My family consists of my husband and my 2 sons in the ages of 11 and 17. I have made sure my elder son is aware of periods and will make my younger one aware too as he grows up. I have to as they have seen me a zillion times buying sanitary pads and carrying one to the bathroom. One day, curiosity got the better of the elder son and I explained as possible.
But when I was growing up, my mother used to hide it. Those Carefree and Stayfree ads would make us squirm. Sanitary napkins were not to be shown in the presence of my father or brother. With three females in the family, someone was using them all the time. But, it was a secret between us. It was brought from the medical store in complete secrecy. One couldn’t check the packet at the medical store. It would be wrapped in newspaper and then handed over. We were not allowed to touch plants and the Puja stand was out of bounds. It was worse when I used to visit a friend’s house. They would not let me touch their furniture, utensils or enter the kitchen. When I used to go to Kerala, we could not enter the kitchen, puja room, drawing room or touch the well, plants, flowers, These practices are still being followed even when education has changed their outlook in other spheres.
I have a more recent story to tell. I was suffering from severe stomach cramps and very heavy periods for the past 6-7 years. I would be menstruating for months and medical intervention was proving to be useless. It was not every month but it was sporadic and there was no logic or reasoning for these severe cramps. When travelling even to my office, I used to carry large packets of 10-12 sanitary napkins. Due to taboos surrounding menstruation, I could not talk about it freely with my extended family or even my male supervisor who was flummoxed with my sudden illnesses and subsequent sick leaves. My brother came to know when we had gone for a movie. I had to visit the washroom every 20-25 minutes. Still, he asked his wife to check with me on what is the problem. They never knew my turmoil till I had to undergo surgery for the same.
In my male-dominated family, it was the men who helped me during my hospital stay and post surgery – my husband, brother, son. If there was not so much taboo, I would have taken a decision earlier and it would have saved me so much physical and mental trauma.
For the medical condition I had, I looked up the scientific term on websites. I was looking up the effects of surgery and recovery periods. There are many websites which give these details but none related to Indian women. They have suggestions on preparing for surgery, caring during the surgery and post-recovery tips. The websites advised about diets, exercises, activities which are restricted for a certain period. But, for India, there is none.
My doctor, a male, had given me the go ahead for walks and light exercise and asked me to keep moving, but the women in my family were against it. Their reasoning was, the doctor is male and he doesn’t know a woman’s body. Thankfully, I decided to trust my doctor and followed his instructions and I could recover fast. I still see some of my family members still suffering even months post surgery.
I feel there is a terrible lack of awareness about menstruation among the new generation. I can tell as I see these girls coming to live alone in the city, in my organisation struggling with it. Being female, they are glad they can open up to me. But, if I was a man, they would not come to me with their issues.
Really women, it is just a natural phenomenon like acne and grey hair. It will come and go. There is nothing to hide or be ashamed of.