heart full of big dreams.

And then I “broke blood.”

I’d been preparing myself for this moment since 5th grade.

It was recess and my friend Sunita (not her real name) was resting her head on the wooden desk, sobbing uncontrollably. I walked over to comfort her when I suddenly noticed dark blood dripping from her chair. I put two and two together (blood + tears) and figured the poor girl was dying, clearly. So I shrieked, “OH. MY. GOD. BLOOD!” at the top of my lungs and ran off to find help.

I burst through the staff room doors and bellowed:

“MRS MUKHERJEE! COME FAST! SUNITA IS BLEEDING!!!”

Mrs. Mukherjee shot an embarrassed smile at her peers, put her index finger to her lips and motioned for me to quiet down. Then she grabbed my upper arm and quickly escorted me out of the staff room.

I didn’t understand. There was a student literally bleeding to death and my teacher wanted me to “Shush!”

When my mother came home from work that day, I recounted the sordid story with all the gory details. I demanded answers.

“Girls of a certain age will bleed as they mature into becoming women,” began my mother’s bumbling explanation.

“I’m gonna need specifics, Ma! What’s the “certain” age?”

I was gobsmacked when I found out that once a girl “matures” she bleeds once a month, pretty much forever, or until Jesus comes back.

And this first blood comes like a thief in the night. So basically: anytime, anywhere, any day.Yippee ki-yay. I was dead meat.

I didn’t know when I was going to “break blood.” But I spent the rest of my childhood preparing. I huddled in the back of school buses seeking the counsel of my more learned peers. I watched The Bold and the Beautiful for “research.” (Results: mostly inconclusive.) I was in such a perpetual state of fear I practically gave myself a stress ulcer.

When it finally happened, it wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I had built it up to be. I was 14– so, a bit of a late bloomer. By the time I had my biological upgrade all my friends were already Period Pros.

Like all girls, I dealt with the occupational hazards of white gym uniforms in high school. I wondered what I supposed to do with a used sanitary pad when I was at a friend’s house for a sleepover. (Was anyone here ever tempted to just flush them down the toilet in panic?)

Now that I’m an adult, I have found clever ways to manage visits from “Aunt Flow.” (No more pigeon flocking patterns for me.) Now there’s an app for that. Period Tracker, anyone? (My husband, Kupa, plans our vacations around it. #tmi)

I still do the stealth swivel check for stains on the back of my dress/pants/jeans on days of heavy flow. And I love seeing the look of fear when I ask Kupa to do the stealth checking for me!

But you know what I love most about having my period?

As much as I hate backaches, cradling a hot water bottle and messy hormones, it’s a shared female experience that connects me to SO MANY  other women.

It connects me to my Grandma…
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To my sister…
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It connects me to the women in my life, who I know, and trust and love …
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And it connects me to women I barely know… but who matter just the same.
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A year ago, when Idelette and I first visited Uganda to hand out sanitary pads to high school girls in Gulu, I immediately felt a heart connection.

I was huddled in the back of a classroom taking pictures, when Christine Lutara, Coordinator of the Living Hope program in Gulu, said:

“Your blood is not dirty. It is LIFEGIVING. It’s a beautiful, sacred gift.”

And as the truth of this statement sunk in, I looked around at the faces of the girls for whom “blood” has always been a dirty word.

A mind-blowing 40% of the young women in Gulu, Uganda drop out of school when they get their period. Without basic necessities like underwear, a steady supply of sanitary pads, and proper toilets, they are too embarrassed to attend school. Eventually they get so behind on their coursework they just drop out and get married.

This business of blood is a thread that connects me to the women of Gulu. It is a thread that connects me to so many women. It doesn’t matter where we live–in the freezing North Pole or humid forests of Brazil–you and me, me and you, we are connected.

As my mom told me all those years ago, it is normal for girls of a “certain age” to deal with breaking blood. But what isn’t normal is for the blood to break us. It shouldn’t be “normal” for a girl to lose her identity, her education, and her opportunity to reach her full potential just because she gets her period.

But this is the reality for our girls in Gulu.

And this is why my dear friend, Megan, put our stake in the ground and led the SheLoves tribe to stand with the girls of Gulu. Earlier this week, Idelette echoed Megan’s beautiful song. And think of me as the dude that plays the triangle in a large orchestra. All of us, standing together for the final Kumbayah.

Our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is to sponsor the supply of sanitary pads for 250 girls for one whole year. Imagine that? Not one girl dropping out of school because of her period.

