Writing by Zadie McCracken // Photograph by Sandra Lazzarini
It seems fitting that I am beginning to write this while on my period. That’s right—my uterus is currently emptying itself out and I’m suffering the consequences. I’ve been emotional, hormonal and hungry all day. What I do eat is complete junk (anyone got a spoon for this Nutella jar?)
This morning I cried over the prospect of maybe getting braces and this afternoon I had a joyous breakdown while watching the trailer for Atomic Blonde (Charlize Theron, you own my whole heart). Slight, aching cramps haunt me and I have to change my tampon every ten seconds (day two flow heaviness is real, people!)
Even in my pain, I consider the small joys of menstruation. My body is working properly, the moon loves me, I am irreversibly link to millions around the globe.
I suppose this monthly event can be empowering. Like: yes, I bleed out of my vagina every month, and you can deal with it (I sure have to). Like: Now I can get out of this P.E class. Like: “Do you have a tampon?” “Oh, yeah, sure”. Like: I am allowed to talk about this, hate this, love this, celebrate this in all its awful glory.
Though our periods are generally seen as a nuisance or even taboo, they are natural parts of our beautiful bodies and they do not deserve to be swept aside.
That’s why, for this piece, I will be talking to various girls and women about their monthly visitors. We’ll discuss it all: PMS, pads, tampons, cramps, stained sheets, cravings, hunger, mood swings, messes, Panadol, general annoyance, first times, hospital trips, vomiting, fainting, exhaustion, bathrooms that look like murder scenes. Together, we will explore the grievance, joy, unity, pain and celebration of our periods.
Welcome to Bloody Hell.
Now, give me that spoon. We’ve got a lot to get through.
My first guests are:
LILLIAN CAREY-LONG AND ASHLEY HAINES
Let me first set the scene: I’m sitting in my school’s library, surrounded by books, computers and kids. The sound of muffled voices, wrappers of snuck-in food, video games, page flicks and keyboard clicks are all around me. I am in-between classes, at recess, and with two of my favourite people: Lil and Ash.
Lillian Carey-Long is a insightful, intelligent, petite and hilarious fifteen-year- old high school student with a penchant for reading, talking about food, and long, unexpected outbursts of insane laughter. Known for her motherly nature, honesty and suave, Lillian sits by my side and urges me to begin.
Meanwhile, Ashley Haines is flicking through the pages of a book, joking that she will answer every question I have with a random lines from it. Ashley, with her fluffy, curly, crazy hair, small stature and checked shirts, is known for her gift-giving skills, drama, and general hilarity. She’s a kind-hearted, smart, and insanely funny fifteen- year-old. She loves cheap food and the internet.
Zadie: How old were you, where were you when you got, and how did you deal with
your first period?
Lillian: So I was twelve and it was on a weekend and I was just lying in my room, on the floor, looking at my phone and then I went to the toilet. But it was really light and I did nothing and it lasted a day.
Z: You’re so lucky, oh my god!
L: It was so light I wasn’t even sure if it was a period. I was like ‘oh, yeah’ –
Ashley: Did you go to the doctor?
A: I’m sorry, if you don’t know if it’s your period you shouldn’t be bleeding there, Lillian.
Z: Ash, your turn.
A: Year Seven, like a day before Christmas.
L: Oh my god!
Z: Christmas Eve?!
Z: That’s sad
A: No, maybe like a day before Christmas Eve ‘cause we were doing stuff Christmas Eve. I panicked, like everyone does. I panicked and handled it badly but we got through it, and it was a mess. And it lasted one or two days!
Z: Okay, question two. Do you get and how do you deal with cramps, PMS and other lovely period side effects?
L: I just – I don’t get cramps or like –
Ash’s face is one of pure bewilderment.
Z: She’s, like, the goddess. It’s so unfair
L: Yeah, I know, I know.
Z: She’s what I aspire to be.
L: I might get cramps, like, really lightly so my stomach feels odd but I don’t get cramps. And then every couple of months I have a really bad period where I just start crying. And there’s no way to deal with that.
A: It happens.
A: Always, like, Satan-sent- them-himself cramps. They are awful (laughs). It’s
terrible and I’m usually just lying in bed, like, trying not to cry or probably crying.
And I’m just really sad. And usually I’ll just be really sad before it. Just, you know,
thinking about ending all connection with people.
Lil goes into laughter mode, her nose all scrunched up.
A: I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m stop being friends with everyone because no one likes me
and I’m just gonna stay in bed forever’.
L: We should get her schedule and then text her the day before her period like, ‘Ash, we love you!’
A: I’d just be crying in bed, that’s not gonna help me.
Z: Okay. You might not have one, but tell us your favourite, funniest or best period story (that happened to you).
L: I was going to a party. And, like, every now and then I’m like, ‘Oh yeah I’ll just wear a tampon’ because tampons are more practical. And so I had a tampon in and I was still like getting my jeans on and then I sneezed and blood went everywhere! On the ground, like there were droplets of blood on the ground –
Z: Were you at a party?!
