What my fauji gynaecologist dad taught me about my periods

by Swathi Kulkarni

Over half the world menstruates at one time or another, but you’d never know it. Isn’t that strange?

—Margaret Cho

This quote by comedienne Margaret Cho pretty much sums up the narrative on menstruation that, according to me, exists even today.

As a woman who has gone through over two decades of periods, it flummoxes me sometimes on how little has changed around the experience. Although, in parallel, we have innovated & evolved in so many other fields, why have things with regard to this experience almost plateaued? My tryst with understanding the nuances of this began much before my first period, it began at home with my father, an army gynaecologist.

“Is your flow heavy or normal?” “Your sister is PMS-ing! be nicer!” were common comments around our household. This easy awareness was the foundation for my understanding about the different aspects of my period. It even gave way to some riveting conversations with my father which turned into lifelong lessons that I carry close to my heart even today.

In a world where period blood was (still is!) blue, sanitary napkins were treated like sacrilegious objects wrapped in newspapers, and ‘that time of the month’ was like a self-imposed exile, growing up as an army gynaecologist’s daughter was an interesting experience—one that I’m so thankful for! I believe I still haven’t completely assimilated every aspect of this experience, but just like every other woman I try my best to. So here is my attempt at passing on some of the lessons I have learnt. 

Open those communication lines

The visual of a strict army dad talking to his 14-year-old daughter about the right kind of pad isn’t a common one!  While my friends were shocked at the ease with which my father would talk to me about my period, I grew up thinking of it as the norm. This was in contrast to what a lot of my friends  and other peers were going through at their homes. Their lack of awareness (mind you this was in the 90’s before the advent of Google/Facebook) led to fear, rumours and sometimes practices detrimental to their own health.

Periods are not just a physical experience

The biggest myth my dad bust for me was that periods are a physical experience. Speaking as a self-proclaimed Period Veteran, I can assure you that it’s so much more than that. Apart from the physical discomfort, a woman is going through a whirlwind of emotions, handling fluctuating hormones, and multi-tasking all of her daily duties. The emotional and psychological journey a woman goes through during her period is so often ignored, this is the gap that we need to bridge.

Periods are multifaceted, just like women. Credits: Unsplash

Periods are multi-faceted just like women!

50% of the entire population goes through an experience and it looks like we do it in stealth mode for some reason. My dad also made me realise that this leads to a distorted cycle of consumption.

I  remember how methodically my dad helped us design a batch process for procurement and disposal of pads. We had well-crafted news paper pouches, a special dustbin in one end of our army accommodation that housed all the sanitary waste. He clearly understood all the issues around a woman’s period and paid attention to those tiny details that could make our lives simpler during those tough days!

It’s not just about those 5 days

One of his best lessons was to make me realise that our periods are not just a 5-day experience. Our bodies are actually preparing for it before the cycle, and recuperating from it afterwards, and it is important to work with it accordingly. Our mind, heart and soul go through periods too—not just those 5 days of the month—but pretty much the remaining 25 days around that as well!

Unlike men, ladies have fluctuating levels of hormones through the month. Some experience a small bout of mid-menstrual pain on one side of the lower abdomen which indicates the release of ovum on that side of the body. And in other women, there is a heavy feeling in the abdomen and a tenderness of the breasts, accompanied by subtle changes in the mood, which might imitate depression. All of these are different experiences that different women go through, and they’re all ‘normal’!

Growing up with a dad who could speak to his daughter candidly about her menstruation without inhibitions helped me grow into a body-happy, confident woman. It is a rewarding, reassuring experience to discuss every aspect of our lives as is—without mincing words, not treating periods as though it is a disease and understanding that it’s not just the physical discomfort that causes us women to feel beat during those days.

Today as a mother of two, I try my best to pass on these lessons to my son and daughter hoping to contribute to a generation that enables and empowers women to have a healthy, taboo-free period!

Swathi Kulkarni is co-founder of Nua, a new-age feminine care brand.

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