Mommy’s Diapers. That’s what Ella called my pads the first time she saw a packet of Always laying on my bed. And I didn’t correct her. I didn’t tell her that they were actually called pads or that I needed them for something called periods. Instead, I quickly nodded, thanked God she hadn’t mistaken my tampons for mini white chocolates, and said “Yup, those are mommies diapers”.
I just could not bring myself to say the words “Pads” or “Periods”.
It actually took me quite some time to fully unwrap the reason behind my not wanting to say those words to Ella out loud. For starters, I didn’t want to delve into the intricacies of the female reproductive system with a 4 year old (by the way, what is the right age for The Talk?). But more importantly, I realized that when it came down to it, I was just shy. And I have been both shy and embarrassed about those words and what they represent for as long as I can remember.
I don’t even remember the last time I said the word Periods out loud. At a pinch, when I really have to say it out loud, I’ll call it rolling. In school, we would call it being on. If I’m being formal, I’ll call it that time of the month. And if I’m feeling particularly feisty, I’ll call it shark week. Never do I say the word “Period” or, God forbid, Menstruation Period.
While growing up, I could never bring myself to say that I needed Pads. I would either scribble the word “Always” in tiny letters on the household shopping list or when asked verbally, mumble “I need to buy some personal things I need”, praying that my elusiveness would make what I needed obvious.
In school, we would go to ridiculous lengths to hide the fact that we were on our periods – faking food poisoning when we actually had cramps, hiding pads under our blouses when we needed to go for a change, anything to avoid being found out!
To be honest, even now as a grown ass woman, I am still so self-conscious! I do this thing where I quickly look around to see if anyone’s watching before quickly grabbing my little tampon case (cleverly disguised a makeup bag) and sneaking off to the restroom. As if anyone would be surprised to hear that I had periods. As if anyone cares!
When I first joined the Always Stand Up campaign I was absolutely gobsmacked to learn that Kenyan girls lose an average of 3.5 million learning days PER MONTH (!!) because of their periods. That number is insane!
Thankfully, besides my clandestine operation tampon dashes to the restroom, my pesky little shyness about shark week rolling that time of the month PERIODS hasn’t affected my life in major ways. But for many young girls around the country this shyness, exacerbated by a lack of access to pads, directly results in academic failure. These girls sit in absent minded agony at the back of the class or worse yet, miss school altogether because they are horrified at the prospect of anyone finding out that they’re on their period or worse yet, smelling or leaking.
It needn’t be this way!
So, I’m willing to do my part to keep our girls in school. Whether that means rallying behind the next sanitary towel drive or demystifying Mommy’s Diapers and Rolling by calling them by their actual names – pads and periods. PADS. And PERIODS. There, I said it.