Talking about menarche

How we speak to our daughters and sons about this topic is surely a pivotal time in their and our lives. My mother says her mother never spoke to her about her periods starting. Mum is the second daughter so her older sister got “the talk” from Nana and it was then my aunt’s job to prepare my mother.
Mum told me when I was 9. She was going to hospital to have my brother and she gave me a book called “Dear Daughter” and a set of sanitary towels. She obviously tried to improve on the preparation her mother gave her. I remember being confused about where the sticky part of the pad went and finally summoning the courage to ask a school friend. I asked Mum what she told my 4 brothers.
“That’s Dad’s job” she said. “He told me he’s told them the (Catholic) Church’s teaching”…

The subject probably comes up sooner and at younger ages for kids when bathroom doors aren’t locked and parents and kids are around each other for baths and showers.

Part of my problem here is that I don’t like any of the words we use. The Latin ones for a girl’s first bleed: menarche, and then menses and menstruation are all a bit distant and medical-sounding.
“Periods” just doesn’t convey anything much to me.
In secondary school, I had a headache and was accompanied to the Domestic Science room by a friend to request some paracetomol.
“Have you got your ‘friends’?” the teacher asked me.
“Well, C. came with me” I replied, wondering was there a new rule I’d broken, which stipulated 2 people got out of class to mind a sick person. It took a minute to click that this was the code word used by this woman in her middle years when talking to a teenager.

I see on facebook that AF (Aunt Flo) is the code.

I was in my late 30s before I read Anne Diamant’s book “The Red tent”, a wonderful novel which describes, among many other stories, the culture of menstruating women being apart from the community. It seemed to be a welcome break from the routines of home-making rather than a society’s attempt to isolate unclean females, but maybe I’m remembering the story incorrectly.

In our home, the youngest has haemophilia, a blood-clotting disorder, so bleeding can be extra-problematic and traumatic. I would probably hesitate to use the words bleed or blood to describe this occurrence.

I heard a woman on radio years back saying she describes the womb as a baby’s home and how the lining has to be cosy for the baby to grow and in the months when there’s no baby, the house has a kind of spring-clean and the lining comes away.

So that’s my dilemma: how to discuss this with my children, especially as my daughter is now 11, without being overly-medical and aloof, or coy and using euphemisms which convey the sense of the hidden and shameful.

Any suggestions welcome!

5 thoughts on “Talking about menarche

  1. Hi Monica, I will follow any comments with interest as this is on my mind too. Being mother to three girls I’d love to have the topic be open and discussed casually while they are still young, but breast feeding has meant I’m not currently ovulating, so it doesn’t come up naturally at the moment. My eldest is 7, so would love to get some ideas re terminology and simple but accurate explanations! Thanks in advance readers 🙂

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  2. Hi monica, my sons 6 and 2 are well used to my moon blood and know all about how it shows my body can make a baby, and they are familiar with my moon cup, accompanying me to toilets wherever I go, running commentary for all to hear! It’s as normal to them as me blowing my nose, hope it will stand them in good stead for the future. They also understand I get extra touched out and a bit cranky due to my period, and I think that side is as important too xx

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  3. I talked to my daughter when she was 9, right after I noticed changes in her breast. I taught her almost the same way I was taught. I was informed by my teachers at school–a Catholic school in USA. It was done very clinically, but I preferred that way. I knew exactly what body parts were involved and why and how hormones could cause us to feel different both mentally and physically. They even explained about the pads–ours at the time had no sticky backs and we were given a starter kit. So, on the day it all started at 11yrs old-I was actually excited about becoming a woman, and not afraid/worried about anything-but mostly, I was prepared.
    Our Irish mom only asked us if we had any questions after the school, we never really discussed it with her. With my daughter I went through the physical details, all of the ‘pre-symptoms’ the year before it would start, emotional aspects and even introduced new devices such as tampons(they were forbidden to us as kids) and the moon cup. We also discussed welcoming the changes, embracing womanhood and mostly the importance for her to get to know her body-to learn its rhythms. It is also important to talk to the girls about what to do after the pad is on—proper disposal, what to do in case they have a ‘surprise’ start while out, how to soak clothing, etc..—just talk to them honestly about all the little things-it empowers them and they won’t be caught out alone and worried.
    Both children knew at a young age about the fact that I bled-but for us it was mostly due to the fact I had severe endometriosis and bled almost daily for years and had many surgeries. They were told when they were young why it happens, but none of the details till they were both 9.
    My thoughts are—they need to know the facts, medical names for body parts make them more prepared to have sensible discussions about it, especially if they need to discuss it with a doctor. Using ‘code’ words always seemed to make it into something that should be hidden or we should be ashamed.
    So to sum up a very long comment: I highly recommend the proper technical terms and names for all body parts and functions—knowing how their bodies work is very important. Then discuss all the emotional sides, changes in moods, the joy of becoming a woman and what an amazing thing it is to have the capability to have a child if they choose.

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    • Hi Elizabeth. thanks for sharing our story. It’s so important to be honest with our children, especially when we have a health problem which impacts their lives. Some people believe children need to be protected but I think it’s much more confusing for a child to be dismissed and invalidated when they just KNOW their parents are suffering, physically or emotionally.

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