Written by Audrey Obuobisa-Darko
My mother never once used her real voice to talk to me about periods. It was always some whisper, sotto voce, a hollow sound laced with shame. She gave me a boiled egg in celebration though, if I remember correctly: “You’re a woman now!” The rest of my memories play back to me with a soundtrack of hushed voices. Hush, don’t talk about your period that loud. Hush, here’s your pad. Hush, hush, hush. Come to think of it, she probably never said the word ‘period,’ or even ‘blood,’ so I guess these memories should also play back in censored anime style, where all the blood is white instead of red, or completely nonexistent. At about eleven or twelve, I was already grappling with misogyny internalised deep in my bones, and so the thought of getting a period, a terrifying confirmation of my womanhood, simply tipped me over. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to stage protests against the curse of being a woman, and in my infinite ignorance, it was me on the other side of the picket line.
It was a school morning. There was a little blood on my nightie. I showed it to my mother, who, with a flushed face, handed me some sanitary pads. I tossed the pads across my room, put on my finest uniform, and went to school. A few hours into class, I could feel my ass soaking wet against the wooden chair. I shrugged and went about my business. The bell rang for break time, and I got up to go outside like everyone else. A loud gasp erupted behind me. My best friend. “Audrey! Is that sobolo on your dress?” Poor boy. I examined the bright red stains on my skirt with utter insouciance, shrugged, and walked outside. More people looked at me, some tried to prompt me. I nodded, smiled, and cooly went about enjoying my break time. I gave absolutely no shit, because again, in my infinite wisdom, this was my protest against womanhood. Womanhood was woefully cowering in terror, clutching her stomach, begging me not to land my K.O. Audrey – 1 : Womanhood – 0. When break was nearly over, my friend Nadia held my hand and led me to the washroom. She gave me a pad and showed me how to clean my dress. I remember this moment with utmost tenderness. It does not play back with a soundtrack of hushed voices.
I started out writing this piece with so many talking points in mind; the global health crisis of period poverty, the hegemonic influence of patriarchy on attitudes towards menstruation, the need to unlearn insidious period shame, the never-ending laundry list. But boy did I get mighty bored. What an ordeal it was, doing all the acrobat moves on the page, scrambling words together to convince myself that I needed to put a positive spin on it, and that if I wanted to talk about menstruation, I needed to do it in a level-headed, analytical, intellectual way. Forget the contemporary buzzwords, forget the isms; if there’s anything that has changed between those adolescent days and now, it is that I loathe having periods even more.
“Oh my god it’s the 20th? I’m about to have my fucking period again.”
“Audrey, don’t talk like that. Don’t you appreciate having such a beautiful, natural bodily process? It’s a blessing to be able to conceive.”
If it wasn’t for the amount of respect I had for this friend, the massive eye-roll I held myself back from making would have shattered my eye sockets beyond repair. Surely, what a blessing it must be, to have my body feel beaten down half the time each month, my back and waist so sore it’s hard to walk, my head dizzy, my brain foggy, my emotions wonky, my pocket empty on account of insane pad prices, on and on and on, while still keeping up my performance as a functional member of society. No, thank you, I do not thank God for this free gift of nature. Two things can coexist; while doing the work of unlearning period stigma and advocating for better conditions around menstruation, we should also allow the space to say, “hey, I’m not ashamed of my period, but I absolutely hate it and would like it gone.”
I got a contraceptive implant earlier this year, and it has changed my life. I had the procedure done with the hope that my periods would stop altogether. Although that hasn’t happened yet, my once heavy, excruciating periods have been reduced to light flows with little to no pain. As one who struggles with major depressive disorder and suicidal ideation, I am thankful to not have to deal with extra reasons why, in the shape of brain fog, low serotonin, chaotic moods, crying spells, what have you.
Till date, somewhere in Accra, in a small kiosk by the road, a girl is timidly buying menstrual pads from an older woman, who makes the most dramatic show of bundling it up in several layers of black polythene before handing it over. Take a few steps further down to the community primary school, and you’d see the science teacher awkwardly rushing through the topic, the boys squirming, the girls sitting abashed. Scroll through the media and witness in real time, death and sexual violence threats towards activists and ministers fighting against menstruation stigma and period poverty. We still have such a long way to go as a society, and these are pressing issues that we will continue to work towards solving at all costs.
We will keep making breakthroughs in medical research on menstrual health, keep dismantling stereotypes and misinformation around menstruation, keep advocating for the removal of taxes (and price tags altogether) on sanitary products, keep teaching women that we have nothing to be ashamed of. And at any point in time, you will find me doing my part to undo the stigma by talking openly about periods in various spaces—no speaking sotto voce, no censored anime blood, no soundtrack of hushed voices—but I refuse to love my period while I’m at it.