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.

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33 Comments

  1. One thing I will always be grateful for is my mom talked openly about babies and sex and the joys of womanhood and marriage alot – she was a teacher and new what I would learn there and wanted me to be educated via gospel principles first.
    When I finally got my period at 12 because I was anxiously awaiting it – I walked around like I was on a cloud because I felt womanly and that it was sign I’d be a mom someday. Its a similar high that I had after my first natural birth. My body is a miracle and with it I have done miraculous things.

  2. To be completely honest, I haven’t really thought too much about this as my oldest is only four so I still have some time. It’s something that I do need to put thought into though because I would hate for that transition to be scary or traumatic.

    For me, it wasn’t scary or traumatic, but I also wouldn’t say that I celebrated. It was one of those things that I was really excited about (because it meant that I was becoming a woman, because a lot of my friends had experienced it, etc), until about two or three cycles in when I realized that the cramps, the hormonal changes, and the fear of not having any feminine products handy when it started were not so fun. Even now one of my favorite parts of being pregnant and breastfeeding is, “no period!”

    I do plan on getting this book

    http://cyclesavvy.com/index.html

    which is by the same author as TCOYF. TCOYF was such a great source of information and empowerment for me and I would like for my daughters to learn some of those things at a younger age. I want them to understand their bodies and their cycles and hopefully knowing those things will make the transition and the start of each new cycle (and eventually TTC/TTP) a little bit easier.

  3. Oh and when I say that I plan on getting the book, I mean that I’m going to get it so that we can either read it together or I’ll read it first and then let my daughter read it (whatever she’s most comfortable doing) so that we can discuss it. My mom bought a “My Body Is Changing” book for me when I was about 12, handed it to me, and let public school sex education do the rest. She was brought up in such a conservative home and I think she really just didn’t know how to talk to me about puberty and sex and my body. It was somewhat of an embarrassing and awkward subject for her.

  4. enjoybirth Reply

    It was celebrated in our family. Literally with a cake and party! I got my first period on a Christmas Vacation and we were at my grandparents with all the aunts and uncles and as per the families tradition there was cake and celebrating! My mom had talked to me about periods and gotten me books about it, so it wasn’t scary or unexpected, rather something I actually looked forward to!

    As I am nearing menopause (my mom and aunt started menopause in their early 40’s) I am sensing and seeing (with charting and temp taking) I am losing this cycle of life and it makes me a little sad.

    I don’t have girls, but if I did I would certainly celebrate their start of being a woman. It is a great thing, an honor even.

  5. thebookofarmaments Reply

    I’ve often thought that I want to throw my daughters a party right around the time of menarche (if not completely coinciding with it) to celebrate the transition into womanhood. I want to surround her with her older sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers, and other meaningful women in her life and spend a weekend honoring her… have her favorite foods, do her favorite activities, and sort of welcome her to the “club” of the older women.

  6. My mom had always been open about and never made it seem like it was something to be ashamed or frightened of. Still, I did not celebrate when it arrived at age 11. I tried to hide it, but my mom figured it out while doing laundry. I really didn’t embrace it at all until I was much older. I am really hoping my daughter will be able to embrace it much more. She’s only 3 months, so we have a while to go, but I plan to teach her honestly about her body and how it works. I know too many young girls who don’t understand exactly how their cycles work.

  7. So I’ve just gotta ask something here. No one has mentioned much about menstrual pain beyond a little cramping or discomfort. Most of the women in my family have incredibly painful periods (I mean really, really painful). When I first started having periods, it was pretty much miserable for me, and I definitely didn’t feel like celebrating. And I didn’t really think, “Oh, hooray! This means one day I can have kids!” So how do you address it when the pain is so great you’re pretty much out of commission for a few days? How do you still get a girl excited about that?

    • Jeanna, I’ve gone through phases in my life where my periods were excruciating also. I thought about those times while I wrote this post. I tried to sort of address the issue as I talked about how our monthly cycles are a balance of pleasure and pain… pain as we cramp/bleed and pleasure in other parts of the cycle. I appreciate these words from Organic Mama Cafe:

      “I feel a close affinity to that glowing nocturnal bulb. As she gracefully moves through different phases each month, I recognize a pattern in my own body and spirit. Every month, not just once or twice a year, she retreats into darkness before returning to the her fullest brilliance. As a woman, I need a similar reprieve every month to access the most brilliant parts of myself, spiritually, physically and mentally.”

      I think that retreating into darkness means different things for different women, but for you and your family it may mean giving yourself reduced stress and providing extra opportunities to relax and rejuvinate as you endure your particular period of “darkness.” For me, these days, my cycle is usually “darkest” in the days leading up to my period as I sometimes experience PMS to varying degrees. I think we can teach our children to listen to their bodies and take cues from their cycles about when they most need to rest and be gentle with themselves.

