I am Pooja.
I am 14-years-old.
And this is my story…
I got my periods last month.
My mother cried a lot, when I did, repeating “Why at such a young age…?”
I thought maybe I was dying of some disease which led to oozing of blood from the vagina.
Bhoomi, my elder sister, came to me and handed me a cloth, quietly.
“Put this on the lining of your underwear. It will contain the blood.” I looked at the dirty cloth and then back at Bhoomi. She squeezed my shoulder and left. The cloth was not very effective.
Over the coming few days, it turned foul-smelling, left a strong itch in my genitals, and stained my clothes every night.
I went to my mother & told her that my stomach hurt, after 2 days. She frowned & said not to bother her with such trivial issues.
I felt really bad, as I stood there wincing in pain, when Bhoomi came from behind and took me aside.
“Pain is a part of being a woman. And you have become one now.” She said with a sad expression. “But it feels like a curse! My clothes smell very bad. My vagina itches all day long, and I feel so weak!” I cried. “Is it unbearable to the extent of needing a doctor? If not, then shut up and face the problems! It will only last for 4-5 days, okay?! I stared at her, thinking how she could speak in such a rough manner. Later she came to apologies & enlighten me with something horrifying that night.
Bhoomi had been menstruating for the last 2 years. She had been through all that I was complaining about, and worse –
She had been to the doctor many times, with what she said was a ‘UTI’ (Urinary tract infection), spreading towards a genital infection a few times. The doctor recommended better sanitary options like a clean, hygienic pad. But we couldn’t afford the sanitary pads which women are supposed to. They cost 20% of my mother’s salary. Monthly groceries cost less for us.
No wonder my mother got annoyed when I shared about my stomach ache with her. Bhoomi has set the bar very high for tolerance.
I thought I was looking at a doctor’s visit soon, too. But something happened last week.
There was a gathering of girls arranged in our slum area, by an NGO called SAATH and Unipads. Herein, few women volunteers came to our locality, gathered 50 adolescents like me from our slum at the nearest ‘anganwadi’ and took a small interactive session. They had come to educate us about menstrual & personal hygiene and donate Reusable Cloth Sanitary pads – Unipads.
That was the first time we girls learnt the right practices for personal hygiene and the dos and don’ts during menstruation. Never did anybody ever talk or explained us so openly about the ‘taboo’ topic.
We were gifted a Unipads kit with 4 pads in it – 3 for day-time-regular flow, and 1 big pad to keep my clothes from soiling in days of heavy flow. They say these pads are reusable – they can be reused, without any chance of infection, for up to a year. What’s good news is that, they gave it to us for free, under a ‘charity-drive’ by an international charity called the ‘TGB Charity’ (May God bless them!). Mother will be happy to know this. This year of COVID 19 has seen our family income drop down to zero. At least, mother won’t cry because of me, this time.
I know there are many causes in the world that need donations for. I wish the condition of teenage girls, living with unsanitary cloths that lead to life-long-diseases, comes up as a worthy one to invest in, for more & more companies of the world.
Blog by: Aarti Bhatia