Little girls start preparing for menstruation as soon as they become conscious of their mother’s bleeding tides in the same way that they lay the foundation for their mothering years by playing with dolls and teddies. They absorb the messages their mothers give them, be these conscious or unconscious, positive or negative. They are sopping it all up regardless.
Our very first menstrual period is called our ‘menarche’. It comes from the Greek: mēn ‘moon’ and arkhē ‘beginning’. Most women don’t know the word and even those that do, disagree about how it is pronounced! This pretty much sums up the sorry state of society with regard to entrance to womanhood and what should be a major rite of passage. (For the record, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s pronounced men/ar/key ).
The studies I looked at found that on average, British girls reach their menarche at 12.9 years, with the normal range lying between 10 and 15 years. It can happen much earlier though, even to girls as young as 8 or 9. No parent wants their daughter to be caught unprepared and it makes sense to start the process of readying her as early as we can. A one-off awkward conversation when she is 11 is definitely not enough and could be too late…
Many adult women carry their own unresolved menstrual baggage with them throughout their whole life. Many find it embarrassing and inconvenient at best; shameful and painful at worst. Mothers often want their daughters to have a better experience than themselves without knowing how to go about this. It can be difficult to separate our daughter from ourself and so unconsciously we pass on our shame. Daughters then pass this onto their daughters and so discomfort and denial abound in generation after generation of women. For women who did have a positive experience of menarche and enjoy menstruation, all too often society conspires against this, making us feel that womb-bleeding is a personal affair that must be kept hidden and secret at all costs.
Often menarche as well as menstruation is an uncomfortable topic for women. They don’t want to dwell on feeling that their own mother may have let them down. It takes courage and compassion to re-evaluate our own experience and resolve to do things differently, to try and change our relationship with our menstrual blood for the sake of our daughter and future generations of our female line. We don’t have to frame this activity in a critical context; instead we can appreciate the limitations of our mother (or whoever else was there) which were hugely influenced by the values of that particular epoch. Preparing your girl also gives you a huge opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. You can ceremonially reclaim your own menarche if you want to, even if you are long past the menopause and in your wise woman years. It is never too late.
When your daughter has her first blood, this is often a bittersweet experience for mothers. Our baby is growing up, separating from us, carving her own womanly identity. It is a poignant moment for mothers and can be painful. (My girls are not there yet, but I have talked to many older, wiser women who tell me it is so). For some it is juxtaposed with our own dwindling fertility and this brings up conflicting emotions. However, it can also be empowering, seeing your daughter start her journey through the bleeding years and being there to guide and support her, as an older wise woman. This is your journey as well as hers, as mother of a young woman, rather than a child. There are always other strong sisters there to support you with on this part of womanhood, to listen to you and gently guide you – if you look out for them.
On average women menstruate for 37 years of their life (varying according to umber of pregnancies and other factors). This tots up to 460 periods in a lifetime, equivalent to about 5 to 7 years of bleeding. Given this, surely it is worth preparing our daughters for this huge chunk of their womanhood?
I am running a day workshop at the Red Wisdom Hearth, on Sunday 15th June for women where we will explore how to prepare your daughter for menarche and menstruation. Please contact me if you would like more information and to book your place. If you are a father wanting some support, then please also get in touch.