For the last decade or so, like so many others who read and write for this blog, I have been researching, reading and writing about how we think, talk and act (out) about menstruation. My particular interest is the various interventions that some brave activists make to disrupt the dominant narrative of menstruation.
But this post isn’t about my work or even the work of others. Not exactly.
This post is about my daughters and what sometimes happens when my work comes home.
In 2006, when my oldest daughter was 13, we had one of many Mom-initiated short talks about her approaching menarche in the (of course) car. Posing as a super nonchalant mom, I casually asked:
ME: So what do you think your period will be like?
HER: I will hate it.
[GULP...I was grateful she could not see her feminist mother’s face completely cave in]
ME: Why do you think so?
HER: All my friends hate theirs.
Later that year, her first period. My daughter did not share this with me, rather, I “discovered” this new development on my own. That evening, after we talked, she agreed—none-too-cheerfully—to a dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, but we were not permitted to discuss “the event.” The next day, I set the kitchen table with candles, tea and her favorite dessert—just for the two of us—and I presented her with a lovely bag to store her menstrual supplies (that I am pretty sure she never used).
We had decided, years before, that when she began menstruating, she would get her ears pierced. So we went to Claire’s and did the deed, but again, no fanfare—just a mom taking her teen daughter to get her ears pierced.
From that point forward, we rarely talked about her menstrual experiences, though I tried and failed several times. For example, I suggested she try cloth pads (and why), but she was not the least bit interested
When my book on menstrual politics came out, my daughter was 16. She and 4 of her friends, all dressed in red dresses, circulated trays of menstrually-themed (read: red) appetizers at my book party. The party favors, the decorations, and the conversation were all highly MENSTRUAL, and I heard no titters, detected no blushing between my girl and her pals.
So did my daughter HATE her period, after all? Maybe not, but she, the child of a feminist committed to challenging the dominant cultural narrative of menstruation, became a girl, who, at best, managed her period. And I wanted better for her.
Today, my second daughter is 8. She is 9 years younger than her older sister.
Since she could talk, she has called attention to my period. When she glimpses me changing my pad on the toilet (yes, we have an open door policy), she typically remarks:
“You are having your period, Mama.”
“Yes, Honey, I am.“
She speaks as if her first period might be any day. It could be, but I doubt it. Her trajectory toward puberty seems to be moving at a pretty average clip.
She is very excited about getting her ears pierced when she begins menstruating. She loves wearing stick on earrings and clip ons; this is a girl enamored with ear bling. But she has never once asked if she could get her ears pierced BEFORE her menarche, even though several of her friends have theirs pierced now. I think she likes the link between menarche and ear piercing, seeing it as an established rite of passage.
She asked me the other day why I don’t use a Diva Cup, because, after all, she said, “They are less wasteful.”
I don’t know how to explain my girls’ contrasting reactions to their anticipated menarche, and I can’t easily predict how my youngest will actually experience her menstrual life (when the day comes, will I find her panties half hidden in her room too?) But I will admit that I was feeling like I had done ‘something right’ with Girl Number Two. Until….
The other day, she asked me: “What happens if my period starts when I am in school?”
I realized that with all the menstrual talk in our house, she still did not really know what to expect. She was afraid her period would start and her pants would flood. She said she wants to start carrying a pad around in her backpack “just in case.” I didn’t hear excitement in her voice. No, I heard anxiety.
This got me thinking about her many comments about starting her period. When? When? When? And she’s just 8.
I worry that the menstrual culture we’ve grown inside our home may have inadvertently burdened my little girl. It seemed to have a different effect on her sister. With my oldest, Mom-as-menstrual-warrior seemed to steel her against engagement with her menstrual self. With younger daughter, I wonder if it has made her anxious. Is the menstrual culture at home creating a richer context for my youngest to understand her changing body? Or are my fears justified? In a menstrual-shaming society, does more -than- average attention to the big M actually backfire and create worry? After all, when she walks out our front door, who–out there–is going to affirm her?
I have to admit that I am frustrated trying to calibrate just the right tone, just the right approach that empowers my girls—any girls—without burdening or repelling. How do we create a new menstrual conversation that opens up, not shuts down, dialogue? Can there be too much menstrual talk? Is it all about the messenger and if so, what do we, members of the menstrual community (can I call us that?) do in particular, especially with our own kids?
I want to hear others’ stories of when your work, your art, or your activism comes home. Have you found the balance? How does the healthy, body-positive, literate menstrual discourse actually sound when we speak it?