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How I helped my daughter prepare for her first period

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By IMAGE
18th May 2023
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Photograph: Getty

How I helped my daughter prepare for her first period

After struggling with her own adolescent experience, one mum shares how she stepped in to make sure her daughter was comfortable with getting her first period, keeping the conversation open and educating her on menstrual health.

My daughter is currently 21, but I started talking to her in earnest about her period when she was near finishing up in primary school. 

Her experience of menstruation is so different to my own at her age. It is an open topic of conversation amongst her friends, male and female, and it is not a thing to be denigrated or sniggered at, as it was in our time. She has autonomy over her menstruation; it does not dictate what she does or doesn’t do on a given day.

I feel really lucky to be able to have an ongoing conversation with her about periods. My own mother was not comfortable around the subjects of periods. I was embarrassed just telling her I was pregnant. 

Between my mother and I, I don’t recall any conversation before my first period. I wish someone had told me – “Don’t panic, this is what will happen, let me know if you need anything”. I also wish I’d made a ‘go-bag’ and kept it handy for when the time came. I was 14 and in white trousers when my first period arrived, and I was out with friends. I remember trying to wad pink toilet paper into my pants and tying my jumper around my waist to hide it.

I think periods must have been explained to us in school at some point, but I don’t remember that. I do remember reading the forbidden Judy Blume book Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret in first year, and I thought I was going to have to wear a period pad belt with hooks on it – which was very off-putting! Soon after, I read The Thorn Birds. The bit where she thought she was dying when she got her period and the priest had to help her didn’t exactly fill me with joy either. Thankfully, my mother’s god-daughter (who was a few years older than me) showed me her pads one day and explained all about how to use them. I felt much more relaxed after that.

Between my daughter and I, the conversation about periods evolved naturally over time. I explained to her from an early age what my period products were for, and she knew about the pads I used after her brothers were born etc. I remember talking to her about friends in my class who got their period long before I did. I thought mine would never arrive but then it did, and now I wonder why I was in such a rush to get it in the first place! 

The conversations were usually had in the car on the way back to school on a Sunday night, when I would ask if she needed anything like tuck or bathroom stuff and then we would move onto periods – or not. When she started secondary school she was a boarder and she had that ‘go-bag’ that I wish I had had, full of pads, fresh underwear and wipes. 

Her primary concern was that she felt she was the last in her class to get her period. She is a little younger than most of her classmates and her puberty was later. We certainly spoke about how some people get their first period at 10 years old and some people don’t get it till they are 17. We also had conversations around fertility because quite a few of my friends were trying for babies and that would’ve been an open conversation in our house. 

As young as age 12 she spoke about her own fertility and that fed into her concern about being later than some of her classmates getting her first period. I just tried to support what she was feeling, but also to acknowledge that my story wasn’t her story, and that if she was still concerned by the time she was 16 or so we would go and see a gynaecologist and get everything checked out. But it arrived in second year so we relaxed. 

Looking back, she was very anxious at the beginning about using period products. She thought the idea generally was horrific and I told her not to worry, that as far as I knew her periods would be quite light at first and she wouldn’t have to use anything more than a pad. I told her that she could decide later what she wanted to use. She started robbing my period products about two years after that and hasn’t stopped.

I am so proud to say that she is now a campaigner for free period goods for women in toilets, and was anxious about homeless women during Covid having enough supplies if they were sleeping on the streets.

If you are preparing your daughter for the arrival of her first period, my advice would be to try to have periods as an ordinary item of discussion in your house, and in front of men, most importantly. My daughter has always sent her brothers and her boyfriend to go and buy pads for her and I think that’s important. Menstruation is a gift of sorts (albeit that it doesn’t always feel like it at the time!), and it must be respected and revered as such. We don’t have to be militant to be warriors.

My daughter has helped me to drop prejudices I didn’t know I had acquired about female health, or tolerating unnecessary limits – and she has made me feel like a good nurturing mum when I can mind her or help, which means the most to me.

My last bit of advice for mums and daughters about to enter this special time is to talk, talk, talk. And of course to listen, and hear what they say. You don’t have to agree to value their view. Repeat back to them what you have heard them say and what they have taught you. If it is difficult to introduce the topic, leave your own period products around the place. Kids are fiercely curious. 

In our partnership with Always, ‘Go With Your Flow’, we’re on a mission to empower women to use the appropriate period products; understand how our moods might be affected; how our relationships might be impacted and ultimately allow us to give our bodies and minds a chance to thrive. Learn more at always.co.uk.