Each visit brings with it a reality of a childhood, fading far too soon
A glimpse of the woman in making, as I watch the creation bloom
This child of mine embraces the crimson river, that will one day bring forth the promise of fertility
Once upon a time it surrendered, wrapped in a shroud of silence beneath the wall of shame
No more, as the crimson river meanders through generations
It leaves behind the secrecy amongst female and foe, no longer does it travel through misfortune and fear
Nor does it demand the burning of a brassiere
The Crimson river flows fruitful and free
The child, the woman, the woman, the child
To be whatever she will be
Poem by AA
She was nine and a half when she started, my eldest now nineteen. I can’t even remember the exact moment when it happened, I just remember the feeling of despair and disbelief rush through me and the overwhelming desire to protect her from the world. I hadn’t even had the ‘period talk’ yet! I was certainly not impressed with the hand mother nature had just played. My initial reaction was to tell no one and protect her secret as memories of my own experience came flooding back. It was 1986 and I was eleven. Back then you didn’t have ‘period talks’ and I don’t remember the talk at school either. The first signs appeared and I thought ‘OMG I’m going to die!’
A bit nervous about telling my mum, I felt the need for privacy so I joined her for an evening walk to buy some groceries, as you do! Her reaction was of surprise as I was only eleven, she then told me of her story. she was 15 and just engaged to my father, not a clue about the monthly cycle! Then one day she walked home from school in a white Salwar Kameez and the rest I leave to your imagination!
For me the instructions were clear, ‘you’re becoming a woman now, you’ll need pads, expect it every month and by the way you can’t stay out late and be extra vigilant when on your own because now there’s always a risk of pregnancy, if anything happens!’ The ‘period talk’ over and out!
Now fast forward to 2008. I talked to my little girl and explained the process her body was going through and how to manage the monthly visitor, we went and bought some panty liners and off she went back into her world of Nintendo DS.
When the grandmothers came to know of their granddaughter’s unexpected visitor, they went straight into mourning. The fear of her starting so young and shedding her shield of innocence in front of the intrusive male gaze was something they found difficult to overcome in the weeks that followed.
My daughter, on the other hand embraced it and went with the flow – excuse the pun! Thankfully, oblivious to the dialogue around menstruation within our communities and its never ending impact on a woman’s life, for example still keeping women away from positions of authority; placing them in secluded huts around the world; exclusion from places of worship; basically the largest thorn in side of gender equality!
I do find myself at an odd place sitting on the boundary line of East meets West as a pre-millennial parent of a post-millennial child. Things are so different in our home from my childhood. We are far away from the paper bag that hid the packet of sanitary towels in the shopping trolley. Today brothers pop out to the local shop to help their sister with the crisis at hand when pads run out. Her father announces she’s ‘on holiday again’ so no joining prayers and makes light of the whole monthly visitor. Yet I still find myself at times pulled back by the memories of shame and secrecy which are not always easy to shake.
Negative attitudes remain where menstruation is still stigmatised by many societies and seen as unclean, whether that’s influenced by religion or culture. It’s still an area that is not openly discussed which leads to our young women growing up ill-informed and holding a range of misconceptions, not realising the extent of their contribution to the creative and natural process of life itself.
Through my readings around menstruation I found that all religions in some shape or form refer to menstruating women as ritually unclean, except, to my surprise, Sikhism, I came to know that here it is regarded as an essential and natural process; Guru Nanak, One of the Sikh Guru’s openly chides ‘…that pollution lies in the heart and mind of the person and not in the cosmic process of birth’. How beautiful is that! If we could move away from the stigmas attached and encourage our girls to embrace this natural process and openly learn about their functions of their bodies without shame or exclusion, how the confidence and self-assurance would flow into their lives. If only we could start from the core as parents by becoming more enlightened and open, what a wonderful start our girls would have.
We still have so much to do as a society; so much more that we owe to our daughters; so much more than #metoo.
 A.H. Kaur. Sikhism and the status of women, Issue 51, Sikh Spirit. [online]. Available: http://www.sikhspirit.cvom/khalsa/news51.htn