Nepal is known for practices that stigmatize and even isolate women during menstruation. But in Anoushka’s family, her periods were celebrated and honored.
When I was born, the nurses at the big community hospital in Kathmandu were more disappointed in my gender than any of my family members.
The first words the nurse said after she handed me to my grandfather were, “Maybe next time you will have somebody to carry the family name.”
My grandfather, not one to buy into Nepal’s history of son preference, immediately maneuvered the conversation. He didn’t want my first impression of him to be that of an angry old man.
Despite the nurse’s warning, neither my parents nor my grandparents wished for anybody else to fill my shoes. I was never denied the freedom to learn from my own mistakes, and I was given space to discover myself and my capabilities. My grandfather, who was a doctor himself, even taught me how to inject vaccines. Once, when I was 15, he let me medicate him for tetanus on my own.
I required a lot of love and care during my childhood because I was born with a hole in my heart. I had a heart surgery when I was 8 years old, and I require lifelong care and medication. My family never once complained about the exhausting amount of effort I required. Even my grandparents, who took care of me all day while both my parents worked never expressed frustration or disappointment.
When it came time for me to learn about menstruation, I remember my family being very open about the topic. Menstruation is still a taboo topic in Nepal, and there are a lot of traditions and negative beliefs that surround it. Especially in rural areas, Hindus view menstruating women as impure. While they have their periods, women are forced to remain in a hut or cowshed for days, a practice known as chhaupadi. The practice has led to deaths, attacks by wild animals, snake bites, disease, rape, and poor mental health outcomes.
In urban areas, this practice is not as extreme, but women are still mostly banned from taking part in normal family activities during menstruation and can have no contact with men of the household during their first menstrual cycle.
My experience was different. I had only heard about these practices in the daily news; never had I seen the women in my house isolate themselves due to their periods. My mother travelled a lot for work, so when I learned about menstruation, it was my father who taught me. He told me what I would have to do when I had mine for the first time. At home, my mother did things regardless of whether she had her period or not.
Still, as I grew older, I began to notice that some women I knew would not enter the kitchen at those times. I did not know that they weren’t allowed to enter temples or food preparation areas because of a self-presumed “untouchability.” This confused me as a child. I couldn’t understand why women loathed being on their periods, especially because I was having difficulty starting mine and my parents were concerned. They were talking to doctors, and they thought that maybe the surgery I had had at an early age had changed how my body worked. They were saddened that I would never have periods, so they sought medical intervention to initiate the days that other women did not seem to want.
All this escaped from my mind once I finally got my period naturally at the age of 14. I still remember the smile and relief my grandfather had when he looked at me that day. He did not isolate me from the male members of the family. He did not lock me up in my room. He did not confine me to the walls of the house, and he never restricted me from going to the kitchen during my period. Instead, my grandfather immediately got me a box of chocolates and made me some soup. He had read about cravings and cramps and the nutritional requirements for a young woman during her period.
In a country that confines women to cowsheds and isolated huts during menstruation, my grandfather decided to celebrate and honor the beginning of my womanhood.
When older men like my grandfather look past taboos and superstitions, they can empower and join women in the fight to reclaim and nurture our own bodies.
This story originally appeared on WorldPulse.com, a social networking platform connecting women worldwide for change. In the lead up to Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28), share your own experiences with menstruation for a chance to be published. We’ll be curating stories from all over the world in the coming weeks. Learn more.