Let’s Talk Periods
Women have menstruated since the beginning of time. But people rarely speak of it directly. We’ve applied colorful metaphors to the monthly event in spades: Aunt Flo, On the Rag, I’m at a Red Light, Surfing the Crimson Tide, Checked into Red Roof Inn, Curse of Dracula, Leak Week, My Dot, and Monthly Oil Change. But do any of these funny images really give us the tools to deal with transition? Do they respect it?
All women experience this Rite of Passage, the physical mark that they’ve moved from childhood into womanhood. For some, it’s an easy transition, and for others it’s a bumpy ride — which was my own experience. I remember “the movie” at school: It was a Disney movie with Jimmy Cricket explaining puberty and periods. I wondered, as I left the presentation, what would a male cricket know about female puberty and periods? Honestly. Then during the summer of my 10th birthday, I was at Girls Scout camp on Catalina Island, and I started my period. I felt very lost and alone, and was too embarrassed to talk with anyone about it.
Since it has been dealt with since time out of mind — there are, after all, women who dealt with it since the dawn of history — and since it has been somewhat taboo, I thought it would be interesting to take a look its history. Online, I found “68 Random facts about periods.” I won’t bore you with all 68, but I thought sharing a few of the more pertinent would be a great way to explore this Rite of Passage.
- The term “period” in reference to menstruation dates from 1822 and means an “interval of time,” or a “repeated cycle of events.”
- The average number of times a woman will menstruate is around 150, different from our caveman ancestors who menstruated around 50 times. This makes perfect sense, since we usually complete menstruating around the age of 50 and our cavewoman was dead by the time she was 30 (if she was lucky).
- A girl’s first menstrual period is called a menarche (from the Greek word men = month + arkhe = beginning). For menarche to occur, a young woman must have an average of 17% body fat. Post-menarche ovulation and menses usually begins once the cycle has regulated and a 22% body fat is in place.
- The process from menarche to a regular cycle can take up to two years.
- Every girl’s body is different and unique and with every girl there are exceptions. The average age for menses to begin is 13.5 and up until the age of about 18, irregular periods are quite common because the body is still working on perfecting the system.
- In the United States, 97.5% of women have begun their menstrual cycles by the age of 16 (with little or none adequate education).
- At the time of ovulation, the ovum (“ovary” is from the Latin ovum or “egg,” and in classical Latin, ovaries meant “egg keeper”) is released and scooped up by the fibria.
- During the menstrual cycle, an egg is released and travels down the Fallopian tubes (named after Gabreillo Fallopio (1523-1562), who first described them) to the uterus. If a sperm does not fertilize the egg, the egg and lining from the uterus is expelled, creating menstruation.
- The uterine lining is made up of tissue, cells and blood. Its main purpose is in preparation of pregnancy.
- Regarding conception and pregnancy: Since an embryo is so small, the amount of uterine lining for implantation does not require more than a half a cup of fluid. (I can hear the comments already. “What do you mean ½ a cup! I’m sure my period is twice as much.” That might be true and in many cases, that’s due to hormonal imbalances and environmental issues. )
What About TAMPONS?
Pads & Tampons When it comes to pads and tampons modern day woman take for granted the tiny pad with wings. Not that long ago women (me being one) had to wear very uncomfortable belts and huge long pads (we’ve come a long way, baby).
The earliest commercial tampons were available in the early 1900’s but many felt it interfered with virginity. Most gynecologist feel by the age of 12, girls are physically mature enough to use one, especially if their participation in a sport makes wearing sanitary pads a challenge. When girls are ready to use a tampon, I suggest that moms put some Ky Jelly on the tip of the applicator, which will make insertion much easier. This is a great time to let girls become aware and comfortable with their anatomy, and I often suggest as well that moms give girls a mirror to see where everything is located around the vulva.
If for any reason you have a daughter who is younger and needs to be in a pool, gymnastics or perhaps dance, don’t jump right into the tampons. Contact your gynecologist and get their advice.
Most of the girls in my classes (ages 9 – 14) still think that urine comes out of the vagina. In my older mother/daughter courses, I actually demonstrate with a plastic model so that girls understand the anatomy of putting in a tampon. This is a huge help for girls who may be totally clueless, but in a sport that makes pads a challenge.
In the first paragraph, some of the descriptive words don’t paint a very positive picture of periods. They’re anatomical or weird sounding. But that doesn’t have to be you — or your daughter’s — experience of menstruation. In my courses, I invite mothers to find a way to celebrate when their daughters begin menstruating, without being weird or tense. This is a Rite of Passage, and it deserves notice, and positive notice, with a focus on self-care and personal value. So, with positives in mind, here some DON’T’s:
- DO NOT: Present your daughter with large red balloons stating: “Congratulations, you started your period!”
- DO NOT: Make red velvet cake (she’ll never eat it again)
- DO NOT: Post about her on social media; that means Facebook and Twitter
- DO NOT: Announce it to the entire family at the next big gathering or holiday
- DO NOT: Go out to dinner, and have the waiters sing: “Happy period to you, Happy period to you!” No. Really. DO NOT.
But now, let’s really focus on the positives. Here are some serious DO’S:
- DO: Go shopping for products
- DO: Go get a mom/daughter mani/ pedi
- DO: Make a special lunch date with your daughter
- DO: Give a bouquet of flowers if you’re the dad
- DO: Teach her how to nurture herself during her period
- DO: Use positive language, Mom
- DO: Make sure she has a “period kit” for her backpack
Whatever your personal beliefs are about periods, I invite you to help your daughter begin her journey on a positive note. Acknowledge her fears and concerns and let her know you’ll be there for her throughout the puberty, menstruation and adolescence and she came come to you with any questions or concerns you might have.
Side note: I have had several fathers in my Puber-Tea course who are the primary parent. I encourage their attendance for the obvious reason that they will be there during this very important transition. Dads, you also need the tools and language to help and support your daughters.
In closing, I hope you can come away from this with a sense of empowerment and confidence to relate to your daughter during this extremely important transition in her life.
But if you have any questions, please jot them down and leave me a comment!
What were your hardest experiences around puberty? What do you believe about menstruation? How can you be there for yourself, as well as your child, now, to make menstruation a Rite of Passage, not doorstop or trauma? Educating and empowering!
Founder and Director