By Julia Wilkinson-Minks
I don’t really remember a lot of the sexual education that I had in elementary school. I remember there was a lot of giggling from my peers, and probably from myself as well. My mother had done a very thorough job of ensuring that my sister and I were as “prepared” as we could be for the world of womanhood, and, thanks to my sister being older, I had an example as to what to expect when it came to puberty living in the bedroom beside mine.
One of the things I do remember, however, is this whole idea of what is “normal” or “average” when it comes to puberty. Just to jog my memory, I recently Googled “What is the normal age to get your period?” and the consensus seemed to be that as early as eight or as late as thirteen or fourteen was “normal”. Well, no wonder that all I remember about sexual education is that I felt like there was something wrong with me.
My older sister developed within this “normal” range. She started wearing a bra in sixth grade; and as a result I dubbed her—quite unoriginally—“bra-wearer”. I think that just showed that, from an early age, I wanted to be on board the puberty train: I was jealous. I wanted to wear a bra and have to carry tampons in my backpack too! Turns out, I was in for a very, very long wait.
That isn’t to say that my teacher-mother (who actually is a teacher by profession) didn’t warn me that this would likely be the case. She tried to tell me that even if the handouts from health class told me something was “normal”, that didn’t necessarily mean it was.
For example, the whole “your period might last 3-5 days”? Well, to my mother, this was the world’s biggest lie. Sometimes hers lingers on for eleven days. Yup, you read that right: eleven days. For me, I often get the four days on, then nothing, and then the old horror movie trick: you know, how “the killer always comes back for one last scare”? It’s like every month my body’s lot in life is to ruin a nice pair of panties.
Anyway, my mom bought me my first bra in seventh grade, even though I was as flat as Saskatchewan. She didn’t believe in “training bras” because, as she used to say: “What are you training your breasts to do? Jump through hoops?” But, she bought me a bra before I physically needed one anyway so that I wouldn’t feel like a weirdo when I changed for gym class. My first bra had no underwire: it was essentially a sports bra with a clasp. And, following form, as the girls in my class got their periods one by one, I waited, jealously. I read and re-read “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” hoping that Judy Bloom’s words would help kick-start my reproductive engine and launch me into womanhood. But, seventh grade came and went.
As did eighth. And ninth.
I finally got my first period in November of tenth grade: I was fifteen and a half. I remember actually not believing what I was seeing in the bathroom, because the fact that I “didn’t have a uterus” had become such an ingrained running joke among my friends and me. The irony is that I wanted my period so badly, but by my second cycle I would’ve done anything to send it back. Apparently I was blessed with being a member of the “gals with excruciating cramps” club. In fact, a few months ago I woke up and thought I had food poisoning in the middle of the night because my stomach was so upset and my cramps were so severe. Nope, turns out it was just my monthly gift!
The reason I wanted to write about this, is because when it comes to puberty, there is no normal. I have long given up on hoping that my A-Cups will someday turn into the likes of my sister’s D’s. Whether you are the first or the last in your class to buy a bra, or need to use tampons, pads, or –here’s hoping—The DivaCup, you are still your own normal.
I have always liked to do things my own way. I learned to write before I could read. Instead of getting a real job out of college, I followed my dreams and swam in my second Olympic Games. This January, I married the man of my dreams who just happened to grow up three thousand miles away from me. I didn’t get my period until I was fifteen and a half, and, when I’m at race weight, I still don’t really need to wear a bra. My life, to most people, would not seem normal. But it’s my normal: and I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s.
So, when it comes to teaching your daughters about their periods, try to leave out the word “normal” or “average”, because in the world of Puberty, that will be unique for each and every girl.
Retiring from competitive swimming in early 2013, Julia Wilkinson-Minks swam competitively since the age of 8 and is not only a two time Canadian Olympian swimmer, but also currently holds the Canadian record in the 50-meter backstroke with a time of 28:09 sec. Julia is also a guardian to her pet hedgehog Roxy, a guest writer for CBC’s blog and SwimNews, and recently became an announcer for collegeswimming.com. Look for her on the pool deck this season!