What is your relationship to menstruation?
“um…er…um…(downcast eyes, blocking body) do you have any supplies?”
What is she talking about I wondered. My son’s drama class were staying over for a weekend of creating, writing, filming and general fun. What sort of supplies did they need? Another camera, clothes, props?
And then it hit me. A 16 year old girl looking uncomfortable, unable to make eye contact asking for “supplies”. And then a wave of elation spread over me. Yes, as a mother of two boys, I finally get to support a beautiful female being in some small way as she as she learns to step into and navigate menstruation.
“Oh I’m not sure I’ll have a look; are you ok?” was my initial jumbled reply.
As a post menopausal woman who used a moon cup for 17 years, a quick trip to the supermarket was in order. Along with a purchase of ice-cream for dessert for 9 teenagers.
We chatted about how amazing it was to have a period, to look at it as a gift. An opportunity every month to pause, reflect on the month and clear out all sorts of things; to honour and nurture yourself. How sometimes it could feel inconvenience (such when it started unexpectedly during a sleepover) but even still it is an incredible thing.
I had a fabulous chance to talk about menstruation with my boys (once the sleepover was over) and now have supplies in the bathroom for when they have friends over.
I was so excited that I was gifted this opportunity. When I shared it with a group of woman I was surprised at their reactions - “Wow I wish someone had said that to me”.
We took a moment to remember what it was like for us as teenagers starting menstruation. And the overwhelming response really saddened me.
These are some of the comments they were told:
- You’re a nuisance,
- you smell,
- you're a pig;
- you can’t swim;
- it’s gonna be painful;
- keep quiet;
- you can’t go out;
- it’s expensive;
- oh God you’ve reached THAT stage;
Things they said that happened to them:
- my friend got beaten,
- my Dad was too embarrassed to talk to me;
- my mum couldn’t look at me in the eye and just handed me a packet - I didn’t know what it was or what to do with it;
- kids at school would line up by the toilet and call out “she’s on the rag” or “she’s on blob”,
- people wouldn’t talk to me.
There are memories shared of a period being a failure as a woman for not being pregnant or relief at not being pregnant. Of partners who avoided intimacy or rejected them during menstruation.
And all of this is our lifetime, in an "educated, first world nation".
These comments are from a small collection of beautiful beings and the reaction they experienced as their body naturally grew. I’d like to think things are different now, but we are talking about many intergenerations of trauma inflicted here and there are still many cultures on our beautiful shared planet where girls are no longer able to go to school when they menstruate.
I know for me personally until I read The Red Tent years ago, I had never heard anyone mention menstruation in any positive way. Yes there was the “science talk” but even at school it was very “educational” with an undertone of embarrassment. And the book was perceived as proof that women needed to be excluded.
How can we expect women to love themselves, feel safe to really embody their bodies when these are the messages they grow up with, month after month, year after year.
As woman we metaphorically have a built-in alarm clock. Every month (if all is going well) for many years, we get the chance to pause, and ask ourselves “what have I accumulated this month that I no longer need”.
You may already have a practice or ritual that includes this, but if not, I invite you (or your partner, or daughter or sister or mother) to start transforming your relationship with your body.
I invite you to consider menstruation as an opportunity; a gift.
Spend some time reflecting on the month that has been. What have you taken on; reacted to, burdened yourself with; what is no longer serving you; what little things in your relationship to yourself and others would benefit from clarifying, sharing or discussing.
In a world where you frequently focus on and give so much to others, set aside time to nurture and honour yourself. Support your friends and partners to do the same.
I invite you to turn the tide on the way the “old” limitation ways of perceiving self as a menstruating woman. Embrace the opportunity of self nurture, love and safely embodying.
Much Love to you