When I was aged 37 I hosted and participated in a retrospective menarche celebration. Although it had been over 20 years since my periods had started, I had been reading about the wisdom of the menstrual cycle and decided it was time to honour it. I invited some close friends to join me; we represented a range of women’s life stages, including pregnancy, post-natal, perimenopause and menopause.
I created a Red Tent with red, pink and purple fabrics and cushions and a circular centrepiece that represented the cycle. This was decorated with natural objects to create a mandala. We all wore something red to symbolise our shared womanhood.
We started with introductions, and then shared the way we had prepared for menarche (if at all), what we remembered about it, and how that had affected our relationship with our cycle. We brought photographs of ourselves at the time of menarche and placed them on the mandala. We then took it in turns to be celebrated: hands were massaged, henna designs were created, and food was shared. Each of us had written a letter to herself as if it were the time of her menarche, containing what she would have liked to be told. Having each woman’s words read to her was the most important part of the celebration, and all the letters were very beautiful and touching.
As we shared our experiences of what had happened, I recalled memories across the years in connection with my cycle. I count myself lucky that my mum openly talked about periods, sex and relationships, and I think I have always had a good relationship with my body because of her. However, there is a big leap from having the facts to a celebration of the wisdom that you meet at menarche, practise during your cycle and become at menopause. Not all of us at the celebration had a positive journey with our cycles: from one woman feeling angry as a teenager that periods took her away from the “fun stuff”, to heavy periods that were difficult to manage, our experiences were diverse. However, we could all come together to celebrate how our cycles had given us children and a deeper connection to ourselves as women.
It was an experience asking friends if they would be interested in attending a retrospective menarche celebration. The usual response was one of puzzlement. Some could not see any reason to celebrate periods and if that’s you I recommend reading Her Blood is Gold by Lara Owen or The Wild Genie by Alexandra Pope. Others were intrigued, but felt shy about sharing their experiences in a group. I hope they might feel confident enough to participate in one in the future through their local Red Tent. I thoroughly recommend a menarche celebration wherever you are on your journey. I hope there are more at the time that our girls start bleeding, to construct the physical and emotional experience of being a woman as overwhelmingly positive.
Tessa’s letter to herself on reaching her menarche:
Congratulations on your menarche! On your first bleed! This is a special time: a physical transition from being a girl to being a woman. The menarche is a signal that it is time for you to grow emotionally, socially and spiritually into womanhood. This part doesn’t happen overnight, so take your time – you have a whole lifetime to become a wise woman!
In our culture women sometimes call their period “the curse”. If it brings pain and severe mood swings you can understand why, but others call the blood “liquid gold”! Not only is it full of goodness – the lining would have nurtured a baby, after all – but this can be a time of deep reflection. All those long solitary walks you will want to take are a sign of this, not of being moody!
Your periods are part of a cycle that will enable you to have children and for that alone is a blessing. It also gives us signs of our physical and emotional health. Stressed? Eating crappy food? Your monthly cycle will reflect that. It also connects us to a larger cycle: the lunar cycle – to the moon that is powerful enough to move oceans. Don’t you think this might move us women too? Our bodies? Our emotions? Our desires? Our souls? Yes! Your changing emotions through the month are a reflection of this cycle: perhaps a chance to be more reflective and introspective when you bleed, and to be energetic and sociable when you ovulate. So women are not emotionally unstable – they are deeply connected to their bodies and environment!
So, my lovely Tessa, rest when you are bleeding. Honour this time, rather than concealing it, hiding it or carrying on as normal, as our culture expects. Explore and reflect on your cycle, on your own personal seasons. Listen to your body. Trust your instincts: they are not something to dismiss, but to act upon. And later, trust that your body knows how to grow and birth babies. Your eggs were present even as you were unborn in your mother’s womb. What an incredible design!
Learn about all the different stages of your cycle: this will give you insight not only into your fertility, but also into your sexual desire and responses. Know that there are nerves throughout your pelvic region, making different areas sensitive, and that every woman is ‘wired’ differently. Choose partners who can understand that women and men have a different pace for lovemaking, who enjoy your body exactly as it is, and who respect your need for emotional stability. In Tantra, the female body is seen as a gateway to bliss. Your partner should treat you as a Goddess and no less!!
Be wary of those who say that women can do it all, can be “like the boys”. Embrace your femininity and rejoice in it. Follow your heart and your inner teacher. Be prepared to prioritise different parts of your life at different times. Welcome times of confusion and uncertainty as opportunities for growth. Be prepared to wait for clarity. Be brave!
Know that you are powerful: powerful in your femininity, creative in your femininity. You connect to a greater wisdom through your monthly cycle, through the ‘cosmic womb’, and hence through your sensitivity to and empathy with others and the environment. You will become wise if you listen!
So, as you adjust to your monthly bleeding, know that it will get easier. You will even look forward to that part of the cycle. A positive attitude, even a reverent attitude can transform your physical experience of menstruation, just as of birth and of menopause. They are not inconveniences, but rites of passage and sources of power. Know this!
Welcome to your circle of Sisters! We will support you and accompany you on your journey through life. You are truly loved. (P.S. Tampons will give you thrush. Try the Mooncup or sponges instead).
Tessa Sanderson is mum to two girls, and is a yoga teacher. She has set up the Caversham Red Tent, Berkshire, and warmly welcomes you to join. tessavenutisanderson.co.uk
Find your local Red Tent at redtentdirectory.com
Her Blood is Gold: Awakening to the Wisdom of Menstruation by Lara Owen, Archive Publishing The Wild Genie: The Healing Power of Menstruation by Alexandra Pope, New Generation Publishing
Moon Time: A Guide to Celebrating Your Menstrual Cycle by Lucy H. Pearce, CreateSpace
First published in Issue 40 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.