Why it’s so important to celebrate Menarche
Since age 16, I’ve been a fan of my period showing up. I started periods at the tender age of 10, when I wasn’t much of a fan at all to be honest. So hearing that 6 years later I began to welcome them may sound strange, but bear with!
Half way through Year 12, I had a minor health scare whereby my period went AWOL for 3 months, resulting in a nerve-wracking ultrasound, a rather tactless radiographer putting the fear of death into me, and (luckily) a rather large cyst that finally burst leaving me deeply relieved that I had avoided emergency surgery and losing an ovary. Ever since, except when it’s meant miscarriages (another entirely different story for another time and audience), I’ve been grateful for my period and for my body working away quietly as it does. I know that this has powerfully impacted how I treat myself each month, and the gratitude that I have for my body and my health has been the most beautiful blessing to come from this rather scary experience.
Why am I sharing this? Well there’s some pretty neat research demonstrating the link between period positivity and body esteem, healthy decision making and more. And so today I’d love to share why celebrating menarche (the first period) and honouring periods is so important for your child (plus, it’s way cooler to learn compassion and gratitude from the outset rather than wait for it to show up after a health event!)
First up, I’d like to address the very real point that not everyone has a great experience with their period. This post isn’t love and lighting away the fact that periods can really suck sometimes, and for far too many of us, we go undiagnosed for stupid lengths of time seeking answers to why we are in crippling pain or suffering with intense hormonal fluctuations on a regular basis (please trust your body and teach your child to, too. If you experience pain that stops you from participating in life, keep asking questions and don’t take no for an answer). What’s important, however, is to establish a positive relationship with the body so we can look upon ourselves with compassion, decipher what it’s trying to communicate to us, and act accordingly.
In 2020, I trained with Celebration Day for Girls™ in order to deepen my understanding of holistic, positive period education. As a Health teacher who was (is!) deeply passionate about a positive experience through puberty and helping students navigate this time in an empowered way, I wanted to explore the reasons, impacts, and power behind the taboo of the period. Why is it universally accepted that we should all hate our periods? Why do boys and men often use the period to shame women if they speak up or get pissed off about something? How did we all come to understand it as ‘the curse’ and why have we accepted this? There is so much cultural programming that we have internalised, and that we need to interrupt in order to avoid passing this on to our children, especially to those with periods. We don’t want them to hate their bodies for doing the most natural thing in the world each month. You absolutely have the power to change this narrative for them, on your own, or with the support of a positive period educator like myself, even if (especially if!) you had a terrible experience yourself (that’s all the more reason to get amongst it!)
The taboo around periods is a massive subject, and I can recommend a bundle of books you can dive into if called (they’re listed at the bottom of this post for you). What fascinates me the most though, and makes a huge amount of sense, is that researchers have found there’s a direct link between how we experience periods early on and our relationship to our body, and then by extension our sexual decision making (Pickering & Bennett, About Bloody Time, 2019). Just have a think about that for a moment. Consider all the critical comments you’ve ever made about your body. Consider those that you might have heard come from your child. Think about who or what they are comparing themselves to (or inevitably will someday soon). And then think about how you struggle to manage that. Well, one easy, positive and beautiful way to help arm them for this intensely competitive and comparative world they enter into is to start by affirming the body as it begins its menstrual journey.
I’m not suggesting that taking a period positive stance is a panacea for everything here, but it does get your child started on the right foot with their body. When we learn about our bodies and show gratitude and compassion for the cycles they take each month, what those hormones are responsible for and how they communicate to us, we can approach pain, mood swings, and the myriad of other potential changes and disruptions with more understanding. We give them (and hopefully ourselves, because this totally applies to you too!) more scope to communicate what they need, and invite them to work with, rather than against, their cycle. (The gorgeous and talented Lucy Peach is an awesome one for using our cycles to empower our lives, and I totally recommend her epic TED Talk and her book, Period Queen.)
Also to take into consideration here is the fact that many children grieve their perceived end of childhood when menarche arrives. By celebrating this important rite of passage and acknowledging your child’s feelings, this helps support them through a transition that can be very confusing and upsetting. There are so many beautiful ways you can mark this special time – and you should! Here’s some key pointers to get you started:
- Congratulate your child and let them know how proud you are of them. Avoid a hush hush response or trying to hide products away from others in the household. Show them by demonstration that there’s nothing to be ashamed of
- Normalise periods and talking about periods in your house. Adopt a no shame policy! That includes for any non-bleeders in the house. Everyone needs to show respect and compassion for those on their period. Talk about how you might support each other through that time
- Make sure you have products ready to go for when the day arrives and your child knows where to find them
- Talk about your first period. Have important women in your child’s life share their stories. Perhaps they could write her a letter to open and read when her menarche comes
- Come along to a Celebration Day with your child! It’s such a beautiful way to honour both of you before menarche arrives or soon after
- Put together a little gift bundle for the special day it arrives. This could include a hot water bottle, period undies, period products, and perhaps an item of jewellery that signifies this rite of passage. Personally, I like to wear garnet stud earrings when I’m bleeding – it makes me feel like I’m marking a special occasion, even if no one else knows or notices
- Talk about the body with gratitude, curiosity and compassion. Teach your child to listen to what it’s telling them – do you need to rest, for example
There are countless ways to mark the occasion and communicate your pride and love for your child at menarche. I love the whole process as someone who celebrates her bleed, but if you struggle to get onboard with period positivity (which is totally understandable given the world we live in and our varied experiences!) do at least remember that link to improved body esteem and healthier sexual decision making. That alone to me shows the deep importance of this work and the duty we have to our children here.
SOME GREAT RESOURCES
- Her Blood is Gold – Lara Owen
- A Blessing Not a Curse – Jane Bennett
- Period Repair Manual – Lara Briden
- Period Queen – Lucy Peach
- About Bloody Time – Jane Bennett, Karen Pickering
- Celebration Day for Girls
About the author.