“Please call me back. Something terrible has happened.”
That was the message I left on my mom’s pager when I got home from school. While I waited for her to call back, I sat on the toilet. I placed two maxi pads in my underwear, slightly overlapping, just like I’d seen her do. Thick, with two strips of adhesive going down the length of the pad, they went nearly from my belly button to my lower back. I was eleven.
All day in school I had a discomfort in my pelvis. I kept tugging at the waist band of my jeans thinking they must be too tight. I shifted in my seat, bothered by this new and unpleasant sensation.
My mom called back. After establishing that the house hadn’t burnt down, she told me not to worry. When she got home she explained that I didn’t need two pads, my flow wouldn’t be that heavy. She said that what I felt were cramps and gave me a tube sock filled with rice that had been microwaved for two minutes.
A few months later, the entire fifth grade class went to camp for 3 nights. Eighth graders were our counselors. I went to the teacher’s building when it struck again. One of them handed me a pad. “I can get you a few more.”
“I have to call my mom, I want to go home.” I hated camp anyway. I could barely tolerate a sleep-over at a friend’s house. Sleeping on a cobwebby bunk bed in a tent-like cabin while bleeding and cramping was not going to fly.
I sat with our male principal at the camp entrance and waited for my mom to pick me up. It was dark by the time she got there. I was so relieved to see her and get in our car that smelled like gum and Band-Aids. She was a home health nurse, and the smell of medical supplies still reminds me of her. When I got back to school on Monday, the word was out. I’d only told one classmate and a counselor.
“Why did you go home?” someone asked.
“She got her period!” laughed a boy from across the table.
I was bright red. “No I didn’t! I was sick!” I shouted, probably not at all believable.
Luckily it was the last week of school. Sixth grade brought a whole new building and the merging of two elementary schools. Come fall, everyone seemed to have forgotten my camp exit, or at least they were more interested in their own bodily changes.
Unfortunately the cramps and embarrassment would be a recurring theme. Every now and then it gets brought up, “Didn’t you, like, call 9-1-1 for cramps once?”
In high school, alone at home, I had cramps so badly that I hyperventilated. I didn’t understand what was happening as my breathing became too fast and shallow to get proper air exchange. My hands and feet began to stiffen and I became tingly all over. Unable to close my open hands, I fumbled with the phone but managed to dial 9-1-1. “I have severe menstrual cramps and I can’t move my fingers and I feel like I can’t breathe!”
Our tiny town sent a police car, fire truck, and ambulance. My mom drove right onto the lawn when she got home from the store, five minutes after all the help arrived. She sent them away and gave me Advil, the rice sock, and tea. It’s the same trio I use today to treat my angry pelvis.
-Stephanie R. Williams
Stephanie has recently returned to writing after several years working as a registered nurse. She lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter. She dances through out the day, everyday, and thinks you should too.