We want to help the girls of Gulu to reclaim the word, “Blood.”

I too, want to reclaim the word “Blood.”

The blood that flows inside me is not a death sentence.

My blood is not an expiry date, or a rain check.
My blood does not shackle, intimidate, or imprison me.
My blood is not an invitation to be victimized or colonized.
My blood is not a song of shame, despair or dishonour.
It does not subject me to wedding bells, funeral rights or sexy solicitations.

My blood is not my enemy; it is not my traitor; it is not my virgin suicide.
My blood should have no bearing on my education, occupation or validation.
My blood is not a curse or a liability.

My blood is my song of life and hope
It gushes, meanders and whistles.
It takes the long scenic route.
It is purple, crimson and red.

My blood is my legacy, my gift, and my honour.
My blood is my sister, my mother, my daughters and my friends.
My blood is me.
And my blood is you.

We want every single girl in Gulu to grow up singing this song. We want every girl in Gulu to get a chance to create a rich and beautiful life.

My husband Kupa and I believe strongly in this. We’ve benefited from the sacrifice of family and the kindness of friends. We value this opportunity to pay a little bit of it forward.

We’re betting you will as well.

We’re betting that you will team up with us to sponsor sanitary pads for our girls in Gulu for the 2014 school year.

We’d never ask anyone in the SheLoves family to contribute to a cause we wouldn’t support ourselves.

So Kupa and I have decided to match the first $1,000 in donations made for girls in Gulu this weekend! Eeeek!

It’s a big, scary amount for us. But we’re serious about putting our money where our mouth is. Besides, who needs date nights anyways? 😉

Please consider giving us the opportunity to match your gift:
– $10 provides sanitary pads for a girl for 3 months
– $20 provides help for 6 months
– $40 covers a girl for a whole year!

Readers can donate via PayPal using this link:  Donate Button

Then forward your receipt to gulugirls(at)gmail(dot)com by midnight on Sunday, October 27th to let us know you’d like us to match it. That’s all.

No token is too small. It would mean the world to us if you could:
– Forward a link to this article to your awesome friends
– Share it on your Facebook wall
– Tweet the heck out of it
– Have some #realtalk with your kids about what life is like on the other side of the world
– Leave an encouraging note in the comments for our fearless leaders Megan and Idelette, who are driving this fantastic project

Love you more than Parmesan Garlic Knots.

xoxo,
Teen

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Tina Francis
My name is Tina. Loved ones call me: Teen. Words are my chocolate. Music, my caramel. Photography, my bread. Girlfriends, my butter. Confession: Some girls dream about Manolo Blahniks or their next Hermes bag. Not me. I dream of freshly baked bread, perfectly barbecued meat & steaming bowls of Pho. My dream lover *cue Mariah Carey song* is someone who would read out a menu to me in Barry White’s baritone voice. I celebrate food, ask for help, interrupt conversations, laugh and cry hard, acknowledge the elephant in most rooms, fight for the underdog and believe in the power of storytelling. I was born and raised in Dubai and currently live in the beautiful city of Vancouver, known for some of the best sushi in the world.
Tina Francis
Tina Francis

Comments

  1. Seriously. Awesome. Post.

    And a great project, too. I’m so glad you’re doing this.

  2. Happy to support you in this, Tina! Thanks for the invitation.

  3. Marisa Cherry says:

    Great post, I love the work you are doing to fight the stigma that exists around menstrual blood and to provide people with pads. Just want to make a gentle note here that not /all/ women get their period (for example, trans* women).

  4. This is AMAZING. My heart just leapt through my chest. Bravo friends! Eshet chayil! I am so proud to be a woman right now, with sister warriors like you.

    I donated (receipts headed your way, Tina) and I shared it in the FB page of my moms group at church, as well as Twitter.

  5. I love you more than words can say. Thanks for your generosity in so many, many ways. I love you (and Kupa too) for all you are and do. xoxoxox

  6. Stephanie says:

    Teen. You are awesome. And I love this song you wrote. I feel that I should pass it on to Christine and they should read it to the girls up in Northern Uganda. (I think I will). xox.