      I think we can be up front with our daughters that sometimes having a monthly cycle is painful and difficult without making them dread it or feel shameful about it. I think our children need to understand that the full spectrum of the experience of life-giving includes highs and lows of all kinds. Like I said in the post: “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 hope that helps!

      • I was just thinking some more, and I realized that it’s similar to the way we can re-educate ourselves about giving birth. Many women are programmed to dread and fear that experience (which involves true pain for some women), but we can strengthen our daughters and empower them to look forward to that experience of giving birth rather tan fearing it. I think the same is true of menstruation.

        • I like that idea Lani, except the hard thing is that birth (usually) ends with the joy of having created and embraced a new child into the world, while a period just ends with the knowledge that you have another period around the monthly corner. It’s kind of hard for me to embrace this idea of joyful periods… at least for me, it’s more realistic to understand that it’s a required pain that can ultimately bring joy someday. But it’s kind of hard to pretend (especially as an 11-year-old, which is when I got my period) that it’s happy and exciting to be bleeding, staining your clothes, cramping, and bloating. Like I said, for me it was realistic to embrace the honest truth that periods can suck. Straight up. But they are a part of that “sorrow” described to Eve, that is ultimately compensated with that balance of joy– children. I’m not sure I’ll ever have real joy in my period, they’re messy and painful. But I am glad I have them, not because I like them, but because their reality (hopefully) means that I can have children.

          • Lani

            Good points, Kels. I like the image of the newborn colt.

            I’ve wondered, though, from my own experience (of having times with horribly painful periods and times with painless periods) and from my own research over the years… I think there are ways we can minimize the pain. It’s possible some women will still have painful periods regardless, but I sometimes think God didn’t design the pain into it… but rather that it’s just a consequence of imbalances in the body?

            When I hear someone is having painful periods, my mind automatically thinks about magnesium (’cause I’m sort of obsessed with magnesium). I blogged about it here: http://birthfaith.org/nutrition/magnesium

            Maybe next time it’s my turn on this blog I will do a post about minimizing menstrual aches and pains…. hmm….

      • I remember when I was in my late teens, I roomate my age who had a great perspective on life. As we were living and dealing with a group of us and there would be tears and drama occasionally, she said, “It’s just hormones.” And for some reason, that simple statement helped SO much when dealing with the crabbiness and blues. I could just say, “This isn’t real, This is just how I see the world right now.” Then I could laugh about it, go eat some chocolate, and pamper myself a bit. I think it’s totally different saying, “You’re hormonal!” and helping someone see, “My hormones are affecting me right now. I need to be kinder to myself without hurting others.”

    • For one, I think that there are ways through diet and supplements that you can help support the system in ways that will keep periods from being such a moody, painful time. I am trying to remember off the top of my head, but I believe good animal fats, cod liver oil, and coconut oil and avoiding soy like the plague is a good way to start.

      Second, I think that helping a girl learn how to cope with the pain, moodiness, and inconvenience in a sensitive, matter-of-fact, almost conspiratorial way, can go a long way towards comfort. Just as we give someone who is sick chicken soup, cough drops, and tissues, you can bring out the Motrin, hot pad and chocolate for your daughter. And join her on the couch while you watch Anne of Green Gables.

    • My very first period was not uncomfortable – so I did celebrate, but others we excrutiating especially in my college years. I still say that labor was not unlike my worst menstrual cramps. The only silver lining that I can say was when that time of the month came I rested and lazed about guilt free because the pain was less severe if I avoided strenuous activity. I don’t think I would have been excited about it meaning I would have kids one day if My mom had not explained it to me that way. She said a period is a wonderful thing – it means your body is getting ready for babies. My dad even wrote me a small note saying what a wonderful woman I was becoming and one day I’d make a great mother.

  8. Heather Watts Reply

    I experience the same scared shame when I began to bleed. It wasn’t something that was explained to me as empowering, but just an inevitable part of “growing” up. I started before all my friends, so I had no other support. As an adult, I realize the lack of sacredness that is shown towards starting your “Moon” (as I know call it) and I want to change that. This transition is very important and should be seen as powerful. When you bleed you now have the ability to give life. That is a very magical thing! I have been a part of 2 “Coming of age ceremonies” for young girls who reached their Moon time. Both were at a Women only gathering at a ranch nestled deep in the woods. All the women went into the sweat house and the coming of age women was the last to come out. We all stood in a long line (2 women facing each other locking hands) and the new women was “surfed” and/or “wiggled” along the line of women into to pond to symbolize a “rebirth through the canal” and into the water. We then had her sit in a chair and we stood in a circle around her singing songs and saying blessings about becoming a women.

