What I Will Teach My Daughter About Women’s Bodies
It’s impossible to hide my period from my daughter. From that afternoon in the restroom stall at the Berkeley Art Museum when she was a 4-year-old shouting, “That’s a lot of blood, Mom!” to a recent emergency gas-station pit stop during a heavy-flow day, the bulk of big life conversations about women’s bodies I have with my daughter occur in bathrooms.
Now, something new is about to be introduced into these discussions: the ending of my period. I’d been so focused on giving her a positive (or, at least, neutral) introduction to the physical realities of monthly menstruation that I hadn’t realized my side of the story was on the verge of a plot twist. That chapter where my body no longer talks to the moon with the same regularity, where I save money on maxi pads, and where I board my own hormonal roller coaster was upon us.
Since I’m not a particularly ceremonious person, I doubt I’ll create a ritual over the ending of my menstrual flow and the beginning of my daughter’s. My clockwork 28-day cycle has started losing its battery recently, the gears slowing to 29, 30, 31 days. The iPhone app I previously downloaded to track ovulation and avoid pregnancy is the same one telling me that it’s no longer necessary. One day soon, I will log out of the app permanently, and my daughter will log in, as I pass the baton (or tampon) to her in the fertility relay.
Looking Toward Her Future
My 10-year-old daughter draws dragons and thinks kissing is gross. She has repeatedly proclaimed that she doesn’t want to have children and once asked if, because of this, she could get a jetpack instead of her period. (A better apples-to-oranges example does not exist.)
At any moment, her body will announce its ability to create a child. This new biological capacity is arriving ahead of any existing psychological capacity, and fast-tracks her introduction to life in a woman’s body.
I am supposed to be her tour guide right at the moment I’m leaving the museum, dropping my brochure at the front door, and heading to the after-party.
Mixed Messages for Women
The mixed messages she’ll get about womanhood are about to quadruple. She’ll be pressured to reshape her body, to add or remove hair, to focus more on being liked than being respected.
My Woman Card has been signed, laminated, torn, bent, burnt, restored, painted, flooded, bedazzled, and crumpled. It has been questioned and used. Her Woman Card is new and crisp. She hasn’t yet met these questions about womanhood, femininity, fertility, power, beauty, partnership, or conformity. Her card has yet to be stomped on or cherished.
Thankfully, menopause is not the end of that card’s membership. In fact, I think it gives me a seat on the board.
Down with the Shaming
Despite the number of people on the planet who have their periods at this very second, at 46 years old, I still blush when a tampon jumps out of my overflowing tote bag. I’ve had my period for 34 years and I still find myself occasionally apologizing for it. If there was ever a time to fully reconcile the proximal public knowing that I’m bleeding, it’s now.
My daughter will learn a lot about her future partners by discovering how they respond to her overflow of tampons and her cycle, in general, and I never want her to feel shyness about her body and her needs. As my body changes, I am faced with my own intimate hesitations, and reminded to heed the same advice.
New Developments Bring New Challenges
Today’s favorite tween question: “Why should I wear a bra?”
As women, so much energy goes into the hide-and-seek game of exposing and covering parts of our bodies. I’m dissatisfied with every possible answer to her question, most of which revolve around preferred curves: We’ve basically decided, as a society, that certain parts of a woman should be covered and shaped.
I support my daughter in making her own decision here, with the understanding that she may need to stand firm on her beliefs if she goes against the status quo. Maybe that’s how her Woman Card gets its first bend.
The Cycle of Mothers and Daughters
From eyeballs to skin, hair to Down There, my menopausal ecosystem is slowly evaporating into a desert. Too many glances at the increasing number of so-called “age spots” on the backs of my hands give me flashbacks of staring at my mom’s hands as a kid and thinking, “her skin is like lizard paper.” She was 48.
In my more psychologically wrinkled moments, I compare my parchment skin to my daughter’s premium silk. I experience a dull, nagging grief for my under-appreciated former body, while admiring the beauty of her suppleness, with skin yet to stretch and neural pathways yet to form.
What Wisdom Can I Pass On?
All those years of bleeding: What did I learn?
Womanhood is messy. And potent.
We literally spill our bodies out into the world. Getting our periods teaches us to handle blood; as women, we will often be the caregivers and we will not have the option to look away. I will leave my bleeding days having learned this lesson fully.
My periods have planned my dates, my vacations, my wedding, my meal plans, and my wardrobe. I’ve lived days, months, and years in anticipation of my period arriving… or not. My periods marked time, possibility, stress levels, diet, annoyance, embarrassment, hope, and dread.
No red velvet cake can celebrate how my daughter’s period will shape her path, her relationship to her body, and her confidence. However, I believe celebrating with cake on the other end is a fabulous idea.
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