You might have read the subject of this post and asked yourself what is menarche? If that was you, then we had the same first response to the word. Menarche, (pronounced “MEN-ar-kee”), is one of the two biggest milestones in a woman’s life, the first menstrual period in girls. The second one, in case you’re wondering, is menopause, when menstruation stops and female reproductive hormones slow. These milestones are universal and mark the beginning and end of a woman’s reproductive cycle.
How your menarche was supported or not, will have an effect on your subsequent periods and your ability to practice self love. When I talk about self-love, I’m not talking about a nice bath – although that’s obviously delicious, especially with some essentials oils – but the fierce love that means you’re able to to say no, set boundaries, know what your needs are and make sure your needs are met – that kind of self love.
In some cultures and families, menarche is a moment of celebration and in others it’s a bit like tumble weed – it goes very much unnoticed or even a bit of shame and fear added into the mix. Whatever the scenario, it’s a case of everyone doing the best that they can with the tools that they’ve been given.
When doing a Vaginal Steam Health Consultation one of the questions I ask women is how old they were when their period first started because the age gives insight into what imbalances may be showing up in their cycles. I’ve been amazed to see how many women don’t know when their first period started. Either they have absolutely no memory of the event and it’s a complete blank. Or they have a vague idea of when it was and they have to do a bit of mental work to put the pieces together.
My aunt related a story of her menarche that happened in the 1960s in the UK. She was so unprepared and had absolutely no idea what is a period, so when she discovered blood in her underwear she thought she was bleeding to death. In contrast, I’ve read stories of mothers hosting a woman’s circle for their daughter with trusted older women and close girl friends joining to celebrate this milestone.
I was 13 when my period started and I felt unprepared and with so many questions left unanswered. My mother was raised in the UK in the 50s by Irish Catholic immigrants, and she hadn’t exactly been nourished with much period talk or female empowerment messages. The morning of my menarche, I awoke in pain and when I went to the toilet I discovered my blood stained underwear. My mother was still sleeping and after announcing my news there definitely wasn’t celebration, instead my sense was her dread. I was handed a big bag of pads and went to school in discomfort, so much had changed.
The experience of my period was heavy and painful from the beginning. I quit the swim team because I couldn’t get my head around using tampons (I thought they had to be worn on the outside squeezed between the lips!) and decided like many many girls – my period was a monthly curse to be endured and keep quiet about.
If you read my About story, you’ll see that self love hasn’t come easily to me and it’s been a real work in progress, but the good news is that it can and does change. We can go back and heal the pain of the past when we’re willing to feel all the feelings. Recently, my 3 year old daughter, after watching me change my pad, shared her delight about her moon time coming when she’s a big girl and she’ll get to wear special panties with pockets to hold her pad. She’s genuinely so excited!
I invite you to crack open a clean page of your journal and let your womb, gut and heart collide with pen and paper. Use the journal prompts below to express in whatever way feels natural for you (a poem, a song, draw or make art that represents the feelings that feel real and true to you).
What is your menarche story? Can you go back to that time of your first bleed and remember how you felt, what was said, how your parents reacted? This may take a little doing, because for so many of us this was such a non-event that we’ve pushed it aside, but try to go there, heart riff it out without editing and then try to tap into the emotions that you feel as you experience the story – are you sad, are you angry? are you embarrassed?
Did your mother show you love?
How do you show love to yourself and others?
What are your needs? Are you able to be your own mother?
Feel the Feelings
Once we begin to process the pain of our mother story, the pain no longer needs to stay in the darkness where it manifests as manipulation, competition with other women and self-hatred. Our pain can be felt, experienced and hopefully, over time, turned into love – a love that reveals itself as fierce support of one another and deep, self-acceptance, freeing us all up to be in our power.
Knowing what I now know about steaming, I wish I could go back and give my 13 year old self a steam plan, a bag of herbs and educate her on proper period care. It didn’t have to be a painful beginning and a dreaded monthly visitor. I also wish I could go and love on my mother at the time of her menarche.
I hope this post has given you some food for thought to reflect on your own menarche. If there was lack of care or celebration, some women find it useful to create a menarche ceremony for their younger self to heal the wounds and offer the care and nurturing that they needed.
If you know someone young who is having a hard time since starting their period please send them this post. Vaginal steaming can be safely practiced by young girls and has been known to create wonderful shifts in their periods through regular steaming at home. The aim is to reach a 4 day period that is only light to medium flow red blood, with no clots or pain.