Earlier this week, I purchased an order from Amazon (using our handy Prime membership), consisting of about 200 period pads, all shipped to a woman who mentors inner-city youth in Houston. I’ve never met her, or any of the young women she serves, but I read an article about Marcheta’s work with Cru High School (my husband and I also serve with Cru, but at world headquarters in a different city). In the story, she shared about one of her girls who comes from significant tragedy and brokenness.
This teenager, Tateanna, needed pads one month but had no money to buy them. Her mother wouldn’t purchase them, either, so she found herself in a desperate situation. Embarrassed, she didn’t ask Marcheta for help but instead stole a package of pads from a store. She got caught and faced punishment. Later, she confided in Marcheta, who stepped in to help.
When I read that story, I couldn’t help but imagine myself in Tateanna’s place. I couldn’t help but imagine how ashamed she must have been to sit in court, in front of a judge, knowing everybody in the room knew why she had to show up in court that day–knowing everyone knew what she had stolen.
You see, I COULD have been in Tateanna’s place. At age 13, 14, 15, I found myself desperate to obtain pads. I felt the shame of period accidents that took place at school (more than one school). I knew the embarrassment of having to borrow Donna’s jacket or Melissa’s shirt to wear (or to tie around my waist) to hide the evidence of something I couldn’t control.
I had no materials to help me. There were none in my house. My family didn’t discuss menstruation or puberty. When I first got my period, I took a few pads from my mother’s stash. Then, that summer, she stopped needing them herself (and so she stopped buying them). From there, I had to figure it out on my own. Most of my “figuring” ended in catastrophe. Then in the fall of 9th grade, after a particularly horrifying experience, I realized I had to do something differently.
So I saved up my lunch money from a couple of days that week. And that Friday, instead of taking a school bus the short distance from the high school to the elementary school where my mother taught (in order to ride home with her), I walked from school to a gas station–dragging along all my books from all my classes along with my marching French horn in its big case. I walked into the store, thankful the clerk was female, and picked up the first box of pads I could find. I paid for the package and took the bag with my pack of pads in it–thankful that the bag was mostly opaque–and slung it on the arm carrying the horn. With my stack of books in my other arm, I finished the walk to the elementary school, thankful that Melissa’s shirt was still tied around my waist.
I never stole any pads; but I did skip some lunches so I could buy myself some. Tateanna’s desperate plan to solve her crisis didn’t work out. I knew what it was like to look for an answer to this problem and find it didn’t work out myself.
Period pads have to be one of the most basic of resources. No more extravagant than toilet paper. Yet so much shame surrounds this experience for so many.
When I read Tateanna’s story, I felt the sting of her shame. I determined to do something to help. I’m no longer that girl trying to sit on the veeeery edge of my seat in school to keep blood from transferring from my black pants (thank the Lord they were black) to the chair of my desk. All. Day. Long. I’m a grown woman, no longer ashamed of a big part of what makes me a woman, no longer embarrassed by this need, no longer keeping silent about it in shame. And now I have a lot more resources.
After I read that article, I couldn’t get to a laptop quickly enough to ask how I could send some pads to Marcheta–for her to use with any of the teens in her ministry, including Tateanna.
Marcheta reported that most of her girls have experienced some combination of violence, abuse, broken homes, depression, even homelessness. I can’t identify personally with most of that. But I can relate to the struggle of finding a way to manage menstruation. This week, I turned that pain into power. For Tateanna, for other young women, and for me.