DEAR KELLY: I’m 14, almost 15, and I haven’t started my period yet. I’m so scared about where I will start, when it will happen and who will be with me. My sister gets really bad cramps and even throws up around her period. I’m afraid that’s going to happen to me, too. My best friend started when we were in seventh grade at Six Flags and it was a big ordeal. I would be so embarrassed if everyone knew and people talked about it like how it was with her. I’m so scared it also might happen at a sleepover.
One more thing is that I’m so nervous about using a tampon. All my friends use tampons, so I don’t want to be the weird one. My sister told me to practice before I get my period so it won’t be a big deal, but when I practiced it hurt and felt so weird. My sister said I’ll get used to it, but I don’t think I will.
Sometimes I think I have period cramps, then nothing happens so I don’t know how I will really know if it is going to actually happen. Twice I’ve stayed home from school on days I thought I was going to start and it didn’t happen. I’m also scared about when it does happen, how will I know when it will happen again? Do I just guess?
This is so weird. I’ve asked my sister these questions, but she really doesn’t give me answers or just laughs at me. It’s such an awkward thing to talk about. What can I do to help being so nervous over all of this?
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DEAR HN: Cut yourself some slack. Your letter is far from weird. It is normal, healthy and well thought out. Your concerns are valid. It seems like you’ve thought it all through. Let’s start with the obvious: All girls get their period. It’s a part of life, and it’s a very natural part of growing up. Most girls would say they have felt the same, so rest assured, you are in good company.
Since you haven’t officially started yet, it’s hard to pinpoint when it might happen. I would start by marking on the calendar on your phone the days you feel like you are cramping. You very well might be experiencing menstrual cramps, but the blood might be so light you can’t see it yet. There are also apps for your phone like Period Tracker or Pink Pad that will help you track the days and know when you are close to starting. While period cramps are no fun, they usually are helped with over-the-counter pain medicines. Most first periods are lighter – maybe just a few spots of blood. It can take a few cycles before a heavy flow begins. Sometimes our bodies do a good job of slowly introducing the whole process to us.
Another thing to do is to pay attention to your body. Usually our bodies have a way of letting us know we care close to getting our period, and you can adjust accordingly. Things like a sudden acne breakout, tender breasts, mood swings, or back pains can be signs your body is getting ready to have a cycle. Since each person’s cycle is different, there is no guarantee you are going to experience things the way your sister has. You may get a headache, feel irritable and then start. Don’t fret yet, you have no idea how your body will react and it may not be as bad as you think.
Being prepared is the best defense and the best way to calm your mind. It’s OK if you aren’t comfortable starting with tampons. Please don’t feel pressured to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable just because your friends are. No one will know what you chose to do and it should be a personal decision based on what works for you. If you period happens to catch you by surprise, fold up some toilet paper and place it in your underwear until you can get somewhere or talk to someone who can help you find a pad. You might want to tuck a small pad in your purse or backpack just for security purposes so you know that you are prepared if it does start when you aren’t expecting it to.
By the way, if you do happen to start, don’t underestimate the power of the sisterhood. All women – including your sister, your friends and their moms – have experienced the same thing and know how weird it can feel. Most girlfriends don’t approach it from a place of judgment or trying to embarrass you, but rather from a place of compassion and understanding.
Your period doesn’t have to get in the way of life. It’s normal, natural, nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed of and something that all women experience. Be confident in your ability to handle the situation – any situation that occurs. Lean on those around you for help and know that it’s OK to ask questions. Don’t be scared, be prepared. Tell yourself you will be fine and know that this is just another step toward maturity as a teenager.