There are some moments of childhood that were embedded in my memory with a great degree of detail: the day I got my first period is one of those moments. It was one hot summer morning and I was helping my grandmother with part of the meal. I was grating cassava to make yucca fritters as a side dish for our lunch as we usually did, while mamá repeated instructions as I had never heard them before.
I was sitting on the floor with my back against the wall right next to the kitchen door, pot on the floor, and holding the homemade grater mamá had made out of an oil can. You can say I was the “official grater” in the house as I was in charge of grating coconut, yams, yucca and anything that needed grating (which was a lot). I really liked grating yucca because it is hard enough to hold and when you grate it is really soft and moist.
As usual, Mamá Amparo was telling me stories in between the cooking instructions. When I got up from the floor mamá noticed something on my pants; I could feel my face getting all read as she shouted “¡mataste el chivo!” I had heard this expression before, ‘killing the goat’ and I was suddenly embarrassed when mamá said that because I knew that meant that I got my first period. It was a weird feeling because just the day before I was playing little girl games and not this meant that I was becoming a señorita and I just couldn’t grasp it.
Mamá kept smiling and repeating that I ‘killed the goat’ and I just wanted her to stop. I knew that getting my first period was something that will become the topic of conversation for her with her friend and the primas and I just wanted to be a secret. She sent me to shower and to get a cotton cloth to protect myself (yes, there were pads back then but we could not always afford them) and gave me the whole ‘now you are almost a señorita’ speech.
It is incredible how we, as women, go through these changes that can alter the way we see ourselves in a matter of days or months. In a way, I was the same little girl as the day before. But I wasn’t. The simple fact of getting my first period push me to see myself in a different way. I started noticing the changes in my body, and how my sister (who is only 3 months younger than me) wasn’t developing at my same pace.
Dealing With My First Period & Male Attention
This was a strange time for me, because with my first period came the challenges of changing hormones, feeling sad without understanding why and transitioning from little girl to a pre-teen and noticing how teen boys -and even men- looked at me differently. It was a little scary, especially when walking to the colmado(convenience store) to buy groceries, or going to school on my own.
As a grown woman, I now can see the danger I faced then as male friends and even a couple of family members made me feel very uncomfortable with their behavior. As a little girl, I didn’t know how to handle that and it was scary and sometimes it felt as if I was doing something wrong. This was, and still is, the reality of many little girls in the Dominican Republic and the rest of the developing world as girls are victims of harassment or worse from people in the circle of trust.
Fortunately, there isn’t much more I experienced in terms of the attention I was getting. I just remember it to be a scary thing, something that caused great anxiety, feelings of guilt and even shame. On the flip side, these experiences at such an early age really prepared me for the near future in which I will be in spaces in which I was still the youngest, a minor, and needed to know how to handle myself.
Do you remember how you changed after getting your first period? Did you face any challenges during this transition?
I don’t exactly remember that first day. But I remember it happened when I was 12 and in middle school. I didn’t like it, and didn’t know much about it because my mom never talked with us about the subject. The few things I knew it was because teachers talked to us when I was in six grade. For my mom, having your period meant you stopped being a little girl and becoming a “señorita”. For my girls I want the experience to be different, and I already talked with my oldest almost 2 years ago. So she knows what to expect.
Hi Blanca! For some reason I remember every detail of that day. I knew about it because I have a sister who is 4 years older than me, so it didn’t got me by surprise. However, I felt some sort of way and the way men behaved after that made me very uncomfortable and scared. I can relate to what you say about becoming a “señorita” and I felt as such a kid, and then that a big responsibility had been given to me. I am very open to my daughter about that; she has seen me with my period and I told her, girls get their period and that when she is older she will get it too (she is now 7). It is best to talk openly and not make it a burden. In Latin America, I think there is so much taboo about so many things that makes it harder for girls to transition. Thanks for sharing your story with me!