Written by a guest blogger and mother of two girls, ages 15 and 12. It is heartwarming and shares a refreshing perspective about the onset of menses in her oldest daughter.
This is the first of this two part series.
"I remember the call three years ago from my daughter’s overnight camp. Her counselor passed my daughter the phone, and I could hear the choke in her voice even before she spoke. “I got my period,” she sobbed. She was still 11 years old; that’s three years younger than I was when I first got my period. Her body had recently begun to round out a bit; she felt most comfortable, for example, wearing a training bra. I’d thus had a sense she’d get her period soon. But at sleep-away camp? One week before her 12th birthday?
She didn’t exactly ask to come home; she put on a quavering-yet-brave voice and said the counselors were giving her the empathy and attention she required at this time of huge change in her life. I figured that besides being at home, my newly budding young woman was in the second-best place she could be: In an all-girls cabin with two older teens as counselors, each of whom had reached menses – the onset of menstruation – years prior. My maturing daughter just needed to hear my voice that night; I didn’t get another call from her for the rest of the camp session.
The actual start of menses is the result of years of changes in a young woman’s body. What my daughter and I were soon to learn was that for her, her “first period” did not mark the start of regular menstruation; rather, it kicked off more than a year of on-again, off-again spotting. If her body now – at nearly 15 years old – is a smooth-running car with an automatic transmission, nearly four years ago it was a bucking manual with a novice driver at the wheel and the herky-jerky clutch.
Upon my daughter’s return from camp – timed with her 12-year well-check – I took her to our pediatrician. We talked during that visit about the recent spate of spotting. My daughter had only breast buds and scant pubic hair; these were signs that while puberty had begun, her period would come a bit later. The doctor explained to us that a number of physical – as well as emotional – indicators would crop up on a girl’s body (and in her mind) before the occasional droplet of blood in her panties would give way to the need to use pads to keep from staining her pants.
The thoughtful, sensitive pediatrician further explained that spotting is normal and similar to the experience of losing baby teeth to make way for adult chompers. After a milk tooth is lost, the adult tooth will slowly push its way through the gum – sometimes retreating a bit before eventually revealing its crown – and then its whole self. The onset of menses can run a similar course as a girl’s body prepares to become that of a woman.
Sure, I was a woman who decades prior had gone through the changes my daughter now was experiencing. But the pediatrician’s explanation was somewhat new and gave both my daughter and me language and a visual guide for her rapid metamorphosis… and that of my younger daughter.
Periods, Too, are Snowflakes: Every Girl’s Experience is Unique
My 6th grader now has breast buds and a hint of pubic hair. She has so far experienced no spotting, and she may not. While my eldest’s body played a bit of a peek-a-boo trick on her for one full year, my younger daughter may well have an entirely different experience with menses’ onset. In fact, just as she’s her own person, her flowering will probably look nothing like her big sister’s.
And she’ll probably handle it quite differently, too
For example, my older daughter can be a very take-charge individual. Shortly after her first few spotting experiences, she realized a “real” menstrual flow could happen at any time; she didn’t want to be caught unprepared. She selected a cute zipper pouch and filled it with one thin pad, one thick pad, one tampon (though not all girls are ready, willing, or able to use this method of protection), and one clean pair of underwear. She called it her Period Pouch; now on the cusp of high school, she has it still and keeps it appropriately stocked and in her locker (for both herself and any young woman surprised during the school day).
There’s an App For That
She also took recommendations from older girls about how they deal with their periods. One suggestion has remained vital: Select a period-tracking app to download to your phone. There are a number of them out there. My daughter clicked around and particularly likes Life. Available via iTunes, it tracks vital information for now – such as when premenstrual symptoms like mood swings and cramps may occur – and for later – such as ovulation. My younger daughter loves peeking over her big sister’s shoulder to learn how it works…as well as to prepare herself for one of her sister’s key premenstrual indicators: grumpy, irritable moods.
To be continued next week with more dicusssion about the important role of dads and ways to acknowledge this important time of transition in a young woman's life.