Paro is 12 years old and lives in a slum community in the city. The usually cheerful Paro who stays busy with her studies, playing with friends and helping her parents at home has not been feeling well the past few days. Sometimes she seems happy and then sometimes seems disturbed and lost. She senses that the elders in her family and neighborhood respond to her in a manner different from the way they used to earlier. She also feels that her body is undergoing some changes – her breasts pain and seem to be growing, there is hair growth in her underarms and in her genital area. Her friends are also experiencing such physical changes and this often becomes a topic of their discussions.
[Setting – Paro’s house]
Paro’s mother: For the next three days you will not go out of the house to play with your friends Jaya, Yasmin and Rupa. Also, do not enter the kitchen. If you come into the kitchen it will get polluted and I will have to wash it thoroughly.
Paro: If I enter the kitchen why will it get dirty?
Paro’s mother: It is because you are having your monthly periods (menstruating).
Paro: But, why do you say so? A few days ago in school our teacher told us that menstruation or having monthly periods is a very normal thing for women. There is nothing bad about it and you should not worry about it. I will talk to her again when I go to school tomorrow.
Paro’s mother: Oh, your teacher doesn’t know anything.
[The next day in school after their classes are over, Paro and her friends Yasmin, Rupa and Jaya walk up to their teacher, Ms Anita, and ask her if they can talk to her.]
Paro: Ms Anita, if it is okay, can
we ask you some questions that have been in our mind for some time now?
Ms Anita: Hello Paro, Rupa, Jaya and Yasmin – of course, you can ask me anything.
Paro: Ms Anita, we wanted to know why is it that menstruation happens to women? And is it a normal thing
Ms Anita: As I had mentioned to the class the other day, for women menstruation is a normal thing. It is an indication of growing up or the maturing of a girl and an important aspect of her life. The onset of menstruation indicates the young girl’s first step towards becoming a woman. Thus, girls should feel happy when they start having their menstrual periods.
Rupa: Paro’s mother told her that periods are dirty and we should not enter the kitchen, should not go out and play, etc.
Ms Anita: In fact, people say all these things, but let me tell you when you have your menstrual period you do not need to change your daily schedule or activities at all. It is not ‘dirty’ or ‘impure’ to have menstruation. You do not need to stay away from friends during this time. There do not need to be any changes in what you eat or drink – you can eat sour food and cold food. Also, you can have a bath and wash your hair when you have your periods – there is no problem if you do so. Actually, having a bath is good and hygienic.
Paro: Why does my lower abdomen hurt when I have my periods?
Ms Anita: There is no need to worry if you have pain in your abdomen. Since the egg is not fertilized (the women is not pregnant) the uterus sheds the lining it had prepared for the fertilized egg. It does this by contracting and expanding and this muscular contraction and expansion sometimes hurts a bit.
Yasmin: Ms Anita, I don’t understand one thing. Paro is 12 years old and so am I. She has started her periods but why haven’t I started having them too? Ms Anita: Oh, there is nothing to worry about with this. All girls don’t start their menstrual periods at the same age. It is not necessary – some girls start early and some a little later. For some girls, they may even have to wait until the age of 16 years before their menstruation starts. This should not be a cause for any concern as it does not mean there will be any lack in her physical development. But, if the menstrual period has not started by the age of 16 years, then the young women and her parents should consult a health worker or doctor for advice.
Paro: Why is it that my periods are not always regular – sometimes they come early, sometimes later and sometimes for fewer days?
Ms Anita: Usually, in the first year when girls start menstruating, the periods may not be regular. This is because, at the start, menstruation is a new thing for the body. It takes some time for the body to set the rhythm or coordinate with this aspect of development. But if this irregularity continues for long there may be other reasons such as obesity, weakness, anemia (usually caused by deficiency of iron in our body and results in low haemoglobin in the blood), other diseases such as tuberculosis, or any other long illness. Sometimes, due to mental tension and stress, girls may also have irregular menstruation. But for sexually active girls, there may be another reason for missing her monthly period – she may be pregnant.
Rupa: Ms Anita, I want to know why the blood flow becomes less during the period?
Ms Anita: In some girls the blood flow is less when compared to others. Don’t think this means that the ‘dirty’ blood is not going out of the body – it is not ‘dirty’. Also, it is normal for girls to have bleeding
for about 2-7 days. At the same time, some girls also may have heavy bleeding. This may be because there may be an imbalance in the hormones in her body. It may also be due to some problem in the uterus. If you notice any such irregularity and feel concerned about it you must go and consult a health worker.
Paro: Oh, it’s getting late and I must get back home. Thank you Ms Anita for all this information. I feel so much better now and will try and explain this to my mother.