In his Apostolic Letter on the dignity and vocation of women, Pope St. John Paul II instructed us that “[t]he moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way” (1988, §30). Do you know that you, in your motherhood, have this gift of strength to accomplish all that God asks of you in your vocation? You have been entrusted with a daughter, and this strength from the Lord can be seen clearly in the self-giving love you offer her. I found this self-giving love so simple when I was nursing a chubby baby who gazed at me with eyes that looked like sliced olives, fluffy baby hair billowing in the breeze. It became a bit more daunting when I realized it would be time to talk about periods with my pre-teen! Maybe you’re there, and panic about the first period conversation is setting in. If you feel a little unprepared, let me offer you some practical notes as you move into this new phase of motherhood.
It may be intimidating to embark on these discussions with your daughter if you yourself feel unacquainted with the beauty of your fertility. If the details of menstrual cycles and ovulation are foreign to you, I would like to inform you that the menstrual cycle is actually fairly simple and logical in design. You can appreciate the fabulous process your body completes each month by learning more about it! A class in Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a great place to start: the Archdiocese of Detroit has a list of NFP instructors and institutes for your perusal. During an NFP class, you learn the basics of anatomy and physiology, the hormones, how to track your cycles, and what that means for your fertility. Couples can use NFP to avoid or achieve pregnancy, but the knowledge gleaned isn’t limited to family planning. Remarkably, you can discover details about your health through charting as well.
Teaching your daughter to chart her cycle (on paper or in an app) can equip her with a powerful tool for health and confidence. While it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to attend an NFP class, you can share your knowledge of cycle tracking with her using plain and accurate scientific terms. You’ll want to start the conversations about charting before your daughter’s first period, which might be as young as age 10 or 11 (Biro, et al., 2018). If your daughter has begun tracking her symptoms of fertility, she may be able to predict when her first period will arrive within a few days! This can be quite a relief to help your daughter avoid being caught by surprise without period care items. In addition, if she is tracking her cycle length, period bleeds and other symptoms of fertility on a calendar or simple chart, it’s more likely she can identify normal cycles from not-so-normal ones.
So what is “normal”? Women should expect their period bleed, also called “menses”, to last between 3-8 days, and it shouldn’t be so heavy that you soak through a pad within one hour. Some cramping and pain is normal with the period, but if ibuprofen isn’t enough to help you get back to your daily tasks, it’s worth investigating other causes of the pain. Your total cycle length, that is from the start of one period to the start of the next period, can range from 25-35 days for a healthy woman and can vary by 7-14 days in length from cycle to cycle. This means it’s totally OK if your period comes every 26 days like clockwork, or if it is more like 30-35 days from month to month! (Fehring, Schneider, & Raviele, 2006)
After charting her cycles, your daughter might see her cycle is shorter or longer than those parameters or varies widely in length from cycle to cycle. It’s very important to note that irregular cycles ranging from 20-45 days in length are expected in the first few years after a girl starts having periods. However, if through charting your daughter sees that her cycles are outside of that range, identifying the root cause and restoring health should be the goals of medical care (Adams Hillard, 2008).
Finding a doctor who will collaborate with you on holistic healthcare is absolutely essential for getting to the root of any period problem. You don’t need the pill to stop periods and mask symptoms, and that’s often the first-line treatment from many physicians. When you’re equipped with knowledge, you can confidently approach your doctor and politely decline a prescription for hormonal contraceptives knowing there are better alternatives. FACTS, a medical education collaborative, offers a wonderful healthcare provider directory to help you find a local physician knowledgeable in natural fertility care. Many NFP teachers can also direct you to helpful resources.
These conversations with your daughter about her period shouldn’t just be medically focused, though. Sometimes it is easier to approach it from the technical aspect at first, but more importantly, these discussions should lead your daughter to a greater realization of the beauty of her femininity. This can be extra tough if we as women aren’t confidently living in our bodies. I recall at one point when my daughter was only a few years old, I was complaining about some bit of my body that I felt was ugly and inadequate. My husband looked at me with a serious and direct look and said “I don’t want my daughter hearing you talk about my wife that way.” I was flabbergasted and realized what I was saying I never would have said about another woman, yet I believed it about myself. By the prompting of the Holy Spirit, my husband recognized how this self-deprecation was harmful not only to myself but to the women around me, most especially my daughter.
If you struggle with appreciating your body, your fertility and your femininity, you’re not alone. We women are in an uphill battle against a world that wants us to change every inch of ourselves to conform to some arbitrary, ever-changing, ideal. You are made in God’s image and likeness: you are beautiful and GOOD. This beauty isn’t only in mind and soul but in the bodily reality of who you are. Your invisible soul is made visible through your body: through your smile, laugh, tears, words, dancing, singing, playing, running, resting, hugging, writing, working. Your body and soul are one, and the Lord wants to heal you, wholly. I urge you to spend time with Jesus in his bodily presence in the Eucharist and allow him to work on your heart. Give yourself to him as he gives himself to you, generously and lovingly. Let him teach you and strengthen you, and you will be an example to your daughter of a strong woman who allows the Lord to heal every inch of her for his glory.
There is no comprehensive class, perfect program or all-encompassing app that can replace YOU. You don’t need to hire someone to talk to your daughter about her period. You are equipped for this! You and your body have been together your whole life, and I expect you’re at least 15-20 years out from your first period. That’s a decent resume. Connection and relationship with a woman, one who loves her unconditionally, will be the greatest class for your daughter. You were chosen to be this girl’s mother, and the things that you think prevent you from being an authority on the beauty of fertility are just well-crafted lies from the devil. Yes, it’s great to pick up a book or two or listen to a podcast to educate yourself on the science and beauty of female fertility, but don’t discount your identity as mother and teacher of your child. If you’re regularly chatting with your daughter and listening to her about everything she loves, from hair products to horrible days, you and your daughter will both feel more comfortable talking about the practicalities of the feminine design.
For more resources on how to talk with your children about life’s tough topics, check out the Compass database at www.compassforparents.org.
Adams Hillard P. J. (2008). Menstruation in adolescents: what’s normal?. Medscape journal of medicine, 10(12), 295.
Biro, F. M., Pajak, A., Wolff, M. S., Pinney, S. M., Windham, G. C., Galvez, M. P., Greenspan, L. C., Kushi, L. H., & Teitelbaum, S. L. (2018). Age of Menarche in a Longitudinal US Cohort. Journal of pediatric and adolescent gynecology, 31(4), 339–345. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpag.2018.05.002
Fehring, R. J., Schneider, M., & Raviele, K. (2006). Variability in the phases of the menstrual cycle. Journal of obstetric, gynecologic, and neonatal nursing: JOGNN, 35(3), 376–384. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1552-6909.2006.00051.x
John Paul II. (1988). Mulieris dignitatem [Apostolic letter]. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19880815_mulieris-dignitatem.html