Menarche is perhaps one of the most significant and powerful stages in the life of a woman. The word ‘Menarche’ pronounced men’ar’key comes from the Greek words ‘Moon’ and ‘Beginning’. At menarche there is a psychic opening (the pineal gland undergoes much activity) and these changes often make the young woman feel permeable and easily imprinted, vulnerable, unsure. I can certainly vouch for that from my own experience of Menarche.
“At Menarche a girl is opened to her spiritual and creative powers but is ignorant of what is occurring” Alexandra Pope.
According to pretty much everything I have read on this topic so far, I have seen that Menarche was once a respected and celebrated event by many of the world’s cultures – rituals were held to mark the importance such as green-tea celebrations in China, Moon Lodges in Native America, body painting in Aboriginal Australia, feasts in India with gold jewellery given to the girl.
Unfortunately these rituals seem to have gone awry over time, and instead of joy and celebration many young women are faced with heavy negative cultural taboos about menstruation – ranging from preventing them to go anywhere near the livestock, touching food, even touching men or any of their possessions in case they brought bad luck!
In ‘modern’ Western society menstruating women are seen as less productive and emotional and as a disadvantage to the workforce in general due to their ‘unreliability’. Menstruation does not fit in with the general industrialised work ethic of the West – but does that real make a natural bodily process wrong?! Of course Not!
So this is what our young women are up against when it comes to the bigger picture and societal beliefs. Women, we’ve got a lot of work to do!
The Importance of Menarche and of our role
“The importance of Menarche experience affects her experience of menstruation each month / how her life might play out. Approaching it as a powerful and sacred moment can ensure this is beneficial and empowering” Alexandra Pope.
This is big stuff. So we discussed it at our Red Tent Gathering – a place for important things to be spoken about.
It became clear to all of us that the pivotal role model needs to be the mother – as a mother we need to first address these issues in ourselves, and then let this positive attitude shine and radiate from us to our families. If this happens right from the start when the children are young, they will grow up with the understanding that these processes are normal and natural healthy and positive. Things you can do like openly changing sanitary towels in front of your children if they happen come into the bathroom at that time, washing out your cloth pads so they can see the blood (and not be afraid of it or squeamish), talking about your needs in terms of your menstrual cycle (when the child is old enough to understand that childhood is linear and womanhood is cyclic), maybe describing the cycle itself using nature as an example – like the moon and the earth and even the cycles of time itself!
What did become really apparent in our discussion, is that this is one of the ONLY things left that we as mothers aunties or friends can TEACH our daughters and our sons about! With the internet taking such a huge role in our lives, and school education rarely speaking of anything other than the biological processes and promoting large disposable sanitary companies … It is essential that we tell our story, share our own personal experiences and be open with our children. This way, these concepts are not alien to the young woman, and there is less to learn all in one go. Miranda Gray put it wonderfully, describing the need to “awaken the idea and experience of womanhood in her” so that the whole experience becomes as empowering as possible.
I don’t know about you, but my menarche came and went and overall felt pretty ‘icky’. It was plain embarrassing and I was not happy about changing into a woman at all. Being the younger daughter and the tomboy joker of the family the whole idea of even just wearing a bra alienated me (I am still so thankful for my sister helping me so much with everything)!
So how do we help our young women with these natural feelings of embarrassment, of not wanting to change? Again it comes back to us as women, our reaction to our bodies and to her special moment, and the upbringing she has had since she was small. It’s not about overwhelming her but gently showing her that she is changing and we are changing in our attitude to her as a response – that we are letting her child-self go. I think the main thing here is for a long term approach, long term support – so that the young woman is allowed time to learn about what being a woman means. If you are a keen menstrual cycle charter like me you know that even no two cycles are exactly the same (although the general pattern is the same). These concepts are complex, and in order to pass them on much sustained support and gentle guidance is needed.
Before she reaches menarche talk to your daughter explaining menstruation both in physical and emotional terms so that the girl has some idea of the gifts of womanhood and cycles of moon/nature/woman. Depending on the emotional capacity of the young woman it may be a good idea to use characters or story for this, for example the story of Demeter and Persephone, where Persephone eats the fruits of the tree of life (representing menstruation) down in the Underworld and must therefore live half of the year with the Lord of the Underworld, and half of the year in the light with her mother Demeter. The mother/child bond is broken because they cannot be together all the time, and menstruation is the point where the cyclical nature of womanhood begins.