    • Stephy, our time together in Uganda is a blessing that keeps on giving. Everytime I think I have unpacked my feeling a whole new motherload of emotions wash over me. So grateful to have James and you as our guide and friends. Love seeing the heart and hope of Gulu through your eyes. Bug squeezy hugs, Teen. xxoox

  7. Angela Coles says:

    As a cloth pads user I’m amazed that you are providing these girls with disposables. Why not provide them with reusable ones? It’s cheaper in the long term so you could then help even more girls. If you make the switch to cloth I’d be more than happy to make donation to your project, please let me know when that happens.

    • Stephanie says:

      That’s a valid question, Angela. I don’t speak for the organisation on the ground when I say this, but from my understanding of the issue. Reusable cloth pads can be unsanitary in a region where girls have limited access to water. This school is out in rural Uganda where, although they do have access to a well, these girls have to walk quite a bit to access water, which makes it difficult to maintain reusable sanitary pads clean. There is also the issue of shame, as Tina mentioned. This is something that the organisation is dealing with, but it will take a bit of time before the girls feel fully comfortable to hang a washed reusable pad on their clothesline.

      As for the environment – many of the disposable pads that are being developed to deal with the issue of absenteeism in many countries in Africa are biodegradable and made from natural fibres – in this case papyrus.

  8. Andy Hudson says:

    I hope this doesn’t seem weird that as a male I’m adding my voice to this….
    As I grow older (and hopefully wiser) I see more and more the truth of words such as “NONE ARE FREE UNTILL ALL ARE FREE”. Reading that something that is an integral part of life for around 50% of the population can cause such a reaction is so sad…..

    I’m tired of the “me me me” attitude that is so much a part of life for many people…..I want to be making a difference, not visibly, so people can be thankful to me, but in small simple ways.

    You are all amazing people, and I hope you achieve far, more in terms of number of girls helped through this than even you are dreaming of.

    • Kupa Mutungu says:

      Hey Andy! As a 100% USDA certified male myself, I just want to say it’s not weird AT ALL for you to add your voice to this. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary. I think one of the most simple and powerful ways to make the world a better place is to look at other people and see yourself in them: to see yourself in their stories, their hopes, their fears, their success and failures, and their circumstances. Thanks so much for doing that with this comment this morning. It definitely made my world a little bit better.

  9. Nicole A. Joshua says:

    My period is probably the one thing I hated most about being a woman. A feeling of dread would descend on me at the first hint of it. But after reading this post, Tina, I can feel something is shifting inside of me, a movement away from distaste and towards acceptance about this flow that links me to my sisters all over the world. Thank you…for the way you love, the way you write, the way you love. You make me want to support ALL the girls (*grin*). Love you, beautiful woman. And to Idelette and Megan, thank you for stepping out in faith. I pray that you will see this vision come to full fruition.

  10. Such an important subject. Just wondering if you have looked at cloth pads? I know a group in Abbotsford called Helping Hands that sew pads for the Seeds of Hope home in Ndola and for Pads for Prisons. (Saskia’s Mum)

    • Hi Mieke!!! (Saskia’s Mummy is our Mummy by extension!)

      *bug hug*

      My husband is actually family friends with John and Susan of Seeds of Hope so I am curious to continue the conversation with them!

      In the meantime, I don’t know the definite answer here so I’ll use my friend Stephanie’s Skinner’s response here. She lives and works in Uganda and I think her words might be more intelligent than mine in these matters.

      “I don’t speak for the organization on the ground when I say this, but from my understanding of the issue. Reusable cloth pads can be unsanitary in a region where girls have limited access to water. This school is out in rural Uganda where, although they do have access to a well, these girls have to walk quite a bit to access water, which makes it difficult to maintain reusable sanitary pads clean. There is also the issue of shame, as Tina mentioned. This is something that the organization is dealing with, but it will take a bit of time before the girls feel fully comfortable to hang a washed reusable pad on their clothesline.

      As for the environment – many of the disposable pads that are being developed to deal with the issue of absenteeism in many countries in Africa are biodegradable and made from natural fibres – in this case papyrus.”

      Having shared that, thank you for bringing your voice!

      Big big love,
      Teen

      • Hello Teen, I worked with Seeds for many years and know Gladys and Derek too from meeting them in Zambia since 2001 and here in Canada. Gladys came and helped me in the library at Grace Academy last time I was there. So we are connected for sure. Thanks for filling me in with the information about why they are using disposable pads and it makes sense. If there comes a time when cloth pads are needed please let me know. Helping Hands provides them for free, they are a wonderful group dedicated to sewing blankets, underpants and dresses for causes all over the world. All we have to do is place an order and they will make what is needed. Thanks so much for your reply and I hope to meet you and Kupa one of these days. Mieke

        • Stephanie says:

          This is awesome news and an amazing initiative. I’ll take note of this and I’ll make sure to mention it in case they ever do need reusable cloth pads. Thanks for the info!

