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

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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