Red and Powerful
My oldest daughter is eight years old. For the past several months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the rite of passage she will soon be passing through as she leaves her girlhood body behind and transforms into a woman.
For me, that transformation was frightening. The only place where anyone talked to me about puberty was at school. The only peer I knew of who had experienced “it” herself was an awkward girl people made fun of. I wasn’t eager to follow her footsteps.
When I started to bleed the summer before I turned thirteen, my whole heart and soul cried, “No!” I was horrified. I felt like my body was dragging me forward into a future I wasn’t ready to embrace. But there was no turning back. I was now one of them whether I wanted to be or not. And my attitude toward my monthly cycle for the next decade+ was a reflection of that shame.
I kept my new status a secret from everyone but my best friend for several days. Finally, after much fearful stalling, I broke down in tears and told my stepmother I was bleeding. She held me while I cried and told me about when her period had started. She had been in the shower when blood started coming out of her. She screamed because she thought she was dying.
Horror. Shame. Crying. Screaming. “No!”
I refuse to let this menstrual legacy continue. I want my daughters’ experience of crossing that threshold from girl to woman to be everything it wasn’t for me but should have been. Triumphant. Celebratory. Joyful. Peaceful.
Blood is loaded with meaning in the scriptures. It is life. It is death. The middle of each cycle demonstrates the body’s deep investment in the continuation of life. Sometimes that investment continues for nine months. Sometimes that potential for life passes away, and the body cradles that fallen egg in a brief embrace before letting it go to make way for new life again.
Several months ago, we took a road trip north to Prescott, AZ, and hiked Thumb Butte, enjoying the cool air so foreign to us at that time of year. As we hiked, we encountered many prickly pear cactuses and prickly pears strewn on the path below them. One of those prickly pears was stepped on while we trudged along, and we were all able to see, for the first time, what the inside of a prickly pear looks like. When a prickly pear bursts open, hundreds of plump crimson seeds spring forth from its cracks. Seeing this stunning display for the first time was powerful for me. The only way for that mature prickly pear to reach its glorious potential is to leave its “mother” (and its girlhood) behind and be willing to face “death” to allow those hundreds of potential lives to spring forth, in the process opening the gateway for endless potential rebirth.
So much of what happens to and through our bodies, as women, is a strange mixture of the life/death dichotomy. When I think of this dichotomy, I think of Eve. I personally believe, as she crossed the threshold from Eden to Earth life, she too began to bleed for the first time. She broke through that red “caution tape,” bringing life and death simultaneously. And it was good:
And Eve . . . was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. (Moses 5:11)
When my daughters cross their thresholds, I want them to be glad, like Eve. I want them to rejoice. I want them to feel honored to follow in the footsteps of the women who have come before them. The path of womanhood (and the womanly cycle) is certainly a balance of sorrow and joy, life and death, pleasure and pain, but I want them to move forward into that future confident in their ability to weather those highs and lows with grace, surrounded by support from the people who love them. I want them to hear from their female elders:
You are no longer a girl. You are a woman. Welcome. You are strong. You are brave. You can do hard things. Impossible things. Beautiful things. Magnificent things. Powerful things. Rejoice!
Robyn has written a beautiful essay in our book about mother-centered baby showers or “mother blessing” celebrations. These are special events where soon-to-be mothers can be surrounded by love and support as they prepare to give birth. I would like to have a similar type of celebration for my daughters as they experience the menstrual rite of passage. When my father served as a missionary in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama, he witnessed many such celebrations. There is no grander celebration among the Kuna people than the celebration honoring a young woman as she experiences menarche. This transformation is held sacred. Sacred.
Some ideas I have considered for celebrating this rite of passage:
- Putting together a quilt with squares from special women in her life.
- Making her a feminine red dress.
- Having a “Red Party” with red foods (including prickly pears!).
- Singing songs and reading scriptures and poems, such as this one.
How was the transition to womanhood for you? Have you honored your daughters as they experienced menarche? Do you have any other ideas? We’d love to hear your thoughts.