Menstruation- Welcome That Monthly Visitor

Menstruation- Welcome That Monthly Visitor

The start of menstruation (or menarche) is a life changing event in a girl’s life.  It wouldn’t be an understatement to make that how the young girl is guided through this experience will have an impact on the rest of her life. Ask women around you about their own experience of their first period and they associate it with shame, horror, and shock…… anything but never joy or celebration. Menstruation is an important rite of passage for every girl then why is it associated with something to be embarrassed about? 

There is evidence that the cave men and women had rituals to celebrate menarche. Women were equated with the Earth and the menstrual flow with springs and streams. Young women would retire to caves, fast for their guardian spirits, and bond with Earth. They would sit on the earthen floor to allow menstrual flow to merge with Earth. Another theory is that the pheromones produced by menstruating women could alert the animals so for a hunting community that meant less food and also endangering it. Unfortunately over centuries misogynous cultures twisted and distorted it beyond recognition. So much so that something so natural transformed into something impure and dirty. While our ancestors considered women to be the source of spiritual power, we have dumbed down to a level where we choose to hide it. Some societies do have matrilineal initiation (mother to daughter) which definitely make it easier for both of them. Such rituals comfort the little girl rather than making her feel like a pariah. It also makes people around her, especially the men more aware.  

Even if we may not have elaborate rituals, we can start by raising the whispers to the level of a discussion in the living room. The average age to attain menarche ranges from 10-15 years. It’s a bad idea to wait until then and also to assume that this is a mother daughter thing. The sons also have to be made aware of life processes.  

As yucky as the sanitary napkin adverts may be, use them to your advantage. Little children often enquire about these ‘mommy diapers’. Do not squirm or wave it off. There may be no next time. Kids are perceptive enough to smell your hesitation. They will not bring it up with you but their curiosity will get the better of them. And where they will go to quench it, no one can tell. So might as well brace yourself for the onslaught. Start with simpler stuff. Talk about the ‘baby bag’ and that it has to be strong enough to hold the baby. And till the time girls are not big and strong, the lining of the bag keeps coming off loose. There now…… the cat is…..well out of the bag. You can take a break here but if the child has queries, answer them patiently. If the child is really small, no need to inundate with technical terms. It’s the practical aspects that bother children more than the technical. 

As the child grows, so should your discussions. You can’t set aside ‘a day’ for the birds and bees talk. It has to be a part of occasional conversation. Always remember, no one knows your child better than you, so take the responsibility of making him/her aware before they learn it the wrong way. Of course the depth of these discussions will be directly proportional to the child’s maturity and understanding. You will sense that your child feels empowered as this awareness increases. By the time kids, both boys and girls, hit puberty they should know what to expect in terms of changes in their bodies. 

As parents we also need to be looking out for the telltale signs like mood swings, cravings and physical changes. Growth spurt, breast development, curvier figure should tell us what to expect in the coming months. Usually a year after the growth spurt begins and approximately two and a half years after breast development starts, the first period may be expected. Do keep in mind that this entire process should have no negativity whatsoever attached to it. Often since mothers themselves have had bad experiences in their teens that unknowingly they just tend to pass it on. This chain essentially needs to be broken. If needed, fake it till you make it. Learn to say the word ‘menstruation’, if it makes you feel squeamish. Get THAT out of the way before you pass on that emotion to your child. There are enough colloquial terms going around- Auntflo, chums, cousin red and what not. You can later on move to them or have a code of your own. Make your daughter believe that these monthly cycles are natural and wonderful part of being a woman so she may feel proud and excited to begin her journey of power! 

Shop for personal hygiene products and sanitary napkins and teach her their importance and how to use them. Nowadays there are apps for smartphones that help track periods on a calendar. Teach your daughter how to use them. If the child is able to predict her periods it gives her a sense of control. Otherwise she’ll forever be worried and tense. Tracking may also help in a timely diagnosis of possible menstrual disorders

 or other health issues

. She needs to know that though it’s a monthly thing and lasts for 3-5 days but the initial few cycles may not be so regular. Cramps and bloating are to be expected. Hot water bottle or a hot bath help ease discomfort. There are pain killers that may help if it gets too unbearable. If the child is prepared, she feels less harassed. 

The girls need to know that periods should never cramp their lifestyle. Just for those five days she need not change the rest of the twenty five days. Some modifications may be required. It may be like a comma but not a full stop. In fact girls should be encouraged to be physically active. It aids in better flow and hence less cramps and also protects them against unhealthy weight gain and lifestyle linked diseases like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). 

Remember that if you intend to instill a sense of self-worth, puberty and periods need to be handled with responsibility. Talk early and often and plan a series of conversations. If your child doesn’t ask questions, you have to start talking. The conversations you have with your child today help lay down the groundwork for future talks about sexuality. Friends might provide inaccurate information so be open and stay honest. Talking also helps take away the fears that a child might have. All this adds up as in positively influencing your child’s body image. Reassure them you are there and stay positive.

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