A journey with our daughters

"I had never thought in terms of rites of passage," writes Shirley A. Landis in her article "Menarche in America." "Just puberty. Adolescence. Terms that were used as excuses for weird behavior and pimples."

Or as one mother said, remembering her own adolescence, "Menstruation was the last thing I needed to deal with!"

Our daughters may already be saddled with incorrect information shared by equally misguided friends, or they may have a limited understanding due to complicated charts or text. Because we want to share a profound understanding of the miraculous and complicated workings of the female body with them, we need to know that our own information is correct. We may know the simplified explanation for menstruation--that every twenty-eight days or thereabouts, if we are not pregnant, our uterine lining is shed--but a greater understanding of our cycles beyond the blood is essential.

We must be prepared, too, for how the nature of our daughters' questions will change. Now they will be personal--How will she handle this or that situation? What changes will menstruation bring to her life?

"My daughter had a lot of concerns about people knowing that she was menstruating," shares one woman from Portland, Oregon, mother to two daughters, "We talked about why that worried her, most of which had to do with being the first in her peer group to start."

We can share ways we handle our periods without encouraging feelings of discomfiture. We can talk about staying in tune with our bodies and keeping supplies on hand so that menstruation doesn't take us by surprise. As we demystify the physical aspects of womanhood, we give our daughters confidence in their ability to handle their lives.

Looking to menarche ceremonies in other cultures offers us insight to our own feelings and beliefs and experiences around menstruation. While details and folklore differ, most rituals focus on seclusion (isolating the menstruating girl from the rest of the clan) and purification (sometimes pleasantly taking the form of ritual baths and grooming by the other women in the tribe). Some cultures place limits on the menstruating woman's diet or activities. Emily Martin explains, in an article titled "Premenstrual Syndrome: Discipline, Work and Anger in Late Industrial Societies," that the Yurok Indians of North California believed that women were most in tune with the spiritual world during menstruation; thus they were relieved of mundane chores to allow them to better spend their time meditating.

We discover roots to these ancient rituals in our own our instincts. We wish for time alone as our period approaches or crave warm baths when we have cramps. Certain foods appeal to us more when we are menstruating, others might cause us discomfort. When we're melancholic or introspective, everyday tasks seem to take longer and we may lose interest in these activities.

Recognizing these emotional and physical changes can inspire the kind of ceremony we might like to have for our daughters.

Some of us seek to understand why it is that menstruation is often referred to as "moon time." Devi Khuit writes on her Web site, Women Who Bleed with the Moon, "A women's blood and hormonal cycle follows the ebb and flow of the moon; from new moon to full moon, estrogen increases leading to ovulation, or maximum fertility, at full moon. From full moon to new moon, the waning half of the cycle, progesterone predominates. Traditionally, women used to start bleeding right before the new moon, in the dark of the moon....In modern times, women begin their menstruation during different phases of the moon."

Even if our cycles are no longer tied to a lunar path, sharing this insight can help our daughters feel part of a greater whole.

Helynna Brooke, owner of a business called First Moon and co-creator of the menarche ceremony kit they sell, writes, "The rites of passage that girls create for themselves out of a frustrated drive to prove themselves women in turn produce many of the social ills that concern our communities. In a national study of adolescents, parental connectedness is the strongest factor in protecting against high-risk behaviors. [Menarche ceremonies] results in parental connectedness."

Our beliefs, values and expectations can be clearly and formally explained to our daughters at the ceremony as a reminder of all we hope their lives will be. Such direct honesty is something that our daughters crave even as they pull away. Some mothers write letters expressing their hopes and expectations for their daughters to treasure.

A ceremony doesn't need to be a large affair. In fact, some daughters are adamantly opposed to a big fuss.

Jennifer Moquin of State College in Pennsylvania, mother of one daughter, remembers, "I got my first period when I was twelve. I'd grown up very informed, aware of "stuff," so I was very low-key about it when it happened. My mom wanted to make a big deal out of it but I was somewhat embarrassed by that and wanted it to kind of just happen and go unnoticed. Well, not unnoticed, but I just wanted it to slip into my life without a big disruption."

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