“I just go with the flow, I follow the yellow brick road. I don’t know where it’s going to lead me, but I follow it.” ~ Grace Jones.
I don’t remember when (if ever) I got the ‘birds and the bees’ talk, but I heard about girls and periods early. They didn’t want to tell me at first (said I was too young), but my older girlfriend got hers, and told my other friend, and I eventually talked them into telling me. I was maybe eight at the time. For weeks after that I examined my underwear, but eventually gave up. I think I believed it happened once (you got it!) and never again after that! The only conversation with my mother on the subject (of course I never asked) years later consisted of her handing me a book, saying: “I don’t know how much you know already”. I was the youngest, so the book had passed through several hands before mine. Afterwards, when I attempted to start a conversation about it she gave me a piece of advice on the difference between boys and girls. Boys are apparently like big ships, they can’t stop once they get started, whereas a girl can. So don’t get them started! Like my co-worker used to say “Don’t start nutt’n, won’t be nutt’n!”
I don’t know that I did much better with my own daughter, who (poor thing) started menstruating very young. I know there are mothers of daughters out there who have managed the whole transition in a life-affirming and celebratory way. I missed that opportunity. Too much of my mother in me, perhaps. It’s a part of life, get on with it. I do remember my mother describing what reality was for her in her youth: cloths which had to be washed and reused. Cloths which had to be covered up when hanging outside on the line so that the neighbors could not see them.
I write on this subject in defiance of the way we treat the reality and normalcy of a woman’s body. We raise our daughters to hide the evidence, as if they should be ashamed. No-one should ever know you are seeing your period. We use code words to talk about it. In Jamaica it used to be ‘your aunt from Red Hills’ was visiting. Kelly, was another name (don’t ask!). For my best friend and I, it became the Dirty Dozen, based on a misunderstood comment one day. Quite apart from the biology and functionality of it, the monthly cycle forces females to acknowledge their body, to pay attention to clues and changes, to observe and nurture. Once a month it is ok to pamper yourself, but not for too long!
I have always thought that it is quite miraculous that the lunar cycle matches the menstrual cycle in length, I love the way a woman’s body is tied to the rhythms of the moon. Of course, that 28 day pattern, (unlike the moon) is subject to moods and life events, and can be upset quite easily! I was amazed to discover that my own cycle was exactly 28 days after I had my tubes tied. Prior to that, when I practiced a less reliable form of birth control, I would be watching and waiting each month, wondering if…!
And don’t get me started on that whole menopause thing! I once worked with a nursing assistant who was legendary. All student nurses who went on their coffee break with Joan were subjected to a laundry list of her latest signs and symptoms. It seemed as if generations of student nurses could all relate her tales of woe.
If I was raised in an era when bodily functions were not easily discussed or fussed over, it was nothing in comparison to some parts of the world today. In some countries young girls are still so ignorant as to the facts of life, they believe they have some deadly disease. In some parts of India, quite apart from the taboo nature of the conversation, there is no access to feminine hygiene products. This means that girls either miss school, or drop out of school altogether. A recent documentary: “Period. End of sentence” describes this reality. As always there are signs of hope. One man, concerned by what he saw his wife using during her period (old newspapers and rags), spent two years designing a machine to make sanitary napkins and won an award for his design. Not only has the product changed lives, his industry provides jobs and income, and he provides his machines to self-help groups run by women.
We sometimes do not realize how fortunate we are, by accident of birth. We take things for granted, not even being aware of the hardships faced by millions of people around the world. And then we complain. Opening your eyes to the reality of another can help you appreciate the wealth you possess. Closer to home you can always donate feminine hygiene products, underwear, some of the basics of life to homeless shelters.
This Friday morning I hope you can appreciate the joys of life! May you have a young woman in your life with whom you can celebrate the lunar cycles! And if you know someone going through menopause, may you both have the faith to know that this too shall pass! As for me, I would love to have a good night’s sleep once in a while!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!