Menarche, or first menstruation, is the sacred time when a girl spreads her wings to enter the spring of her life. However, for many of us, puberty and menarche may have been a lonely or confusing time.
The approach to puberty can be a turbulent time for many of us as hormones start to bubble and our bodies start to change. For many, our experience of this time may have been that it wasn’t talked about – we were handed sanitary pads and told that this was a pain in life we had to deal with.
We know that in some cultures, and during some instances in history, a woman’s monthly cycle is revered. During her bleed she takes some downtime, away from her day to day tasks and handing chores onto others. She may withdraw to a “Red Tent” to rest and honour this time, knowing that in doing so she will have more energy for the weeks that follow.
Similarly, celebrations and rituals which surround a girl’s menarche acknowledge the importance of this rite of passage. They can also establish her monthly bleed as a sacred time. The narrative shared is positive, similar to that which Anita Diamant beautifully describes in her book “The Red Tent”:
“The great mother whom we call Innana gave a gift to woman that is not known among men, and this is the secret of blood. The flow at the dark of the moon, the healing blood of the moon’s birth – to men, this is flux and distemper, bother and pain. They imagine we suffer and consider themselves lucky. We do not disabuse them.
In the red tent, the truth is known. In the red tent, where days pass like a gentle stream, as the gift of Innana courses through us, cleansing the body of last month’s death, preparing the body to receive the new month’s life, women give thanks — for repose and restoration, for the knowledge that life comes from between our legs, and that life costs blood.”
Menarche is one of the marked seasons of a woman’s life (when I refer to women in this article, I also include all those who menstruate). When she first menstruates, she moves from child to woman (or also referred to as maiden) and her fertility becomes the rhythm of her life.
The way a girl is recognised as she comes to menarche can shape the way she perceives her feminine self. Ideally we hope this to be as “a cyclical, sexual, fertile human being” as Jane Hardwicke Collings describes.
“We know that at her menarche, the experience a girl has, how she is treated, the messages she receives, both subliminal and specific, inform her of her culture’s value of woman and how she is expected to behave and so we are choosing to do this consciously and with deep love and respect for the feminine. “
The way we recognise this rite of passage can also affect the way we give birth. Jane similarly shares how often in her work she sees the correlation between our initiation into womanhood at menarche and our initiation into motherhood at birth.
Somehow in our current times, this positivity has been lost and it is our role as mothers, aunts, grandmothers, cousins and friends to change it. Fathers too have a role in changing this narrative. We need to reclaim our menstrual wisdom, to encourage our daughters to find positivity and even excitement as they move into this new phase of their lives.
Thanks to the work of women such as Christiane Northrup MD, Miranda Gray, Ana Davis, Jane Hardwicke Collings and many more, this is starting to happen. We are talking about periods and our bleed more openly, recognising how our bodies and emotions change over our cycle, some of us are allowing a period of rest when we bleed and we are beginning to honour the significance of a girl’s menarche.
Feminine positive companies such as those making period underpants have taken a bold approach to marketing, displaying “blood” in their ads and talking about periods on billboards and buses. Sadly, the rise of endometriosis and fertility issues are also increasing awareness around menstruation, forcing those who may not want to engage with this part of themselves to look deeper. Yet, no matter what the reason, we no longer need our cycles and our knowledge around them to remain as secret women’s business.
My own personal experience of menarche was thankfully a positive one. My mother shared that this was an exciting time, I was becoming a woman and my period was a sign I could have babies (when the time was right). It was the late eighties, when the issue of PMS was finally being discussed in the media and so my dad regularly asked if my headache was on account of my period. Although I was often embarrassed by his question, I should have given him five stars for his efforts to be an understanding “new age” dad!
Now, there are many ‘Beautiful Girl’ or ‘Becoming a Woman’ circles that we can attend with our daughters to help them prepare for this time, gifting them a greater understanding so that when their menarche comes they are at ease. There are also some great instagram feeds and podcasts around period positivity (try @letstalkperiodau or @operationperiod to name a couple).
When the time came for my first daughter’s menarche I found myself more excited than she was. I had grand plans! I was to take her to high tea and, inspired by Dr Christiane Northrup (author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom), I chose to invite the women in my daughter’s life to celebrate her menarche by sending a card sharing what they’d wish they’d known when they were at that stage of their lives, to share their deepest feminine wisdom.
Her menarche came sooner in her years than we’d planned (aged 11). When her menses began she was the most exhausted I’ve ever seen her and although we made it to high tea, she was so tired she was unable to take it all in. I did give her the box of cards which she went through thoughtfully and she still values this box as one of her most important possessions.
In planning how to honour your daughter’s menarche it is so important to understand what they will need and feel comfortable with, this being a very sensitive time. Ana Davis, in her book Moving with the Moon, gives some very helpful resources on how to mark this rite of passage for your daughter.
It is important to remember that this ceremony is not about you. I would have loved to have had a big gathering but I know my daughter would have felt very uncomfortable in the spotlight for this celebration, especially being one of the first of her friends to menstruate. Now that my second daughter is moving toward this time, she has been resistant to even attending the circle for girls, teaching me that every girl’s path is different. I have a very open relationship with my first daughter when it comes to her menses – she is comfortable in talking about it and I try to keep the conversation as open as possible in our family so as to encourage a sense of normality for my second daughter.
As more and more of us start to invite this menstrual-positive shift into our family consciousness, we will create a tide of change that will remove the shame and stigma around our cycles. My hope is that this will help future generations understand what it really means to listen to our feminine selves.
- Reclaiming Menarche (blog) & Ten Moons, The Inner Journey of Pregnancy by Jane Hardwicke Collings
- Moving with the Moon: Yoga, Movement & Meditation for Every Phase of your Your Menstrual Cycle & Beyond by Ana Davis
- The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
- Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup MD
Nadine O’Mara is an experienced prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher, doula, mother of two daughters, and our Bliss Baby Yoga Co-Director and Online Course Content Manager, who also runs her own business, Conscious Birth. Nadine shares her wealth of knowledge through contributing and editing content for our Bliss Baby Yoga online courses and social media, including being a co-facilitator of our Online Level 2 Fertility Yoga Teacher Training course. Nadine provides doula support, birth education and yoga for women and their partners in and around Bellingen on the NSW mid north coast, as well as offering self care and restorative yoga workshops.
If you are passionate about supporting women through yoga, we offer a range of Bliss Baby Yoga online courses including Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga, feminine-focused Restorative Yoga and Yoga for Fertility, as well as online extension modules including Pelvic Floor Anatomy & Physiology for Women’s Health, Prenatal and Postnatal Anatomy & Physiology, and Supporting IVF with Fertility Yoga. We also offer Online One-on-One Mentoring Sessions with our experienced team of Bliss Baby Yoga facilitators.
Moving with the Moon – Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of Your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond by Ana Davis is now available in Ebook and soft-cover print book formats, and ships worldwide.
Further Reading related to this topic:
- Honouring Your Cycle by Rosie Matheson
- Yoga for Endometriosis by Ana Davis
- Top Tips for a More Easeful and Enjoyable Period by Ana Davis
- Self care for menstruation: a necessity, not a luxury! by Ana Davis
- The Apana Breath: detox your body-mind by Ana Davis
- Self Care for All Phases of your Menstrual Cycle by Ana Davis