Menarche

A journey with our daughters

A simple gift might be enough to mark her first period, perhaps a journal for personal reflection or scented bath salts so that she can care lovingly for her body (one ritual names Lady's Mantle, Heather, Rose, Jasmine, and Gardenia as being especially appropriate for menarche).

Maddi Ingersoll of Smithsburg, Maryland, mother to three daughters, plans to give jewelry. "A ring, or an engraved bracelet, or something, from me--their mother--from one woman to another." Some mothers choose to make their own jewelry using traditionally colored beads representing the three stages of womanhood: white (maiden), red (mother) and black (crone).

A special dinner might suit some daughters, perhaps at her favorite restaurant or at a more elegant place to honor her new status. "I was surprised that my daughter wanted her to dad to attend her special dinner," says Melissa Prince, mother of one daughter. "He was really moved that she asked him to be a part of it."

Some of us might choose to welcome our daughters into a sisterhood by bringing together women whom they respect or admire to talk about their first periods and how their feelings about menstruation have changed as they got older.

Many women choose elaborate rituals based in their spiritual and cultural beliefs. Such ceremonies might include formal declarations, poems or songs, such as the one that began this article. Tradition might dictate that on the event of her menarche, a daughter will be given a specific heirloom or told a family secret or legend.

"My daughters are too young yet," says Rachel Banks of Roseville, California, mother to two daughters. "But I was asked to be part of a ritual for my goddaughter. It was very moving. She wore a special gown, and there was a candle-lighting ceremony, and her mother gave her a locket that had belonged to her grandmother. I hope to give my daughters a similar welcome when they're older."

Even if we miss a daughter's first period--whether it is because of physical distance or because our daughters choose not to share it with us--we can still celebrate together. Coming of age rituals can encompass menarche instead of being centered on it.

"The Navajo have a ritual that is performed for girls coming into womanhood, but it's not marked by the physical onset of menarche only," says Dr. Cox. "The mother decides when the daughter is ready, usually around fourteen, but it can be as late as sixteen or as early as twelve, depending on the family, the daughter, and the "signs of readiness," which do include menarche but are not restricted to it."

However our ceremonies take form, our daughters will be able to look back and find assurance that their mothers see them as individuals worthy of honor. They will know that they are worth cherishing and that their bodies are worth celebrating. As they head further into adolescence, with its inevitable conflicts and struggles, we will know that we have given our daughters a sturdy base of respect on which to continue growing into the women they were meant to be.

 

Dawn Friedman is a writer living with her husband and two-year-old son in Columbus, Ohio. She is currently working on a book about pregnancy.

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