Teacher Lucy Lock shares her period experiences, including how to smuggle a bullet-shaped tampon past Egyptian airport security…
I got my first period when I was on holiday with my newly divorced father and younger siblings. I was 15 and I should have been prepared for it to happen. I wasn’t. And there was no female around to ask. In the end, I had to surreptitiously take coins from my father’s wallet and sneak off to the pay phone to ring my mother, at work, to ask her what I should do.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know about periods. Most of my friends had got theirs already. I knew it was on the horizon. I also knew first periods could happen at inopportune moments. My Mum, one of five daughters, grew up in a house filled with women. You would have thought periods would have been a thing discussed in their household but no. The youngest sister was 16 when she was taken to the theatre in London as a birthday treat from her aunt. It was June and she was wearing white trousers. When she stood up at the half time interval and became aware of the blood on her trousers, she thought she was dying. And her Aunt, who had never had children of her own, was left to sort out this most delicate of situations.
I knew all this and yet I was unprepared. I don’t recall discussing periods with my mother before I started. And after, I was mortified by any attempt to discuss it. Instead, I perfected the teenage talent of retreating to the safety of my bedroom. Even today, the thought of discussing periods with my mother makes me uncomfortable. When I had to ring her to ask her to bring large sanitary towels after the birth of my daughter (I’d given birth for goodness sake, surely I could now talk about this) that teenage embarrassment came flooding back. I vowed never to mention it to her again.
But then I think about my daughter and I want something different for her. I want her to know that having a monthly period is not something she needs to hide away. To show her the ropes with pads and tampons. I want to show her that this important part of being a woman need not be a burden. And for my son, I want him to be unembarrassed by the knowledge of what happens each month to the women in his life. And to be kind and compassionate about it.
Overcoming my own need to be secretive hasn’t been easy. I used to hide my tampons and pads in a drawer that I knew no one would ever look in. Although usually the bathroom door is always open, when I had my period I would lock it, much to the confusion of my two children. I was angry with myself. I have spoken to them about literally everything else – why can’t I talk to them about periods?
Then, last June, I happened to hear a female reporter from the BBC talking about getting stopped at Egyptian airport security. She had forgotten that she had a tampon in her trousers. The uniformed woman who stopped her was deeply suspicious about the white, bullet shaped object and even more incredulous when she found out what its function actually was. After scanning the reporter’s entire box of tampons again, and having looked at the instruction leaflet, she then asked furtively whether they could be bought in Egypt. The reporter ended her piece by saying that she now intended to always carry a tampon in her pocket when going through airport security to help spread the word about tampons.
What a light-bulb moment. For so many years, I’d been so embarrassed by the mechanics of my period that I had never stopped to realise how lucky I am to live in a country where pads and tampons are easily available to buy. Girls have access to education about periods in schools. There are sanitary product adverts on TV and sanitary bins in female loos. We can go to our GP, for free, if we have particularly painful periods, heavy bleeding or bad PMT. And we have friends we can laugh with about it all. This isn’t something I should have wasted time being embarrassed about. This is something I should be proud of.
So I have started showing my children my pads and tampons and not hiding when I have my period. It felt excruciating at first but has become easier. And it has been a revelation. Buoyed by my liberation, I have dared to mention the word period in a whole heap of situations that I never thought I would.
We should be able to speak freely about our periods without fear or shame. Those of us who were taught to hide it should want something different for the next generation. We need to try and let go of our feelings of shame and be mindful of the subtle cues we may give out without realising. It’s not always easy. Whilst I am so much more open about periods with my children, I am yet to broach the subject with my mother. I need to be brave. I need a tampon in my pocket.