  9. I don’t recall much of my experience my first go-round… but I don’t think it was awful… I think it was kind of an exciting thing to be entering “womanhood” and growing up but also a bit scary. I want to build an experience for my daughter like you’ve described here – very much a celebration of welcoming womanhood and all of the many blessings and miracles that come with it! 🙂

  10. When I got mine at age 11, I was horrified, dismayed, embarrassed, you name it. My mom was supportive and I’m not sure where my reaction came from, but I thought it was positively awful and tried to hide it for the longest time. I don’t ever want my children to go through that. I too have thought that having a celebration, complete with red velvet cake and other red foods, would be a fitting way to mark that step. I also have thought of having that mark when my daughters can get their ears pierced–so it can be a marker to look forward to and a sign of maturity. Anyway I love the other ideas here and might borrow some of them!

    I didn’t have any cramps for the first several years of my period, but in high school they started and they were horrible. I got married at 20 and went on the pill and the awful cramps went away. Then went I went off birth control, they came back (very unexpected; I’d forgot entirely about cramps by that point!) and it was terrible. Ibuprofen was the only way I got through it. I’ve had so few periods since I started having my children, maybe 8 total in 6+ years, but the ones I had seemed much milder than pre-children.

  11. Oh, Lani I loved this line

    “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.”

    That is such a beautiful image and I think if women could remember that we wouldn’t have such a negative attitude about periods in our society. I plan on doing a celebration for my daughter, but I’d like to have it include the men in her life somehow too. I remember that when I got my period my dad was really excited for me and that meant A LOT. Oh, and I love the red dress idea!

    Oh, and one more thing I know that one of my professors had a menarche party for her daughter and they served red velvet cake and pomegranates (which have seeds like a prickly pear)!

  12. When my first cycle came, I was ashamed and angry. I’d been embarrased by my budding breasts already, and tried to hide behind sweatshirts. After the laundry gave away my “secret” my only education or introduction into womanhood was going to the grocery store with my *dad*, who dumped me in the feminine isle with “You mother says you need something here.”. No woman ever told me what to expect, what to do, or what it all means. My mother never even talked to me about it at all.
    My daughter is 4, and I hope when she starts to cycle and transition from girl to woman, I can help her feel joyous and proud of what her body is capable of. I don’t want to embarrass her though. Does anyone know of any books or ideas to include her peers without seeming like the “weird mom”?

  13. My transition to womanhood wasn’t bad. I’m pretty sure I understood about periods before I had my first one because I wasn’t freaked out. I have a memory of my mom talking about puberty with me when my breasts started to develop – that was probably before my periods. I told my mom when I first started my period, and she got me some pads. I do remember having a bad attitude about how long it was.

    I read TCOYF after my first birth, and I resolved then to prepare my daughters even better to understand their cycles. I remember having my period come late/be irregular as a teenager, and I would irrationally worry that I was pregnant, kind of how Mary got pregnant with Jesus. 🙂 Although my mom had initiated “the talk” that one time, I still felt like she was awkward talking about it, so I didn’t ask her about it when my periods were irregular. I plan to get that book for teenagers that Sarah mentioned.

    Since I am a childbirth educator/doula, I feel like my daughters will understand a lot about womanhood without me having to do much. (They certainly are familiar with birth already!) And we don’t have a closed-door policy for the bathroom, so they are familiar with me having my period. I do like the idea of having some sort of celebration.

    I live in the Prescott area – Thumb Butte is a nice hike!

  14. JessieMomma Reply

    I also ha excruciating cycles, I missed several days each month all through school because of the pains, but I was so blessed because my mother and sister both understood and helped me. My sister had just had a new baby and I felt so close to them as I realized they knew my pain. My dad was also amazing. He would fill my hot water bottle and buy me chocolates or mountain dew. He would let me huddle in my parents bed and never scolded me if I had a leakage problem. As a divorced mother, I am sad that my daughters will not have this special example in their lives… Their father thinks all things pertaining to menses, childbirth, or breast feeding is “icky”. It is so very sad to me.

  15. It’s funny, I was thinking about writing about this. So glad you did.

    One of my yoga students did a whole big ceremony for her daughter. My favorite part of it was how all the women there shared some of their experiences and then they all made a bridge with their arms and her daughter walked through and then crossed a “threshold” onto a little sandbox thing where she made her footprints to symbolize stepping into a new phase of life.

    I totally appreciated the monthly cleansing ritual so much more after last spring when I didn’t get it for 3 months or 4 months. (I blogged about it here: http://thegiftofgivinglife.blogspot.com/2010/07/are-you-there-go-its-me-felice.html

    I really missed it. It felt like there was a back up of hormones and all kinds of things. I am so grateful for it now.

