For the sake of being completely honest with you, I don’t remember much of my puberty. Nonetheless, there is one particular element that will be forever in my mind, my first period. Being a girl, you know menstruation is taboo. We all know it exists, even boys, but for heaven’s sake, we should never mention it, ever. Well, sorry everyone, I cannot help but mention it. Yet, even though I don’t entirely remember the full extent of my puberty, I can recognize that I have gone through all of its associated symptoms, except for acne. My situation is really not that different from the experience shared by so many other girls. I started having breasts, developing hair in places where I had none before, growing taller and even more. This story is from my point of view, a girl’s point of view. As for the boys, despite not sharing entirely the same experiences, there are still some evident similarities.
My first period happened about 18 years ago, and if my memory is anything reliable, that day started like any other day. It was a beautiful, sunny and warm summer day. It was during the weekend, and as such, my family and I had to do chores. Mowing the lawn seemed especially fun, but my parents would never agree to let me use the lawnmower. They told me that the machine was too dangerous for a young girl (it was probably a wise decision). However, after months of begging, they finally gave in. On that beautiful sunny day, my dad finally showed me how to use the lawnmower. My mom looked particularly pleased as she didn’t especially like completing this task.
I proceeded to mow the entire front yard, and I had lots of fun. Only once I began to mow the backyard did I realize that I was feeling a bit different. I was feeling all grown up, adultlike. A moment later, as I was finishing up mowing under the only apple tree in my yard, I started feeling something wet in my panties. I immediately dropped what I was doing and went to the bathroom to have a look. If earlier, I just had the feeling of becoming an adult, then looking at the wet brownish-red spot at the bottom of my underwear was the confirmation. My body was violently agreeing with me.
I didn’t particularly feel like sharing the news with anyone, not even my own family, including my mother or sisters. I was planning on padding my underwear with toilet paper. Then, my mom came and knocked on the bathroom door. She was wondering what was happening to me since I had stopped mowing. I was so close to being done with the task entirely. Also, the fact that I didn’t put away the lawnmower was decidedly out of character for me. From inside the bathroom, I proceeded to tell her what was happening to me. I knew perfectly what that blood was. I have had sex education classes in school before, and I knew that this was my first period. I don’t remember my mom saying much. She frankly made me feel okay about this whole situation. I cleaned up my underwear while my mom brought me another pair. I padded the clean underwear with toilet paper (my mom did not have any period supplies) and pursued on with my task. A couple of days later, my mom presented me with a humongous pack of menstrual pads. I didn’t know exactly how I was supposed to use them.
Too shy to ask, I tried figuring it out on my own. The basic concept was quite simple. You first remove the protective sheet. Then you stick the pad at the bottom of your panties. What I had the most trouble with was finding how high or low I had to place it. Any slight misplacement would mean a massive overspill, which would have to be cleaned. After a week or so, I had become adept. For years, I kept using pads that were working fine with me. Yet, one day going on a camping trip with my oldest sister, I got my period, and it was utterly unanticipated. My menstrual cycle was still pretty irregular at that point. I had no pads on me. I asked my sister to hook me up, but the only thing she had was tampons. I had to use them, but I did not know how to, and I was way too shy to ask for help yet again. I knew that I had to insert the tampon into my vagina, but I wasn’t sure how far. I was afraid, afraid it was going to stay stuck if I inserted it too deeply. Also, when I first started inserting the applicator in, I started feeling pain. I was only more worried about going too far. It turns out that, in the end, I didn’t insert it far enough. The tampon, after a few hours, started leaking down onto my underwear. Many tampons later, I figured out how they worked (the instructions on the box helped). Until recently, tampons were my preferred tool to use.
Even though most people consider puberty to really start once you’ve had your first period, menstruation is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of other physiological changes are going on way before your first period. For instance, girls start to develop breasts which at first are called breast buds. Typically this development occurs around two years before the first menstruation. Although I am not sure about the exact moment when this all started, I can accept this timeline. My first menstruation occurred in the summer, just before I entered high school. However, I clearly remember having breast buds in elementary school.
One day in elementary school, I decided to wear a new silky shirt that I positively adored. I remember my young self feeling truly stunning in that shirt. Regardless, while waiting for the bus to bring me back home when school was over, some boys cornered me. Earlier, the boys had seen my buds peaking through my shirt as I didn’t have a training bra yet. They felt as if it was their duty to point it out to me. They probably hoped to embarrass me, which it did. Once I got back home, I told my mom about this encounter. She told me that I was too young to need a bra and to ignore those boys. I remember at this point feeling weird and ugly. I wanted to hide, which is what I mostly ended up doing in the end. I started wearing a camisole under my shirt and a sweater on top.
I had learned to hide any changes that I was going through. My newly acquired armpit hair was no different. From this moment on, I had stopped wearing tank tops in school. My mom, with her best intention at heart, forbade me to shave before my 14th birthday. Even though this restriction was in effect for all of my sisters, I still felt like an outsider. All my friends had training bras, razors and parents that would throw them parties for their first periods. I could not wait long enough for me to be fully grown up. I believed that only then would I be able to buy myself anything I needed. And growing up happened, not necessarily in terms of maturity, but in terms of length. By the end of puberty, I was 165 cm (5’4’’) tall, which is right on the woman’s median average height. Also, my hips and thighs got wider, which I interpreted as a sign that I was finally becoming a woman.
At last, there was finally one change that occurred but didn’t need concealing. It was plenty invisible in itself. That change was the size of my uterus. It was becoming larger to make room for future offspring. Fortunately, the increase in the size of my reproductive organs is not unique to me. Most girls and boys will also experience similar alterations. Yet, for boys, it will be more apparent since their reproductive organs are essentially external. Their penises and testicles will grow bigger. From the moment their reproductive system matures, they get susceptible to having wet dreams. During wet dreams, boys will ejaculate in their bed, which can cause, in some cases, embarrassment. In the beginning, boys will also develop some breast buds, but they will disappear entirely by the end of puberty. They will gain muscle mass and also get taller. They, like the girls, will have an increase in body hair quantity. So, for both sexes, most changes are the same. However, for males, there is one main difference, the deepening of their voice.
You can observe the change starting with voice cracking as if it couldn’t pick a tone. It is, in truth, pretty much what is happening. Once a boy reaches puberty, we can observe an enlargement of his larynx and his vocal folds getting thicker and longer. Meanwhile, before the change gets completed, the boys must learn to use a new instrument every day. This challenge can account for the weirdness of the sound they produce, and I can now fully understand how stressful this might be. However, this will never get as stressful as getting a massive burst of acne. I was fortunate enough as a teen to have avoided acne altogether, but I knew some friends who were not as lucky. They would go to extended lengths to hide the pimples away. Anyway, we can all agree that puberty is an awkward period, and as adults, we should all aim to be a bit more supportive and present for all teens around us.
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