  11. pastordt says:

    This is SO GOOD, Tina. I jumped in when I read Idelette’s plea two days ago and am thrilled to be a part of such a practical and life-changing campaign. Love this, love you, love SheLoves. And one of these days, I will write something for this wonderful place. Life is a little cray-cray just now, but I hold fast to hope.

    • O, I can’t wait for the day you write for SLM!!! I love your insight and heart. I can’t remember life online before you. I love your thoughtful comments, FB updates, picture essays, blogs, etc.

      EVERYTHING you do, pretty much.

      Thank you for standing *with* us in our heart cry.

      xoxo,
      Teen

  12. Sorryyoumisunderstood says:

    Tina, I was blown away by your article. It was very humbling and inspiring at the same time. I would love to donate. However, I want to confirm before my donation that there will be follow up as to the accounting for and use of the money. I’m sorry to be leery, but I’ve learned it is better to confirm these things these days on the internet. I appreciate your time in responding to this question and hope it isn’t too much of a bother.

  13. Teen. Oh my goodness! I love you to pieces, dear one.

  14. Have you thought of giving cloth pads, which would be much better for the environment and last a lot longer? Here’s a program working to bring cloth pads to girls without access. http://www.newmoonpads.com/Donate_Pads.html

    • Hi friend,

      I’ll use my friend Stephanie’s answer here. She lives and works in Uganda and I think her words might be more intelligent than mine in these matters.

      “I don’t speak for the organisation on the ground when I say this, but from my understanding of the issue. Reusable cloth pads can be unsanitary in a region where girls have limited access to water. This school is out in rural Uganda where, although they do have access to a well, these girls have to walk quite a bit to access water, which makes it difficult to maintain reusable sanitary pads clean. There is also the issue of shame, as Tina mentioned. This is something that the organisation is dealing with, but it will take a bit of time before the girls feel fully comfortable to hang a washed reusable pad on their clothesline.

      As for the environment – many of the disposable pads that are being developed to deal with the issue of absenteeism in many countries in Africa are biodegradable and made from natural fibres – in this case papyrus.”

      Having shared that, I want to still thank you for sharing the link (I’ll do so reading too) and engaging in the conversation. I LOVE that you are thinking outside the box and I hope that we continue to make strides in generating innovative ideas for our sisters.

      Big big love,
      Teen

  15. Marybeth says:

    This touched my soul. I had no one to turn to when I “broke blood.” I was embarassed and had no idea what to do. But I still had the necessary items. You are fulfilling a mighty ministry. May God bless your efforts abundantly!

  16. Sarah Silvester says:

    You make me laugh 🙂 (#tmi?!?! Haha!) you describe the trauma of early teenage-hood so well.
    And you’re right, we are linked – this is an amazing cause.
    You, Kupa, Idelette and Megan and the SheLoves family are doing a wonderful thing. xo

  17. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

    So proud and honored to be a part of this group.
    Now, more than ever.

    • Margaret Mead nailed it. Me too.

      The whole morning has been a bit of blur. So amazing to get the opportunity to this crazy roller coaster life with sisters.

      (Side note: One of the reasons I was MOST devastated about not being about to make it to the editorial meeting was because I love our update time with each other. And Lord knows, I’ve been so desperate to know how you are doing and feeling. Soon. I hope!)

      Love you Hols,
      Teen

  18. Beautiful post, Tina. Our lives are all about being a blessing to the people around us and its amazing to see the SheLoves Women leading such a wonderful movement of sisterhood across the oceans. May you three be blessed abundantly from the One Above.

  19. Bev Murrill says:

    Awesome post, Babe… I’m in! Reposting.

  20. Tina, your writing makes me laugh and cry all the time. Today was no exception.
    Megan, Idelette, and Tina—all three of you are inspirational and amazing.

    • Awwww Elfie! When I saw your donation come in…my heart melted. I just love that we have been able to maintain a virtual friendship of mutual admiration from afar!

      Love you sweet friend.

      Big hugs!

