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BODY AND MINDMy first period by Rachael Sarto I got my first period when I was 11. The night before, I had a dream. I was staying in the woods with an old woman and an old man. One night we had an elephant for dinner. I didn’t want to eat it. I didn’t even want to look at it, but the old woman said, “Everything needs to go, everything must die.” It was a Friday night when I went to the bathroom and saw the creamy brown spot on my underpants. I didn’t know what it was and my mom wasn’t there, so I just sat down and spaced out for a few minutes. Then my flow began in earnest – red – and I knew what it was. When my mom came home I said, “Guess what? I got my period!” “No,” she said surprised, “Did you put on a pad?” Then she got on the phone and called my grandmother and my aunts. My mom said we needed to do something to celebrate, but she wasn’t sure what. We ended up going out to dinner with some women. It was kind of intellectual, but everyone gave me gifts. I didn’t menstruate again until five months later, but then it got fairly regular. By the next summer, I was annoyed with my cycle and started getting cramps. In September, there was going to be a Coming Of Age class for girls who were beginning to menstruate, given by Layne Humphrey a local menstrual health educator. My mom really wanted me to take this class. I didn’t want to go because it was the same day as a school picnic. But she insisted I go because one of the teachers, Tamara Slayton, would only be in town for the weekend. I kind of wanted to do it but it seemed weird to take a class about my period.When we arrived, Tamara was downstairs and she looked really happy. She smiled at me and I started to feel better about being there. I felt pretty good about the class because it was small. I didn’t have to deal with a bunch of people I didn’t know. We learned about foods that are good to eat in relation to our cycles. We talked about our cycles and how they relate to the moon’s cycle. We learned how to keep track of our cycles. We also made dolls, which I really liked. I made a doll with red hair and extravagant clothes. When we were done, we went around and said what our dolls’ names were. My doll’s name was Rosisha.Then they asked us what our dolls wanted to do. I said my doll wants to live in the woods and not have to relate to people. I felt better about having my cycle after attending the class. Now, I have become more aware of where I am in my cycle. I can use my cycle to understand that I am going through a change and be patient with myself. I see that when I eat certain foods, my cycle is uncomfortable. I also understand that stress affects my cycle. When I talk about menstruation to my friends, I feel like I have a positive attitude. When one of my friends got her period, I welcomed her into this change. I bought her some cloth menstrual pads. I wear cloth pads now. They are a little more work, but I think it is worth it. They don’t feel so icky and uncomfortable, and they are pretty. They also help our planet by preventing the trash that is created by disposable period products.As I learned in the class, I keep a chart about my changes. I keep my dreams in another journal and note what day of the cycle I am on when I have a very strong dream. I can really see the difference in how I feel when I am in the parts of my cycle. When I am bleeding, red in the chart above, I pull in. I am deep; I want to be heard and insist on being heard. I love myself and want to be alone. In the most fertile part of my cycle - purple in the chart -I am social and bubbly and I love the world. My cycle is an important part of my life. For me menarche is a physical change and a spiritual change.Each and every girl’s menarche — her first menstruation — is beautiful and significant and important, no matter what the world says! No culture can destroy the bond of menstruation. I only wish there weren’t so many restrictions. If I ever have a daughter, I hope that she will have even more support and welcoming when she has her first period. When she wrote this, Rachael was 13, played the cello and liked to read, write, and relax. Today she’s a Clinical Social Worker, mom, and Psychotherapist who works with people with serious illness or disability. And she still plays the cello like she did 28 years ago.