By Richa Singh
Menstruation or periods often remain a much guarded and hidden phenomenon in households with women, or even in nuclear families that might be having an older sibling who has already started menstruating. This monthly occurrence is kept as a closely guarded secret between the mother and older sister.
It’s difficult to predict when a growing girl will start menstruating. It can start as early at 10 years of age or a few years later. With no prior knowledge or awareness, it is often shocking and daunting for the young girl, potentially leading them into a temporary phase of depression until someone has addressed all her fears in advance. If mothers are themselves unprepared on how to address the topic or show any signs of sadness when this happens to their little girls, it simply raises further doubts and insecurities in young girls.
The majority of the girls I have spoken to over the last several months have mentioned they had no or incomplete information before their first period. Most felt it was an incurable disease which had hit them, and were simply told by their mothers to be quiet about it, not talk about it, and stay away from boys and men. Some of them were then subject to social alienation or restrictions from family and social participation on “those days”. Even in loving and doting families, menstruating girls suddenly felt “left alone”.
Girls can continue to be happy and blossom, if mothers or even fathers raising their girls alone are well prepared on how to talk this with their daughters. Periods are a monthly occurrence for all healthy adolescent girls and women. So why be shy about it, and guard it as a secret till it happens? It’s easy for a parent to introduce the concept to their daughters while shopping. Children are naturally curious. They are bound to ask what the pack of sanitary napkins in the grocery basket is for. It shouldn’t be difficult to explain that it is meant to absorb a discharge that the sister or mother has once a month.
Following questions could be “what is that”, “why does that happen”, “oh, is it a diaper”. Depending on the child’s age these can be addressed too. I have tried putting these queries to rest with varying answers like “just as when we have a cold, we need napkins, mama needs this once a month to manage another kind of discharge; it’s normal”. Closer to nine or 10 years of age, girls should be told about changes in the body that will happen with teenage; how boys go through certain changes and girls go through different ones. These are normal and signs of a healthy body.
It’s okay to tell both your girl and boy that puberty indicates the start of fertility and is a gradual process of bodies maturing till they are adults.
Parents should also inform their daughters that if periods start in school they can always reach out to their teachers. Most schools now provide a menstrual kit with napkins, and sometimes mild medication and hot water bags to ease cramps in their first-aid room.
Let’s encourage our children to accept periods as normal. There should be no shame for a girl asking for a sanitary napkin or a boy picking it off the shelf for his sister or mom. Wouldn’t it be nice if a girl walks up with a smile to her mother and says, “Mom, I got my first period today!” versus the girl dragging herself fearfully and confused, saying, “Mom, I see some blood, I am scared”.
(The writer is CEO of Niine Sanitary Napkins, which launched the Niine Movement, a five-year plan to raise awareness of menstrual hygiene awareness across both genders and all ages.)