Strong bones, not babies: changing the first period conversation
I bet that when you got your period for the first time, someone told you, "Now you're a woman" or "Now you can have babies."
I remember hearing this a lot during puberty. It always frustrated me. Why the heck would I want to be a woman just yet? And get real, babies were the farthest thing from my mind. I loved gymnastics, foreign languages, jumping on the trampoline, and being a goofball. I was insulted that my body thought it was time to reproduce.
If only someone had explained the real reason for periods!
As a Coming of Age mentor, I'm fascinated by the kinds of stories girls hear about the reason for the blood. One of the stories I know they hear a lot is that the blood appears as proof that they can have babies.
Believe me, that is the most unexciting way to explain periods to an adolescent. Sure, some girls are probably stoked to think of motherhood someday, but most of them need a different frame of mind to feel proud of their periods.
Here's how we spice it up!
While it's true that menstruation is a sign that the body is building its fertility mechanisms, it's more accurate to see it as a sign that big, important hormones are starting to flow through a girl's system.
I know that hormones have an incredibly bad rap in our world, but the fact is that hormones impact every system in the body and are a foundation of our health. During adolescence, they are literally shaping a girl's physical, mental, and psychological landscape to turn her into a whole new person.
Hormones are what turn a girl into a powerful young woman. Underneath that hoodie she's actually wearing a Superwoman suit.
Girls don't have periods - primarily, anyway - to make babies. They have periods so they can get taller, grow bigger bones, run faster, jump higher, write more creatively, sing louder, discover their identity, feel deeply, ace that math test, and experience life more fully.
Guys already get this message as they turn into teens. They hear that testosterone will make them big, strong, athletic, desirable, smart, and powerful. Girls deserve to hear that estrogen and progesterone are having the same effect (and girls make testosterone, too, just like boys make estrogen and progesterone).
Eventually, these same hormones may also inspire them to fall in love, want a family, and perhaps even have those babies - but not yet.
I guarantee that if we start re-framing the first period (and menstruation in general) talk from "Now you can have babies" to "Now you can beat the boys in soccer" our girls will be so much more pumped to be uterus owners. Or if your girl likes to play chess, you can tell her that now she's going to be even more adept. If she likes to cook, her culinary prowess will increase. You get the idea.
You could even explain that the most important event of the cycle isn't menstruation at all, in fact, but rather, ovulation. Ovulation is the driving event of our cycles, and it's what gives us the Superwoman powers of those hormones.
This fist-pumping, hell-yeah approach to menarche is not meant to ignore the very real implications that its arrival signals: sexuality, reproductive health, emotional and physiological changes, and the new lifestyle of having a menstrual cycle. It's often difficult for parents and girls to have an idea of what's normal and what's not for these early years of having cycles.
I encourage adults and adolescents alike to get educated about the normal parameters for menstrual cycle health for teens and adolescents and how to manage various issues (hint: it's not the Pill - this post is coming soon!).
If you have a daughter of your own or an adolescent girl in your life, what do you tell her about why we menstruate? What would have benefited you to hear about cycles and menstruation when you were her age?