My menarche came when I was 15 years old. I had waited for what felt like an age as most of my friends had already started bleeding. I remember the anticipation that I felt. I knew that it was something special. I had watched the secret pride that the girls at my school took when exiting a toilet cubicle to place their sanitary bag into the disposal unit. I also knew that it wasn’t talked about.
My mother had brushed over the subject and then left a packet of sanitary pads in my wardrobe. There was no biology lesson, no discussion, I knew only that from now on I ‘needed to be careful’ around boys and that when I bled it needed to be hidden. My anticipation and excitement at becoming a fertile woman was met only with secrecy and shame. Unsurprising really when only one generation ago my mother’s own experience of her menarche had been utter terror. Even less prepared than I, she had thought that the blood that just wouldn’t stop coming, must surely mean that she was going to die.
My story, I know, is not so very different than everyone else’s. In my work I have heard many women’s experience of menarche. Their stories each reveal the lack of significance placed upon this vital ‘rite of passage’ in our culture. Many women, when looking back at their own menarche, reveal a sense of being unmet, uninformed and above all unseen or celebrated. During mentoring sessions I can often see that these same women rush through their ‘inner spring’ after their bleed, which often leads to PMT, exhaustion and burn out at their ‘inner autumn’. During my yoga classes when these women experience pregnancy it is the same, only this time the experience is met at the birth of their child. The next major ‘rite of passage’ which takes them from maiden to mother, crossed without ever first receiving the blessing and initiation due to them, when they first became fertile women. Their lives and relationship to their own self-care is conducted with the same energy that they received at their menarche. Unconsciously choosing to ignore their inner feelings and therefore continuing to experience being unmet, uninformed and unseen. I see this in them, as it was the same for me also.
It was at the birth of my eldest son, nine years ago, that I met again with my own ill informed, meek and deflated maiden self. After his hospital birth and ensuing intervention I again felt those very same unmet, uninformed and unseen or uncelebrated feelings that I had at menarche. Now I had my own vivid experience of how that ‘unseen and unmet’ maiden part of me had showed up again at the birth of my first child. I watched myself enter the hospital system silent and passive after a failed home birth. What was it within me that allowed the birth of my first son to be treated as if it was just another day? To mask the anger that I felt about his coming into the world being brushed over as an event to simply ‘sign-off’? To lie, numb from the waist down, whilst my cut pelvic floor was stitched. The male surgeon chatting vacantly about the other women that he had also ‘repaired’ that week. I became very interested in what needed healing in my experience of menarche. I began keenly looking at what potential there was to go back to my maiden self in order to re-write the story.
Meeting my unmet self as I would have liked to of been met.
I began to go back and track what actually happened when I first saw my blood, who was there, what messages I had been given – the verbal and non-verbal also. I wrote it all down in as much detail as possible and when the old story was clear I wept for what was and what could have been. I then began languishing in writing what my experience could have looked like if I was to mother myself. What I would have said to my teenage self, what actions I would have taken. What tenderness I would have showed her. Clearly picturing myself at age 15, the innocence and immaturity in me yearning for the wisdom and guidance of an older woman. Putting myself into the position of parent to my teenage self I softly and lovingly wrote how I would now welcome her to womanhood. Collecting rosemary and lavender from the garden and running her a hot bath. Excitedly rushing to bring her the necklace that I had made. Reading her the poem that I had written about her connection to her land and her people. Showing her the photographs that I had copied for her of her grandmother and great grandmother. Letting her rest in the soothing waters while I rescheduled events of the day so that we could be together, allowing the conversation to flow, and in meeting her also meeting myself.
Informing my uninformed self with all I wish I had known.
The key parts that I felt essential my teenage self should be informed of are: –
- How the monthly cycle works us – what we can experience at each inner season, what this might look like and essentially how my own mother and other women such as my sister and aunties managed these in their work and home lives. An introduction to menstrual journaling and its significance as a feedback system to my health.
- An explanation that the bleed or ‘inner winter’ is a fallow time for the body and needs to be honoured with rest, stillness and listening to the inner guidance that it brings. Showing me this by the self-care methods already employed by my mother, sister, and aunties so that I could find my own.
- The relationship of the cycle to my sexuality and that this stem cell rich blood that I shed each month would one day perhaps make my own children. Sensitive reading material about my sexual anatomy, vitality and pleasure.
Seeing myself as I would like to be seen, celebrating my uniqueness.
By re-writing my story and defining the three steps above it became normal to want to take the time to be alone and drop down into liminal space during my bleed. By honouring myself enough to rest and be still I began to clearly see my own needs. I became aware that I needed to gather a group of supportive women around me who were also passionate about reclaiming their cyclical awareness. I built my commitment to myself by meeting with them on a monthly basis. They became my feedback system and mirrored myself back to me. I wrote a private menarche ceremony for myself where I witnessed myself letting go of my old unseen, unmet and uninformed maiden self and welcomed in the innocence, playfulness and vitality of my seen, heard, and at last met maiden self.
I have found that by taking the steps to heal my experience of menarche, I now experience a richer and more vital ‘inner spring’ during my cycle. I also have a more respectful inner dialogue with my teenage maiden self. Perhaps because there is maturity on my side and also a sure knowing that I am now parented – by myself. Just as I longed as a teenager for the wisdom and guidance of an older woman, I am certain that we each need to become the role models for our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, sisters and friends. It has become the basis of the work that I now offer to women wishing to hold a menarche ceremony for themselves or their daughters. The shame and secrecy that has been passed down from our grandmothers to our own mothers is now possible to touch. No longer struck by the fear of physical death and the continuation of hundreds of years of silencing the maiden within us all. Perhaps in our lifetime we will witness a new generation of met, seen, heard and celebrated women. Wouldn’t we all want this for every young woman standing in front of us, at our sides and within us all?