A Period Drama: Part 2 You Shall Talk To Your Daughters
By Chava Kuchar
How were you introduced to the topic of menstruation?
I was lucky enough to have parents who felt the best way to talk to us about our bodies, sex and anything else on this topic was via an information dump at age six or seven. I know that sounds alarming to most, but they gave us (my younger brother and I) the time, insisted on our seriousness, and then provided us with a lot of books to further navigate any of our questions. It was actually good for us, we had time to process stuff. Maybe because we were exposed at such an early time and in such a safe manner, we felt a lot of things were clearer to us- like what was considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior (of ourselves and others). And unlike other children and teenagers our age, our curiosities were discussed rather than explored or acted on.
I understand that isn’t the technique desired by all, but if you have a daughter (and/ or son) that is approaching puberty, you NEED to have the discussion with them about their bodies, what puberty entails, sex and consent. I implore you, don’t make them navigate it alone- its terrifying whether your armed with the information or not. But if you give them a chance to navigate it through an informed lens then perhaps, just perhaps, they'll be able to understand not just the basic and essential facts, but also these basic tenants of self worth and consent;
YOUR body is precious, individual and capable of great things,
YOUR body is YOURS, no one can touch it or tell you what to do with it without your consent, and the same applies to others, you do not have the right to touch or tell others what they can do with their body
By extension of this, you need to RESPECT yourself, your needs and that of others and understand like all things in life GROWTH IS A PROCESS.
So what does this discussion with your children sound like? Well it’s hard to say, each relationship will have its own style, but I can tell you it doesn’t have to be awkward and it is not a short conversation or even one conversation. The more honest you are the better, and just remember if you found it challenging as child, just consider how kids in this super saturated era of information are negotiating these physical changes and feelings. If it gets hard to keep talking, just keep calm and continue because I assure you you cannot rely on external sources like fiction, entertainment or Sex-Education courses to do the job for you. Because the basis of most school based Sex-Ed courses are steeped in these facts: Having a period means a girl can get pregnant, having sex leads to pregnancy and therefore a period is a sign you are pregnant or are not pregnant.
And these are basic at best and wholly insufficient for a young person to correctly understand their bodies and their bodies in relation to others (because that is also significantly important). Yes, your children may pick up other nuggets of information from the likes of their friends or social-media, but there is nothing more impacting to a child than unspoken cues; how you talk about it or don’t talk about it is how it is perceived. Left undiscussed implies that these things are private, personal, inappropriate or too gross and shameful to speak about.
None of this is true.
We all have bodies, and they all experience these things at some point. A discussion with them about these facts should reflect this reality. This discussion, whether you choose to stagger it or put it all on the table should involve a basic introduction to their bodies, what puberty entails, sex and consent and it should be discussed in a safe space, and in an informed and respectful way. Because if it isn’t discussed with them, the savvy Gen Z-er might google their way through it, and I can assure you that even though it may be more widely discussed on the internet than in the home, the internet is not a safe space to navigate these topics.
So let’s start here;
What to tell your daughters about their periods
Fact 1: Your period is aptly named so because it is a period of time during which the blood and tissue that build up as the lining of your uterus each month. Specifically, your hormones, cause your ovaries to release one egg about once a month. Most months, the egg and the lining of your uterus come out of your vagina as your period. This is part of your menstrual cycle.
This cycle is what makes it possible for a woman to have a baby. During sexual intercourse, the egg can get fertilised by a male’s sperm and then it attaches to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) and grows into a baby. This is often the reason having a period is telling if you are or are not pregnant, because if the egg is not fertilized, it and your endometrium will come out, however if it is fertilized it will (hopefully) remain intact and nourish the fetus’s growth.
Fact 2: Your period flow can be light, heavy, or in between. Sometimes menstrual blood also will be different shades of red, from light to dark. You may see some dark clumps or clots of blood, which is normal. Your period may be heavy the first day or so each time and then decrease on later days.
Fact 3: Periods usually last between three and five days. It is normal to have periods that are shorter or longer, up to seven days. It is also normal if your periods are not the same number of days each month, especially in the first years.
What to expect during your Period?
Usually, girls get their periods between the ages of 12 and 14, but it can happen years before or after that. Don’t worry if you get your period later or earlier than your friends get theirs — that happens a lot. If you hadn’t gotten your period by age 15 (or within three years of when your breasts started to grow), talk to your parents or guardians or your doctor.
Menstrual cycles take place over about one month (around 21 to 34 days), but each woman’s cycle is different. Many women have a cycle that lasts 28 days. Some women may have cycles as long as 45 days. The cycle includes not just your period, but the rise and fall of hormones and other body changes that take place over the month. Keep in mind that your periods may not be regular at first- you may have two in one month, or have a month without a period at all. Also, at first your period may last just a couple of days in some months and up to a week in other months- they will likely become more regular in time.
