Shh.. It is that time of the month again. Should we go out of our way to keep it a secret? When is the right time to tell your daughter?
I think the right time is whenever it comes up. And there is no need to make a big deal of it either.
A year ago my daughter, then 3 years old, saw sanitary pads in my cupboard. She asked what they are. I told her they were pads and were like diapers.
"Who uses them?"
"You? Why do you need diapers, mama?"
"I need them when I get my period."
"What is that?"
"I get my period once a month. For a few days I bleed. The pad soaks it up. The bleeding is continuous so I need something to soak it up."
"Does it hurt?"
"No, not because of the blood. But sometimes I get a little tummy pain like when you have gas."
"Why do you get it?"
"Remember when your sister was inside my tummy?"
"So my body makes a home every month for a baby. If a baby is there, then it lives in there. If not, the home is broken and comes out and I get a period. Then again a new home is made." (We had the babies live in the tummy for 9 months talk, a few months earlier because I was pregnant with her baby sister.)
"Will I get it too?"
"Yes, when you are older."
"When you are 12 or so."
"Oh, okay" and she goes off to play with her toys.
Over the last year, there have been times when she has noticed me pulling a pad out of the cupboard and asked if I had my period. I once told her, that I sometimes need extra sleep during periods. So once, during a period, she entertained her sister for half an hour on a Saturday morning, so I could get some extra sleep. I was touched.
Now you may be wondering why I did not dodge the question, or at least leave out some of the details. The thing is, I did not see any reason to. There was nothing scary or disturbing about what I told her, and I did not see any reason to come up with an elaborate story to replace the truth.
Periods are a normal bodily function. They are neither scary nor embarrassing. But keeping them secret from our daughters for 11 years might make them seem scary. I remember when I was told about it, I dreaded it. The fact that I never knew such a thing even existed, and that it involved bleeding for days at a time, made it sound very sinister. The fact that I had never heard any mention of it until I absolutely had to know about it, made me think there was something ominous about it. I expected it to hurt, like continuously being pricked or cut. My mother tried to tell me that was not the case, but since she had been so secretive about it, I did not believe her. For a year I worried about it, till I actually got mine.
Information breeds confidence and secrecy breeds fear. Also the secrecy surrounding periods makes one think there is something shameful about it. So why not be open about periods with our daughters? Young girls must not feel like periods are something that need to be hushed up. For some periods can be very painful. If they need medical help dealing with extreme symptoms, they must not feel ashamed to ask for it. In those awkward teenage years, why unnecessarily create yet another uncomfortable subject. One that a girl must face every month. If they need a day off from school, or later in the work place, to deal with the intense discomfort of periods, once in a while, they should feel comfortable bringing it up and asserting themselves.
If we are open about periods with our daughters, they will not hesitate to come to us with their questions and concerns. They will not be defensive about them. There is all kinds of information available on the internet today, that can be misleading or frightening, if not interpreted in the proper context.
Sure my daughter is not old enough to understand the details of reproduction and certain aspects of it will make absolutely no sense to her right now. And one day I will have to talk to her about those. But today, I don't see any reason to hide the existence of periods from her so completely, that in 7 years later she says "My goodness, whatever is that? I had no idea you were dealing with this every month. Soon, I too am going to, and you never talked about it and you went out of your way to hide it and you want me to believe it is neither shameful nor scary?" I did not have a formal talk with her, but I honestly answered and continue to answer, the questions she can understand the answers to.
Being open about periods, will also help erase all the taboo and social stigma attached to it. Periods are not unclean, not a sickness, not a sign of weakness in women, and not an abomination. For some they are uncomfortable, and for some they are down right painful, and others barely notice them, but they are a part of a woman's life. So we should not be embarrassed by periods.