L: No, just before a party. It just went everywhere on my jeans and I was just like, ‘oh fuck’. So I had to go and deal with that. And that’s my, um, period story.
A: I don’t know if I have one to do with my period really, but when I was on my period we went to this water park once. Already, a bad start! But ‘cause I was on my period I was really sad and reflective, so I just went to the kiddie pools.
A: And I was just sitting underneath these streams of water, just really sad. And Adele was playing in my head so I just turned it up. And it was just – it was an experience!
Z: Question four. What is the one thing people don’t know or are mistaken about
when it comes to menstruation?
L: How much effort you have to put in to getting pads or tampons and keeping and remembering that you have to have pads or tampons. Like you’ll go to the toilet and be like ‘oh, shit, I have to change my pad’. And you’re just exhausted already. I don’t think anyone ever thinks of that. Also: late periods!
A: Oh my god, yeah. Clue—my period tracker app—kept giving me notifications every day that I was late. I wouldn’t have known this otherwise, but thanks to it saying, ‘Oh, it seems to be a day late! Oh, you seem to be a bit late!’, I was like, ‘I’m pregnant! This is the end, guys!’
Lil and I both burst out laughing.
Z: The funny thing is that you both freak out over late periods, thinking you’re pregnant, but you’re both virgins!
A: And I’m gay!
Z: Yeah! It’s not going to happen on so many levels!
L: Yeah, but when you have a late period you’re either like, ‘I’m dying!’ or ‘I’m
A: You think you’re the next Virgin Mary, Zadie!
L: You’re just like, ‘I’m probably about to die, or I’m pregnant, I’m not ready to have
Z: You’re literally a virgin, Lillian!
L (laughing): But I’m still like, ‘The Gods have got me pregnant!’
A: It’s terrifying!
Z: See, my period was, like, a week late and I was chill.
L: But that’s you, Z!
Z: Anything more to add, Ash?
A: The price. It’s expensive. ‘Cause I live in a house with guys and they don’t think of that. They don’t know. And how much longer it takes to get ready in the morning.
A: ‘Cause you have to make sure everything’s in check –
L: And getting out of the shower!
Z : Okay, um, how much and what did you know before you got your period?
L: I had this Steiner period day with all the girls so I had a pretty good idea. And all of the girls – we all talked about it. So, yeah, I think I knew most of it. I didn’t know you get chunks! I start laughing at ‘chunks’ as Ash cuts in.
A: I’m sorry, what?
L: You know, when you get those chunks!
Z (still laughing): Okay, Ashley, what about you?
We pause as Ash’s face displays a vast range of emotions to response to ‘chunks’.
Z: She’s going through something!
A: Okay, okay. I don’t think I was prepared at all, ‘cause I’ve always been around guys. And then I was the last one out of all my friends to get my period and they were like, ‘You probably just can’t have kids, you’re not gonna get any’ and I’m like, ‘Okay?’…
Z: Alright! How open are you about your period and do you talk about having your period often?
L: Yes! Like, one hundred out of a hundred.
Ash and I both lose it.
Z: One hundred out of one hundred?!
A: It’s ten out of ten, Lillian, it’s a bit different –
L: Ten out of ten! Like, you’ll see the boys, right, and I’m on my period and they’re like ‘Ewww, Lillian, you don’t need to tell me that!’ And I’m like, ‘Bitch, fuck off. You don’t know what I need to tell you’.
Z: You, Ash?
We all laugh.
A: I’ll tell like one or two people, but only if I think I’m about to die.
Z: Yeah, you’ve texted me before like, ‘I have such bad cramps, I’m just lying in a ball, I’m going to die!’
A: Yeah, yeah. That’s the only time I’ll do it, when I need people saying, ‘Yeah, me too, I’m also dying’. I’m like, ‘Thank you, thank you!’
Z: Do you use pads or tampons?
Z: Ohhh. Diversity! What advice you have for people about to get their periods for the first time?
L: Okay, so, don’t be shy about it. Is that the most typical thing? But just don’t. Don’t let other people tell you not to tell them about it. And make sure you’re stocked up on chocolate. And if boys annoy you on your period just say, ‘I’m on my period’. And use that excuse. And say, ‘I’ll stuff a dirty pad in your face!’
A: Make sure you capitalise as much as you can on the fact that you get your period. As excuses. Just know: once you hit a certain age, teachers can never refuse you going to the toilet. ‘Cause they are scared of that! Especially male teachers.
L (laughing): Yeah, yeah.
A: You have the world in your hands.
L: Yeah, use it, use it.
A: There are very few benefits!
Z: Any last thoughts?
L: Periods are shit! (laughs)
A: Get a period tracker like Clue! It’s so helpful
Z: I don’t have a period tracker! I just track my period myself.
L: Yeah, or, like, write down when it is.
A: No, I have a nifty app!
Z: (laughs) This is not sponsored, Ashley!
A: (laughs) It’s sponsored, isn’t it? How much am I getting paid for this?