Expect hormonal shifts because high levels of estrogen can cause vomiting, high levels of progesterone can cause bowel cramps and period poops, cause fatigue, water retentions which can cause the swelling and of tummy and breasts and discomfort and then there’s the cramping. Outside of these symptoms, there can be heaps of other signs you are getting or are on your period and if you are symptomatic they are all almost uncomfortable or painful (I feel you Sista). Clue, a medical app for women tell us that the 5 highest ranking signs are;
Up to 88% of women experience cramps every cycle. Painful cramps can make it difficult to concentrate
60% of women get acne breakouts
70% have sore breasts
60% feel bloated
25% have diarrhoea
But through this all, you need to remember that your period is a vital sign. So if they get overly irregular you should get it checked out. To learn about your own pattern, it's a good idea to keep track of your periods on a calendar or app (such as Clue, Eve, Flo and Period Calendar) but bare in mind that your period may be irregular in it’s first year. Keeping track lets you get a sense of when to expect your next period, know if you missed a period (if it comes on a regular schedule), have a record of your period schedule and when your last one came to share with your gynaecologist (a women’s health doctor) or other health care provider. When you chart your cycle, remember that it starts with the first day of one period and goes until the first day of the next period.
What tools are available to you?
To deal with hormonal cramping and other period associated discomfort, there are hot water bottles or hot packs and over the counter painkillers such as Paracetamol, Nurofen, Naprogesic (but you need to have eaten before taking them and ensure that you follow instructions and are doing so under the supervision of an adult). Additionally, bathing in Epsom salts (high in magnesium) and engaging in exercise are said to stay off ongoing cramping.
The Traditional Method: Disposable Tampons and Pads
Traditionally, there were pads and tampons, and if you didn’t have access to this there was staying home for the duration of your period- this is common in many developing nation and low socio-economic communities. It is most often referred to as period poverty, and it’s a sad reality of how poverty can affect the everyday woman. However, now an awareness of the materiality and longevity of these products have been brought to our attention, some seriously impressive innovations have been designed to minimise our exposure to harmful materials and decrease our carbon footprint.
So there are still disposable pads and tampons, and liners for lesser days and they are available in most supermarkets or pharmacies, but now there are also organic or reusable ones (lunar pads) ones. Two serious reasons brought around these innovations; the effects on the environment, specifically the tonnes of waste one women will create in her menstruating lifetime and the effects on your body, and materiality of disposable pads and tampons. Your Vagina is a very porous part of your body, and most main-stream companies produced tampons, pads and liner are made with rayon and polymer, i.e. plastics that can be absorbed into your system through your vaginal wall.
So alternatively, the organic cotton pads and tampons are made from cotton that hasn’t been grown with heavy pesticides and for this reason, are often less white because the cotton hasn’t been bleached. Similarly, the Lunarpads are washable organic materials (usually cotton and bamboo) layered for comfort and absorption and can be thrown into the wash after use. If you are familiar with cloth, reusable diapers, these lunar pads are designed in the same vein.
Then Thinx came along and thought up these brilliant undies that function similarly but are fancy and far more comfortable than pads or tampons. These period- proof underwear, said to the be the main disruptor in the 15 billion dollar feminine hygiene market, are super absorbent (for this reason they are expanding to include underwear for the insolvent women) and whilst they run pretty high to purchase, think about the money that you would be saving monthly (the average woman buying supermarket menstrual products spends $15AUD/10USD month). Without moving directly past tampons-which come with or without applicators, Thinx has also developed a reusable applicator to cut down of the paper and plastic wasted for one applicator to one tampon ratio. Genius!!!!
Now, just to be clear we are not advertising any brand and have no loyalty to one or the other; no one woman is the same and for that reason its important to explore the many options out there and find the one that best fits you. Thinx was the innovative start up that brought us the underwear, however there are since many more designs and manufacturers of period proof underwear to explore.
Another newer product on the scene is the Menstrual Cup, which is for individual and ongoing use and is made from medical grade silicone and is inserted into the vaginal canal and sits at your cervix. Thankfully, many different companies have created these in the last couple of years, so your options for the shape and length of your menstrual cup is vast and varied because so are our vaginas and cervixes. I am personally impartial to the Mooncup, because of its longer tab at the bottom which is perfect for my long vaginal canal (if you decide to use these, do not cut the excess tab off until you have inserted and removed the cup numerous times comfortably). Similar to the firmer menstrual cup is the soft menstrual cup/disc which is like a diaphragm (contraceptive device/ birth control) that unfolds and is said to be less firm and more comfortable for some.
Now some more green an alternative menstrual products are soft tampons which can be made of natural foam or sea sponges…yes, sea sponges. These sponges are from the ocean, chemical and bleach free and are reusable for up to 6 months and depending on your flow can be trimmed to size. There is even a developing movement advocating for a homemade green solution to the original green ‘problem’ in the form of a soft knitted menstrual tampon- often knitted from organic cotton and wool products its soft, washable tampons and safe.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the Pill, which while strictly speaking a contraceptive tool (a tool aimed to prevent pregnancy) it can also be a useful tool to balance out your hormones if they are causing too many issues and or skip your periods if you and your doctor have discussed it.