I got my period at age 11. I thought I'd cut my leg when I saw the blood on both the toilet seat and my calf. In a weird moment in which I spontaneously transformed to a character in a Judy Blume novel, it occurred to me that this was something different. "This is my period!" Gasp.
When I got home, I told my mom, and she confirmed what I thought I knew. "You're having a period," she said. Then, in a very short and very awkward conversation, she told me everything she thought I should know. "You'll get this every month." "It will likely hurt, so take Advil and rest." "Here are three pads." "Avoid cold rooms." And that was it.
I'm sure if asked, she'd say she told me more that day and in the days, months, and years before. She'd probably include a "conversation" we had three years prior, the one when she talked at me about sex. Not sex like erotica sex. More like the biology-textbook sex, the one involving zygotes, chromosomes, a uterus, linings, and an egg. I didn't understand any of what she was saying, so when she stopped talking, I changed the subject to dinner. "What are we having tonight? Spaghetti or chicken?"
Of course I had questions when I got my first period, but I never asked my mom those questions. Instead I just kind of stumbled through my period by myself (along with a new thing called the "Internet"). I think I assumed that one day she'd become like the moms I watched on TV, with all their embarrassing but very specific details. But she didn't talk about periods, so I didn't either. Ever.
I survived, but when I learned I was pregnant with my first girl, I vowed to be different.
I got my chance to be "different" three times over, with three daughters born over the past four years. Those daughters are all currently under the age of five. But given my history and the fact that some girls are now having periods as early as the age of 8, I've begun to think about "the right time" to have the period talk, imagining things like embarrassing stains, late-night drugstore runs for pads, and (ugh) scented sprays by Summer's Eve.
I don't think I'll have a period party or go crazy buying cheesy books full of metaphors about "roses blooming." I will tell them what they want and need to know, when I think they're ready to hear it. I don't have a plan, though I do have some hopes:
- I want to be the one to tell them about their periods.
- I want to be honest and open.
- I want to answer their questions.
- I want to remember that most of their questions might never be asked.
- I want to be kind and loving and generous in offering herbal teas and pain medication, should they need them.
- I want to give them more winged pads than they'll ever need.
- And above all else, I want them to feel comfortable and loved.
While periods and maxi-pads are in my parenting forecast, right now I'm reveling in the fact that I have three little girls who still like baths and My Little Pony underwear and think the tampons beneath my bathroom sink are magical "tiny helicopters."
"Mommy, these helicopters are so much fun!" they say, holding them by their dainty strings and throwing them in the air. In response, I sometimes remind them that they're actually called tampons and that mommy wears them … somewhere on her body. But usually I just let them play; why ruin it? The idea of a helicopter whose landing spot happens to be under my sink seems far more interesting than a tampon used to stop blood from coming out of one's vagina.
I know that as they get older, we will change. Our conversations on those helicopters will get more specific. While not anxious for that day to come, I will embrace it when it does. And I think that's all any mother of any girl can do.
How would (or how did) you talk to your daughter(s) about their first period? When should you begin talking? Who told you everything you needed to know when it came to your first period?