I don’t remember my first period, which means my mother had me well prepared. This doesn’t mean I was okay with it. I remember feeling awkward and tense each time. And honestly, for many years, shopping for feminine hygiene products filled me with unease. But wait a minute! There shouldn’t be anything shameful about something that will recur for about half of a woman’s life! Who decided it was to be a sensitive subject? Aren’t we all supposed to show empathy towards each other when it comes to this?
I say, pass the Midol around, sister!
I knew the time was coming for me to get my daughter prepared for her first period. I watched her grow with wonderment, from a black-and-white blob on the first ultrasound picture, to a tall and shy preteen. She had not been impressed with the changes puberty had brought to her body and I was worried she would be quite upset about starting her periods. Oh, the many times she cried in frustration at leaving childhood behind! I didn’t want her to feel resentful and view her period as a nuisance. Yet, menstruating is more than just about procreation. Where should I begin?
My goal was for her to feel assertive about whom she was becoming. I didn’t want my daughter to be embarrassed, fearful, awkward or worried about having her periods. I wanted her to feel normal and proud to be part of the big tribe of women that we are.
I was going to tell my daughter the truth (unlike my health class teacher!), so I did some research to make sure I got my facts right. It took many sessions of mother-daughter alone time. I helped her get familiar with this whole new womanhood vocabulary. I started by pointing out the signs she should look for, indicating her imminent first period: between the ages of 10 and 15 years old, roughly 2 years after the breasts have started to develop and after the appearance of hair to the underarms and pubis.
At that point, she went a bit melodramatic on me. It was difficult to reach through her shyness but I wasn’t going to quit so easily. There is no taboo subject with my children. This is for their protection. The saying goes: Knowledge is power, or knowledge is a dangerous thing. I believe that knowledge is also a protection.
I showed her how to count a menstrual cycle, from the first day of the period to the day just prior to the next period. I told her to expect irregularity for the first few years while her hormones are still adjusting. Her periods could last anywhere from 2 to 7 days, and her cycle between 21 to 45 days. Thereafter, her hormones would become more stable, her adult cycle lasting between 21 and 34 days, with 3 to 4 days of blood flow. I accentuated the fact that the amount of blood lost during a period varies greatly, from 2 to 6 tablespoons (30 to 90 milliliters) and from one woman to another.
Next, I had to address her reserved, timid nature by giving her a discreet little bag her sister and I had sewn to carry some pads with her in her satchel. This way, even if her first period came upon her unexpectedly, there would be no need to scuttle around in a panic for feminine hygiene products.
The nurse in me also instructed her of the signs and symptoms indicating a problem. She knows she can always check with me, but there’s no need to worry unless her period lasts longer than 7 days, if one pad is completely soaked every hour or two, if more than 3 months go by in between periods, if she bleeds throughout her cycle, or if she has severe pain with the period.
Of course, we talked about PMS. There are aches and cramps, but you’re not dying. Irritability, but there’s no need to take it out on anybody. Inexplicable sadness, and it’s okay to cry. Being aware of what her body goes through helped her to understand why we experience PMS. Blame it on the hormones. I enjoyed telling her how to minimize PMS through moderate, regular exercise, eating a varied and balanced diet, having a full night’s sleep and not smoking, not to mention the many other benefits of such habits. I encouraged her to stick to her normal, everyday activities.
Then we went shopping. She squirmed and rolled her eyes at me but came along and chose herself the feminine hygiene product she thought would best suit her.
The day came, and I was so proud of my daughter! She was cool as a cucumber and went as if nothing had happened. She will never cease to amaze me. My little girl is becoming a woman. Welcome to the womanhood!