  21. Tina, Megan, and Idelette, what a beautiful movement of sisterhood and togetherness! TGIF indeed.

  22. I too would like to donate but Paypal is giving me troubles since I do not reside in Canada. Other options?

    • Hi Mary! So sorry to hear you are having problems with Paypal. We had friends from UK and parts of Africa use it without any issues so I’m not sure what the problem might be.

      There is an option to use VISA instead of Paypal when you click on the link.

      You could also send a money order to:
      SheLoves Media Society
      14931 58A Ave,
      Surrey, BC,
      V3S0S5

      I hope that helps!!!

      xoxox,
      Teen

  23. Megan Gahan says:

    I just love you so much. I knew you would put forth something incredible today, but this just surpasses everything. Thank you my friend. Thank you to you and Kupa and Idelette and everyone who is saying “we’ve got this”. In my post last week I had a line where I told God “I’ve got this”. I’m realizing that I was way off the mark when I wrote that. We’ve got this. Can’t wait to see you and give you a massive hug. Thank you

    • Megan, I keep circling back to your comment and honestly, I don’t know what to say! 🙂

      This whole “leaping” experience is so humbling. I feel like I’ve aged in the last two days. And I’m not even the first one who took the first leap! Talk about a vulnerability hangover.

      I’m so grateful that you dared to believe greatly.

      Love you so much,
      Teen

    • I love this so much … We’re having our own little WeDay. #ubuntu, babes!

  24. Anne-Marie says:

    Wow. Just Wow. XO, donating now.

    • O, Anne-Marie! Your heart blows me away.

      I still can’t believe that you and Steve are willing to match up to $100! I love watching the conversations unfold on your FB page.

      And what a great jumping off point to start these conversations with your boys.

      Thank you for being part of the SheLoves family!

      xoxo

      • Anne-Marie says:

        Gosh! Blush. Feeling hugged. Back at you! Was thinking that abt you and Id. This morning – BIG hearts!!

    • And that wow right back at you, Anne-Marie. SO thankful Teen and Kup have brought you into our lives.

  25. Beautiful, Tina. I’m right there with you, celebrating the blood that connects us all and passing the virtual offering basket to keep these girls in school. Thank you!!

  26. Sandhya Rajan says:

    Teen babe <3 you for this <3 going to spread the message now!!

  27. Saskia Wishart says:

    Oh Tina!

    you are so brave in your writing – All.The.Time.

    I love this thought, the blood flowing through us (and out of us) is the thread of connection.

    When all else fails, at least we have our period in common.

    And this “what isn’t normal is for the blood to break us. It shouldn’t be “normal” for a girl to lose her identity, her education, and her opportunity to reach her full potential just because she gets her period.” That is some powerful truth right there.

    Idelette and Megan – you ladies are ever so lovely for spearheading this.

    Thank you for standing strong with women around the world.

    • Oh goodness! If YOU think I’m brave. I’ll die a happy woman. It’s seriously a compliment coming from one of the bravest women I know.

      I love that we have our period in common. Anytime I say the words, “It’s that time of the month for me,” women in coffee shops, airports or public washrooms become friends. A knowing smile and a sympathetic head nod.

      Megan and Idelette are SUPER-BRAVE. It is so scary to step out into the arena taking off all your armour, fully vulnerable, hopeful and expectant.

      I love getting to do life with all of you. Truly.

      Love you Sasky,
      Teen

  28. WoW! So good! How else can i transfer the funds? I don’t use paypal

    • Hi Lisiwe!

      There is an option to use VISA instead of Paypal when you click on the link!

      You could also send a money order to:
      SheLoves Media Society
      14931 58A Ave,
      Surrey, BC,
      V3S0S5

      Thanks for jumping in to help friend!

      xoxox,
      Teen

  29. You’re brilliant. That’s all.

    Can’t love you and Kupa any more right now.

    xoxo

Trackbacks

  1. […] She Loves Magazine with Breaking Blood: My Period and Other Miscellaneous Joys of Being a Woman […]

  2. […] friend Tina wrote a piece that brings new meaning to the word brave, only one of the pieces that spoke about the shame and bond of blood and the ways that poverty has […]

  3. […] friend Tina wrote a piece that brings new meaning to the word brave, only one of the pieces that spoke about the shame and bond of blood and the ways that poverty has […]

  4. […] On Friday, Tina picked up the ball from Idelette and wrote a jaw-dropping-amazing post. […]

  5. […] Breaking Blood: My Period and Other Misc. Joys of Being a Woman – Tina Francis for SheLoves Magazine […]

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