I remember the first time my mother spoke to me about menstruation. Since my mother had her period before most of her friends, she felt it necessary for her to give me all the details before I was surprised in a bathroom cubicle.
That open conversation with my mother made me feel somewhat prepared for my first period. I wanted to do the same for my own children. Although my oldest had a lot of questions and wasn’t a fan of the concept of monthly periods, she now feels empowered with information for when her time comes.
My kids see that I get my period
Since I was the only girl in my family and my mother had a hysterectomy after the birth of my twin brothers, I had no experience with periods. I’ve never seen her change pads or tampons in the shopping cart. I’m glad she took the time to explain things properly. When my period finally started, I felt prepared.
Now, in our house, I get my period. We have six people and only one bathroom, so it’s obvious to everyone in the house that there’s a time when Mommy bleeds.
I once caught my toddler son trying to get a drink from the bathroom sink using my menstrual cup he found in the cupboards.
Menstruation is part of life in our home and it seemed that my daughters’ knowledge developed in a more natural way. I started to think that maybe we wouldn’t need a conversation, that they would understand naturally through observation.
Recently my oldest daughter, who is 8, came to me with some pointed questions. She didn’t want to learn about menstruation by osmosis. She had gathered enough pieces of the puzzle to realize I hadn’t started with the corner and edge pieces first. She wanted a detailed bulleted list.
We talk openly about menstruation
Sitting on her bed, I shared the basics and told her I would answer all her questions honestly.
“Does it hurt?” Yes, for me, but I can function. It’s different for everyone. It can hurt more or hardly at all.
“What if it happens at school?” Go to the nurse. She raised an eyebrow and said, “I’m not going to talk to her about that.” When I reminded her that the nurse was probably also on her period, she seemed a little more comfortable.
“When can I expect it?” Honestly, much sooner than it happened to me and my friends. The age of onset of puberty has dropped, and as a black girl she probably starts at an even younger age than her white peers. I told her it would probably happen sometime in the next few years and would continue until she was in her 50s.
Her mouth dropped open. She had no idea. “A week a month for almost my entire life? That can’t be true.” Her facial expressions varied between shock and sadness.—Meg St-Esprit (@MegStEsprit) February 10, 2022
We have books available for them to get answers
My youngest daughter is 3. I have already tried to correct the mistakes I made with her sister. Regular, normalizing and intentional conversations about our bodies and how it works are now part of the fabric of our family.
I’ve learned that a combination approach is probably best. Regular healthy talking over the years is important. It is also important to sit down as puberty looms and have an intentional, special moment where your child can ask all the questions and voice their fears. I’ve found a whole bunch of great books to have on our shelves.
I had a moment where I wondered what would happen if my two sons picked up the books and started leafing through. I’ve decided that all the books can be put together on the shelf. They know and love people who have their periods.
Recently I checked with my oldest if she had any questions. She talked about the tampon machine in her school’s bathroom and felt stronger now because she knew what it was for.
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