I am on the brink of having a woman as a daughter. My 11-year-old has passed into the realm of breast buds and mood-swings. She is asserting her independence daily; stretching her long legs out to see if the same old boundaries still apply. She is asking for opportunities where we can choose to trust her, and then pushing us as far as she can to see if we can still be trusted to be there. One day soon she will bleed from the most sacred of her body parts. What could possibly go wrong? I went through this same thing. All women did, and we have fond memories of that time right… right?!... shit.
There isn’t a lot of positive confirmation in the whole period department. Typically, our moms didn’t say the right thing, or they said nothing at all. We tend to simply chalk up the failures of our mothers during this time as a phase we lived through. We turned out alright, so will our daughters. Maybe.
Let’s be honest, this ‘day and age’ cannot be depended on to represent a healthy version of what a woman is. Unless we are hiding our girls under rocks, they have seen (or someone has colorfully described to them) Miley Cyrus riding on a wrecking ball. Family movie nights have relentlessly depicted the one right way for a woman to have a body. And, any two-dimensional coming-of-age idol that they may desire to imitate has been put through the sexually objectified wringer (with no objections). Such is life. Heap on the weight of every trite observation that is made about pubescent girls in our society, and get on with the journey.
But what if we could offer them more? Who is to say that you cannot rewrite the best version of this experience, the one that you wished you’d had, and give it to her? What would it take? Go back to 12 years old you. It’s that gangly time where you made strange fashion choices and your close-to-full set of adult teeth looked too big for your mouth. You were on the verge; an old favorite Barbie still stashed in a drawer, alongside a journal full of magazine cutouts of Keanu Reeves’ face. What would it have taken for someone to empower you for the transition ahead?
If I could rewrite that chapter in my life, I would have my mom speak proudly about the things that were to come. I felt her apprehension about what my body was doing like a shameful punch in the stomach. There was no getting out of it, I was turning into a woman. It was going to yield a crabby disposition, uncleanliness, and pain. And, oh by the way, “I’m so happy for you.” What the fuck?
I can say now, with complete wisdom, that she didn’t lie to me. All that jazz was true. Patience is sparse, blood is messy, and cramps hurt. The message from my mother and society was to accept it and then pretend it’s not happening for the rest of my life. Cover it up. Be a woman. What I wanted to hear so badly was, “Yeah, it’s hard. But it’s important and this is why…”
Becoming a woman means that your body will now remind you of what is most fundamental. Even if you want to forget, each month, your body will urge you to look inside yourself. Every message that we are berated with about being a beautiful, clean, untarnished, desired body, is thrown on its face by the cycles of womanhood.
The beginning of many women’s cycles starts with bloating and the discomfort of uterine tremors. These contractions assist in the shedding of the uterus lining, but they also effectively cause you to clear your schedule, slow down, and say “no”. I have learned that writing “just say no” on my calendar, during the first days of my cycle, is one of the best ways I can love myself.
There is nothing like a period to get you in contact with your body. Whatever parts of you, that you’d rather ignore, demand hands-on attention. I was using tampons before I was fully aware of the anatomy of my own vagina. That seems a little crazy, considering the logistics. With the progression of time, the blood that returned each month drew my focus to a place that no one wanted to talk about. Staying hygienic and tending to my menstrual needs guided me into having a relationship with my own body.
Surprise, surprise… it wasn’t until after childbirth, that I understood the significance of fertility. Now as a mother of four, I covet those feelings that arrive with the release of an egg. I am passionate and creative with a force. It is this phase of my cycle that I love relating to the moon. When the albedo glow of the sun reflects back at us as a growing crescent, we too are able to construct new things, to grow into new ideas and give our energies to these endeavors. We wax like the moon, creating a literal new life within us, or manifesting expressions of the life we lead now.
I couldn’t find poetic evidence that I wanted to scientifically connect us as women to the lunar phases. The electromagnetic forces that control our ocean tides have not conclusively been found to affect our ‘lady-tides’. However, our moon plays a vital role in circadian rhythms. The sun’s energy that reflects back to earth in our night sky does have an effect on our melatonin levels. This hormone doesn’t just make us sleepy, it also regulates our cycles! Boom, connected.
As our body’s hormones subside, and we prepare to expel the unfertilized egg, the world tells us that we are unbearable. I remember the first time my mom blamed my emotions on my period. I felt enraged that someone would tell me that I didn’t know how I felt like my own feelings couldn’t be trusted. PMS is a fucking superpower. Not allowing your body to slow down and rest? Cramps take care of that. Refusing to physically connect with “shameful” parts of your own body? Nothing a repeated bloody crotch won’t fix. And last but not least; Denying your self-worth? Not standing up for yourself? Pretending it doesn’t matter?? Post Menstrual Stress will dump those undealt with uglies right into your lap. The tears and angst come out like a torrent of unresolved disputes, and everything you stuffed away during the past 25 days has “better out than in” written all over it.
When day one of my cycle comes, I don’t say “Gee whiz! This will be fun!” but I do have a deep respect for a process that has reconstructed my view about the woman body I live in. I figured a lot of it out on my own, and that’s okay. I know now that early conversations about our bodies lead to young women who value sex in a safer way. Knowing our self-worth creates a clearer picture of what we want (regardless of what he wants). This kind of self-esteem, to speak our minds, is a virtue we can learn as girls.
I can’t wait to tell my daughter to trust her woman-self; her growing, changing, communicating body is a marvel. We know how to handle a fair share of shit. And, I can’t imagine that would be half as possible without the wonderful mechanisms of our menstrual cycles.