On my first day at the New York Times, I did something that I wouldn't wish on my most mortal enemy: I woke up at 6:30 a.m. Restless and nervous, I headed to the bathroom, pulled down my pants, and … it was a crime scene.
The day before, I had my first grown-up period. A few weeks prior, I had gone off the pill, which I had taken since I was 17. I got my period when I was 12, which is normal, but I was a freshman in high school, which wasn't. By that point, having your period was passé. All we talked about that year was fingering and being fingered, so while I thought there might have been something weird about my period, I didn't really have anyone to talk to about the five or so pads I was going through every day.
When I lost my virginity, I swung by my college's student health center to "talk about my options." Thirty minutes later, I had a pill pack and a pamphlet. I began them that day, and I quickly fell in love. My period became well behaved; its regularity comforted me, and, over the years, it got shorter and lighter. By year five, I was averaging a two-day cycle, regular tampons, no cramps. It was heaven.
In March, I stopped taking the pill. I had been on it for half my menstrual life, and I was curious to see what I was really like, without all the additional hormones. (The weird side effects of stopping were minimal — I had a week of straight headaches, then a week of unquenchable horniness. It was the closest I'd ever come to feeling like Drake.)
That morning, I got back from the bathroom. I texted my best friend from college, the only person I knew who would be awake at that hour. I told her about my period flood; she told me to look for ultra tampons.
I Googled "tampon absorbency" and got the following categories: light, regular, super, super plus, and ultra, which I didn't even know existed. Each came with a few fun-and-flirty facts: "Light-absorbency tampons absorb six grams of blood or less." Or: "Many women find that regular-absorbency tampons are good for most of the days of their period." I scrolled down to ultra, basically the equivalent of a feminine-hygiene product that was held back in school for three to four years.
"Ultra-absorbency tampons absorb from 15 to 18 grams of menstrual blood. Most women will never need to use ultra-absorbency tampons." Somehow, this comforted me: I didn't need ultra tampons. Apparently, no one did! I hadn't found the group for which I am considered the one percent, but there was no way it'd be menstrual freaks. I was just a normal girl having a heavy day.
I soldiered on. The first-day outfit I had all picked out — a gray-and-navy striped dress — became a terrible idea. I needed reinforcements, which is just a better word for pants. I left the house in a blazer, jeans, and a super-plus tampon (12 to 15 grams of blood).
On your first day at the Times, they take you to the Page One meeting, where an editor from every section of the paper gathers around one big table and they fight for a place on A1. The meeting began, and editors started to squabble. In Metro, there was an election. In Style, there was a trend. In my pants, there was a disaster.
In Metro, there was an election. In Style, there was a trend. In my pants, there was a disaster.
I was able to hold it together through Page One; the red scare didn't occur until my benefits meeting. Suddenly, I knew, and I couldn't figure out how to escape without disrespecting my commuter benefits, which I can't tell you a single thing about. When that presentation ended, I excused myself to the bathroom, sneaking a peek at the chair.
Let's just say it used to be white.
Once I finally got to a toilet (have you ever tried to casually run around the New York Times looking for the bathroom while covering your butt with your hands?), I strategized, and stuffed a bunch of paper towels down my pants, just to make sure. The stain didn't show through my pants — but how would I get it off the seat?
Here's what I did: I wet a few paper towels and put them in my pocket. I walked back to the conference room and tried to get back into my seat and over the stain as quickly as possible. I surreptitiously took the paper towels out of my pocket and slid them under my butt. For the remainder of the meeting, I wiggled my heart out. And at the end of the meeting, I scooped up the paper towels, stood up, and, by the grace of Jill Abramson, the stain was gone. (And that's why they call me the Menstrual MacGyver.)
In retrospect, it's almost the best thing to have happened to me on my first day, because I can't imagine anything worse. And talk about proving my résumé: I thought on my feet. I was resourceful. I didn't buckle under pressure, and I was solution-oriented. If anything, I had only demonstrated my worth.
The next day, I found ultra tampons, and soon, the week was over, and I was home free. I started my second week with the confidence of a woman who no longer had blood leaking out of her vagina. Later that day, the New York Times won three Pulitzers. (You do the math.) At the end of the week, I got my period. Again.
So dudes: Fuck buying bouquets, and start buying your lady friends tampons.
Being a woman is hard. It's a public fight for equality, to see our sisters in schools and legislatures, to be paid the same amount of money as men, and to secure our jobs if we want to start a family, but it's also just trying to get through the day without worrying about whether or not there's a stain on your butt. It is sweaty and gross and often expensive. So dudes: Fuck buying bouquets, and start buying your lady friends tampons.
My shiny new health insurance has started, but I haven't ameliorated this problem — I'm still searching for a good gyno who will take my insurance and maybe toss me a few free ultra tampons. But until then, to quote my headline-writing colleagues: "In Brooklyn, a Flood."
Jazmine Hughes is an associate editor at the New York Times Magazine.