Tuesday, 25 August 2015

How I explained menstruation to my daughters (aged 4 & 6)

The birds...
I think I have an unfair advantage on this 'Birds and Bees' thing with my girls. I'm a doula so the words vagina and placenta and sex and discharge (etc!) are all part of my daily vocabulary, so my girls have always grown up with (mostly) the correct terms for everything, except we've adopted the term 'yoni' to name their 'private parts'.

We use the term yoni as the term vagina technically only covers the bit you can't see i.e. the internal bits. In truth, you can't really wax your vagina, 'cos getting wax inside there would be both difficult, uncomfortable and unnecessary. The other term for the whole area, including urethra and vagina, is the pudendum, which literally means 'shameful place' - also not a term I'm happy using. Yoni seemed like a great alternative as it means 'sacred space', with the implication of being a place of creation, rather than 'sheath' which is what the term 'vagina' means...

Menstrual Cup
(Upside Down!)
I use a menstrual cup for my monthlies, so when my curious 5 year old found it and wanted to know why she couldn't play with it, I took it as my chance to make this into a learning opportunity. So this was how I explained menstruation to my then 5 year old:
You know when a baby grows inside a mom's belly, it grows in her womb? Womb sounds like room doesn't it? Well, the womb is like a room for the baby. (Many giggles trying to say womb and room as she struggles with her R's.)  
What is in your room? A bed? Well mommies' bodies are so clever that every month they make a bed in case mommy and daddy make a baby there.  
What carries food and life around our bodies? Yes, blood! (We had this discussion before.) So our clever bodies make a special bed out of special blood to feed a baby just in case. But if we don't put the baby there, then the bed gets old, and it has to come out, so then the blood comes out by your vagina, but it isn't bad blood like when you get hurt, it's very special blood. So we use the cup to catch the blood so it doesn't make a mess, isn't that clever? Then next month mommy's body makes a whole new bed in the womb / room and it starts all over again. Isn't that amazing? So when you were a baby in my belly, you had your own room, my womb! And you climbed into the bed my womb made and that's where you grew and grew and grew, getting your food and oxygen from my blood until you were big enough to come out. Aren't you glad there was a bed ready for you? 
To be honest, she was happy with that, and on that occasion she didn't really want more information about how babies get put there, although we have previously had a discussion about how dad puts a seed in mom's womb, and then the egg and the seed together make a baby, exactly how that happens she hasn't asked, but I think she has an idea. Once you know the anatomy, the mechanics are pretty obvious!

...and the bees.
(Who thought of that anyway?)
And the girls both know they came out of my yoni, so that part is also easy!

Speaking of anatomy, we have a lovely big kids' anatomy book with accurate cross section diagrams, so we have studied genitalia along with all the other parts and organs, which has really helped it to be less awkward. In general, I think if we are unfussed and matter of fact, they will be too. Or maybe this is one thing we can learn from them?

Like with menstruation, even now I can tell my girls that when the old bed is coming out it can sometimes be a bit sore, so on those days I take extra special care of myself, and I tell them that one day when they start having a period every month, I'll take extra special care of them on those days too. There are some lovely gift packs you can get to celebrate a girl's menarche or first menstruation - something I'll definitely look at!

I don't want menstruation to be a case of, 'Here are some pads, don't let your brother see,' but rather a celebration of our capacity to bring forth life out of our bodies. Our Western culture seems to see women's bodies as inherently 'unclean': natural birth is and amniotic fluid is 'gross' rather than glorious, breastmilk is a seen as a biohazard with working moms being told they can't rinse their pump parts in the office kitchen sink. But any old cow's milk is fine. Um. No. I recorded this YouTube video on that topic - take a look and let me know your thoughts!

I know women who were told that their vaginas were essentially putrid, seeping wounds, and while the experience of many may not be quite so discouraging, I think it comes close. I'd like my girls to see their vaginas as powerful channels that facilitate both pleasure and procreation. So for example, if a daughter is presenting her gorgeous yoni to the world, where another mother may say, 'Sies! Put that away! No on wants to see that!' I've tried to rather take the line that our yonis are so special and precious that we only show them to people we trust, people who know how special and precious they are - which leads on to a whole discussion on what we can do to protect our children from sexual predators, but we'll leave that for another time.

So with menstruation and intercourse and childbirth and various stages of a woman's life, I have a sneaky (but pretty well founded) suspicion that if we approached the process with less shame, we might experience less pain, and consequently more pleasure.  I certainly have found that my struggles with menstruation closely match my prevailing mental state, and my experiences of childbirth have also largely mirrored my confidence in my body's ability to give birth without mishap. As for my girls, ask me in 6 years!

How were you taught, or not taught about menstruation? What helped you the most in coming to terms with your changing body? Share your thoughts below!


  1. My girls are 3 and 5. I haven't explained menstruation to them yet - only because they haven't asked. I like the way you've explained it. I agree that we need to take the shame out of it - I've got 3 brothers and although it was never a case of "here's a pad, don't let them know" I still felt like I had to hide it from them.

    1. I'm trusting my explanation was a bit helpful! So often the challenge is just finding the words that will be accurate but understandable :-)

  2. Yup my mom told me my vagina was basically an open wound. I think I got a basic chat at 9, and was told that tampons are for married women. Nothing technical, nothing romanticised, not much in the way of facts. I honestly believe shame is instilled, and I think a more matter of fact approach will do wonders - especially when it comes to issues. If your yoni isn't shameful, when you have a problem with it you won't hide it - and create possible life-long trauma with it - you'll ask for help from the appropriate person. A+ parenting :)

    1. It must have been a challenge overcoming that kind of shame from your own mother. As you say, shame is instilled - so we're aiming for shame-free parenting... Can you imagine being raised without shame being used as a tool for control? It is good that you realise that your vagina is not something inherently shameful - women who have realised this can inspire other women to realise their own beauty and power!

  3. I was raised with a mom who didn't like to talk about it. She did not so much instill shame, but I never felt I could be open about things like menstruation or sex with her. I've always told myself that I would raise my kids in an open environment and not be afraid to talk about what really is a natural and beautiful thing. I love how you approached this topic with your girls.

    1. Thanks for that Kaitlin! I think for our parents it was just the way they were raised too - but with kids growing up today - they are introduced to things beyond their maturity outside of our control, and I need to make sure that the door is always open for them to talk to us about anything - and so we usually have to initiate that conversation... I think it is so good to get this revelation before you have kids :-)

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks so much! I tried to keep it as truthful and simple as possible. It's nearly a year since I wrote this post and I love how they are so matter of fact about things! They thing it's absolutely hilarious that people use words like winky and koekie for their genitals :-)