    Incidentally, I tried tapping (EFT) on my flow last month and noticed some marked changes. It has been starting up slowly and then stopping and starting and dragging out. This time, as soon as I tapped, it started right up and was much much more comfortable and over quickly. I’m going to tap on it again this month. I’ll keep you posted. And maybe I’ll blog next week about how to do EFT.

  16. My mother was sick through much of my childhood, and as the eldest daughter I managed as best I could on my own. She left me the pads and everything I needed. I talked with her on the day my period started and she was excited, but I was alone. My periods were long, heavy and very painful. Almost to the point of passing out. My memory is of sitting in a very hot bath soaking away the pain after taking some tylenol. Soaking and watching my blood circle in the tub. It was like a brew. The pain would ease and I would dress in my favorite pajamas and go to sleep. I would usually feel better the next day although a bit weak. Like a newborn colt. It was a difficult experience, but not bad.

  17. My oldest daughter is only 8 but she’s been at the births of our 5th and 6th babies and we’ve talked extensively about puberty, pregnancy, and birth. As the time gets closer we plan to have more talks with her and give her a little care package with different types of feminine products, a rice pack if she does have cramps, and some special things like that. We will for sure be discussing how charting can help her better understand her cycle even at a very basic level (marking the dates on the calendar.) When she begins her cycle we’ll celebrate, whether with the family or just her parents or just mom & her – whatever she’s the most comfortable with at the time. Right now she says when she starts menstruating she wants red roses and a big red cake and a party. 🙂 I’ve spoken with some close friends who have daughters a similar age and we’ve all agreed we want to be a network for each other and for our daughters, so I know I have them for me to turn to – we’re hoping to coordinate some trips together, just moms and their girls.

    But we’ve also made sure to include our son in some of the talks, as I think it’s important he understand how women’s bodies work and I want all of our children to have respect for this process. He was also at the two births of his siblings and he’s a very, very well informed ten year old as far as birth and babies and breastfeeding goes. 🙂

  18. I was a late bloomer so to speak. I started halfway through my freshmen year of high school at age 14. I was SOOOO excited to finally get my period. I started at school and the only thing my friend had to use was a tampon, so she told me how to insert it and it was done. I went home and told my stepmom that I started my period and that my friend gave me a tampon to use. She called me a slut and a whore because I could fit a tampon up there. She even told my Dad and they both made me feel so dirty and ashamed that my vagina could accomodate a tampon. Who was I having sex with??? Must be someone! I was so embarrased and deeply hurt. I had waited SO long to finally begin my cycles after all my friends had already made that transition and they just broke me down. 🙁 I plan to make things MUCH different and welcoming and peaceful and just BEAUTIFUL for my daughter. The way it should be.

    • enjoybirth Reply

      Kelley, That is so heartbreaking how they responded. It makes me so sad for you and so mad at them!
      Sheridan

  19. I was a very late bloomer. My younger sister started before I did and I was so upset about it. I was past 16 when I finally started, and I was so excited! I had been looking forward to it since I knew what it was, probably around 10 or 11 when I overheard my older sisters talking about iti. My parents were also both very open and willing to talk about ANYTHING, which was a blessing. I was eager and excited about every step on the journey to womanhood. Though my periods were curl-on-the-floor-and-weep painful, I still was grateful to have them. After a few years, when I started having them every single month, the cramping mellowed. I have since learned that your diet affects the pain factor, and a good diet can erase that pain as well as breast tenderness at that time…but I need to look into that more.

    I’ve never heard of or considered the idea to celebrate it…I think I like that idea and may do that with my daughters when I have them and they reach that point.

    My mother was simply told “what to do about it” and that she shouldn’t be with boys or she’d get pregnant. She didn’t understand and was scared to even have them sit in the desk near hers…it caused her a lot of angst. When she learned better, she was so humiliated and angry over it that she promised to not let anything like that happen to her daughters. I’m glad she was open with us. It made everything in my confusing teen life so much easier!

  20. When I started my period it wasn’t red, like blood. It was a dark brown color and I thought I was accidentally messing myself! My mom worked in a nursing home and had told me that at the end of someone’s life they lose all control of their bodies and “everything comes out.” So I thought I was dying! It took me days to work up the courage to break it to my mom that I was a goner!

    Hopefully I will prepare my future daughters a bit better for this event in their lives, but I think it’s normal to miss some details 🙂

  21. This is such a beautiful post! I have thought A LOT about how to teach my children about intimacy in an honoring and loving way but I never thought about teaching my daughters about their cycles. I am loving these ideas and plan on having a really special party when it begins.

    When my period started I was afraid to tell my mom, but I did tell my older sister. She already had everything I needed and gave me her advice. 🙂 It was kind of a fun bonding experience for us. I was really mad when it started, though. I remember feeling like the pads were so loud that it sounded like I was wearing a diaper. I started using tampons soon after.

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