Welcome To Womanhood
Everyone is different. Certainly, every woman is different, yet in many ways very much alike. The main aspect of being a woman that totally sets us apart from men is that we're equipped to conceive, carry, and birth babies. However, that equipment isn't fully functional until a specific point in time when menses occurs. Menstruation, or menses, is the point where the ovaries are mature enough to release eggs and unless the egg is fertilized, the uterus sloughs off the lining it has prepared for a pregnancy.
Menarche, Different For Each Person
The very first menstrual period is called "menarche" (pronounced Mee-narkee). The word is made up of two Greek words that mean moon and beginning. The word is used only in connection with the very first menstrual period. Any reference after that is usually to menstruation or "period." Interestingly, there is a lot written about the lunar connection of the menstrual cycle and the effect of the moon upon menstruation.
Menarche usually occurs when a girl is between the ages of 11 and 14, although some have been known to arrive at menarche as early as nine or as late as 15. If you haven't had menarche by the age of 15, it is important to see a doctor to determine if there is something problematic. Sometimes the opening of the cervix is closed and needs to be opened surgically. If that is the case, then all of the symptoms of menstruation occur, but there is no bleeding. A simple surgery opens the cervix and the uterus is able to release the tissue and blood normally.
Signs Along The Way
Most girls are prepared in some way for menarche, having heard, read, or been taught about it at home or in school. The day it actually happens can be very exciting and even a little bit scary. A few days before you might feel a bit bloated and you might be feeling tense or cranky and emotional. Your breasts may feel tender and you may feel cramps in your back and abdomen. When it starts, there will be some blood on your pants or on the tissue when you use the bathroom. At the beginning, the flow of blood from the vagina is light and often brown in color. It will become heavier and then taper off again before it is finished. Your period will usually last between 3 and 7 days each month.
Your Menstrual Cycle
Your period is part of your "menstrual cycle" which is counted from the first day of your menstrual period until the first day of the next period. Normally the menstrual cycle is between 21 and 35 days, but most girls have their period every 25 to 30 days.
It takes a little while for your body to get the hang of menstruation, which means that your periods may be irregular for a while, maybe for up to a year or two. Your cycle may be between 21 and 40 days, or you may miss a period entirely. If you are underweight from dieting or heavy exercising, then you may miss your period often, or have a hard time becoming regular.
For information about spotting and cramping before your period, check out our menstruation forum.