There is also a wonderful children’s book called ‘Cycling to Grandma’s House’ by Jac Torres-Gomez which I would really recommend, as it really presents menarche in such a special mysterious magical and almost exciting way. The ladies of the Red Tent loved the story too (and all commented that they wished the world was more like that kind of naive world portrayed in the story)! I think this book could be given to the girl to read as a preparatory ‘tool’ (maybe when she is showing signs of approaching menarche (i.e. when emotional changes are occurring, breast buds are growing etc).
Also in this preparatory time it may be worth sitting down with your daughter and asking her some of these questions (borrowed from Miranda Grey’s book Red Moon) about what she would like on the special day: Would she prefer it if it was just you and her? Outside in one of her favourite places or in her bedroom? Would she like any special objects with her, like her roller-boots or favourite bracelet(?!), would she be happier in her normal clothes or dressing up in a costume? Is there something physical she would like when the time comes like a haircut or having her ears pierced?
So how can we celebrate this in a socially appropriate manner?
If you are both happy to mark the occasion in some way, have a think about what you want her to feel and try to make those feelings arise in her – it may be taking her out to dinner, writing her a letter or card, giving her a ‘Red Box’ (Home-made of course!) with some of the following inside: a ‘moon’ journal for writing her feelings down, a simple menstrual cycle chart, some new bath towels (maybe red ones?), a piece of jewellery, cloth pads. It could be giving her flowers, a cake… Whatever will make her feel special and honour this rite of passage. The main thing is to communicate and discuss with your daughter by asking her questions about what she wants (such as those above). The women at the Red Tent loved the idea of having a special piece of jewellery ready to give the girl and showing it to her before she reaches her Menarche. This could be a perfect opportunity to explain what will happen when she reaches this special rite of passage.
On the Day…
This of course very much depends on the girl, but my friend Marisa from Canada gave me these suggestions which I LOVED –
- Girls and women could have a red party with not only red cake but red foods (e.g. strawberries or maybe even a bit of chocolate to represent the Goddess)
- The girl or girls taking part could get hand massages with beautiful essential oils, or have a flower wreath made and put in her hair.
- She can sit in the middle of the circle and older women in her life can give her advice, each woman coming to the party can bring a bead and then when they are all together they can string the beads together into a bracelet that represents all the strength and support of all the women in her life.
A lovely idea from a book called Moon Time by Lucy H Pearce was for you (as the mother) to sit down with her on her special day and quietly reflect on and share your memories of your first period. Even, and gently, discussing your own fears as a way of reassuring her. Also, your memories of being a teenager, your pregnancy and birth, your hopes and wishes for her in her life, acknowledge her growing beauty power and spirit, acknowledge the letting go of her as your little girl and embracing her as a young woman forging her own life.
A question that came up during the Red Tent was ‘should we tell our daughters if our experience was bad in case we frighten them?’ The answer that came was that even if our Menarche experience wasn’t as positive as we would like, to find a positive in our own story.
Encourage her to diarise her dreams… “in Native American tradition it is said that the vision for the girl’s life comes in dreams around her first menstruation” Alexandra Pope
The discussion at the Red Tent emphasised the value of continued support and teaching our daughters about the powers of the pre-menstrual phase of our cycle. How many of us have made massive mistakes during this time of our cycle – said things we didn’t mean, did things we didn’t want to do, hurt other people… And what of the relationship between alcohol and the pre-menstruum!!? Why did no-one tell me that I could get overly sensitive? And about diet too – why it is better to try and eat leafy green vegetables during pre-menstruum rather than high sugar food like sweets or chocolate (even if I am craving them) and drink less caffeine even though I want that! And the equally powerful pull of the ovulatory phase… sexual desires and feelings linked purely to our menstrual cycles.. How could these be omitted from the general education system!!! Lets tell our girls!
And lets not forget about our boys – the fathers of the future! It is equally important that they are included in the experience of a women’s menstrual cycle from a young age too, so that one day they may recall a dim and distant memory of their mother’s attitude to the menstrual cycle and this will cultivate healthy relationships in their futures. As one of our Red Tent women said ‘their girlfriends will thank me in the end!’
Finally, it is worth remembering that all of us are different and unique and there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer to the process of helping our daughters on this transition. Some of the ideas listed above just might not fit in with the personality of you or your daughter, and that is fine. The main thing is that somehow a healthy attitude towards menstruation and becoming a woman is passed down to the next generation, who can then pass down positivity to their families to come. And that collectively we end this ridiculous taboo and restore a bit of balance to our societies!
A Big thank you to the Ladies of the Red Tent in Gwynedd, North Wales – what a wonderful and productive discussion! And thank you to Alexandra Pope for her inspiring words, Miranda Gray for her ideas in Red Moon, and Lucy H Pearce for her ideas in Moon Time.
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