Rukia Henry lives in Washington, D.C., where she is a student at Howard University. Originally from Linden, Guyana Rukia contributed to our Everywhere, Period series, where we’re aiming to demystify periods everywhere.
How old were you when you first got your period and what was that experience like?
I got my first period when I was 11 years old. My experience wasn’t unusual because my mother explained to me earlier, around age 10, that it was a part of becoming a teenager and young woman. I did not understand exactly what was happening to my body, or specifically why it was happening, which I attribute to perhaps being too young to understand. Nonetheless, I was comfortable and sort of excited about ‘becoming a young woman,’ or that I was maturing at such a young age.
In your community, is there much weight given to a girl getting her period? Any rituals or traditions?
Growing up in my community, there weren’t any rituals nor any taboos that I can recall around a girl getting her period. It would just be associated with her ‘getting big,’ or growing into a young woman. However, I do recall one girl telling me once when she was traveling in public transportation, a man who was a part of the Rastafarian religion, asked her if she was having her period before he sat next to her. If she was menstruating, then she was considered unclean and impure and he could not sit next to her. I am also aware of stories where men of this religion would not eat food prepared by their wives while they were menstruating.
Do you remember the first product(s) you used to manage your period?
The first products I used to manage my period was sanitary napkins, or pads as they are called in Guyana.
How has your experience with your period changed over time?
Overtime, I’ve learned to become more intimately connected with my body, which meant educating myself about the menstrual cycle and understanding why my body is going through this process. This has helped me appreciate my bodily mechanisms more and has proved beneficial in preparing me to manage the symptoms associated with periods, such as cramping and back pains
Have you tried or do you use different products to manage your period now?
Definitely! When I lived in Guyana, I only used sanitary napkins, which were and are the product predominantly sold in supermarkets and pharmacies. My first exposure to tampons was through TV commercials. It was so novel to me and when I enquired what it was, I was told that it’s like a pad, but if you’re a virgin you can’t use it. So I grew up most of my teenage years thinking that anyone who used a tampon wasn’t a virgin. Moving to America for college and doing my own research provided the facts that this notion was far from the truth, and that anyone can use tampons, virgin or not. I even found it more effective in helping to manage leaks at the side of my underwear, which I used to experience using pads, especially at nights.
Do you have any special rituals, like a hot bath, using essential oils, or eating certain foods during the week you’re menstruating, that help you manage your period?
When I’m expecting my period, I drink lots of tea. My favorite teas are turmeric and ginger, ginger and peppermint and green tea. I find that this helps to regulate my cycle and helps ease my symptoms. Growing up, I would also drink a lot of passion fruit juice which also helped. I recently found that since changing my diet to vegetarian, and steadily decreasing my intake of animal products like cheese has helped tremendously with my cramping. I also stay hydrated by drinking close to a gallon of water a day.
Do you have any advice for a girl who has just gotten her period?
Like I was taught, periods are a part of growing into a young woman, and it is nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. As a matter of fact, it even makes you a superwoman, especially when you balance your discomforts like cramps with going to school, doing chores and living life. We don’t get to put our life on pause because of it, and it makes you realize you have the strength to conquer the world.
Thank you so much, Rukia!