“P-r-e-n-a-t” I paused. “e-l.” Humiliating. I knew how to spell “prenatal.” Pre, before; natal, birth. Just like the vitamins I saw at the pharmacy.
“I’m sorry, that is incorrect,” said the proctor. I could feel my face turn red—a beet red, but still not as red as the growing stain on the back of my khaki-brown kilt skirt hiding under a sweatshirt tied around my waist.
I excused myself from the sixth grade spelling bee and scurried to the nurse to deal with my first period. I didn’t have time to dwell on the fact that menstruation was impeding my education. But even at the tender age of 11, I knew this whole situation was deeply misogynistic.
I actually started spotting in fifth grade, age 10. I thought I’d pissed my pants in social studies and pulled them down my pants and briefly saw only to find Satan himself in the crotch of my panties. I panicked then. I was really panicked now.
I have shitty menstrual genes. My mom has a reverse cycle, 28 days with a period, 5-7 days without - and a huge task of preparing me for womanhood. How do you tell your clinically anxious tween that her period is coming soon and it’s coming in a big way? She sugar-coated, which I appreciate. I was still terrified.
“mom,” I choked in between sobs as I first learned what a period was. “what if it happens at school?”
“It won’t happen at school,” she assured me.
I felt those words knock around my skull as I walked through the door of the nurse’s office. At this point, I was a full-blown mess below the waist. Because my uniform was a skirt, blood was starting to drip down my inner thighs.
“What’s the problem?” the nurse asked.
“I, uh, i think…” I felt the vomit in my throat. I swallowed and took a breath like I was actually going to say the words, “i just got my period” without sobbing.
I began to weep.
“my period—” I managed between heaving breaths.
The nurse gave me a colossal maxi pad and pointed me toward the bathroom. The wings on the side were so big they overlapped when I wrapped them around the crotch of my underwear. The pad was so thick that the tops of my thighs were not touching. I walked out of the bathroom like a cowboy.
When I got off the bus that day, my mom asked, “How was your day?”
“You said it wouldn’t happen at school,” I said quietly.
“Oh, God,” she said as the color left her face.
I’ve had approximately 144 periods since then and every single time I feel my cervix twitch (approximately 28 days after a single ovum dropped into one of my fallopian tubes), I check in with myself and make sure I can still spell “prenatal.”