What does it mean to be a woman?
How was your womanhood welcomed? Was it blessed?
One of the questions in the “medical” history of a first time midwifery visit is, “what age was your first menses?” It is followed by data questions about how often and how long. Good to know when making a guess about when baby might make an appearance!
As a midwife, I love to step into those waters: “what was it like for you when you first got your period? Did you feel protected? Who walked with you?”
The stories come, slowly at first and then with a rush of words. They often leave me wanting to weep. The idea of even being honored is as foreign as can be. Most often, a girl was left alone to figure it out. Perhaps she filled in the blank with fearful images in a culture where blood is “dirty” and a woman’s “monthly” is called a curse. At best, a book or supplies had been provided ahead of time. More often than not, the girls in the school bathroom filled in for mothers.
I was alone, on a trip with my dad. I went to the bathroom every hour, becoming skilled at fashioning makeshift pads out of toilet paper. When I told my mom a week later, she immediately told my dad. I felt ashamed and betrayed. He immediately came and clapped a hand on my shoulder: “that’s my pal!” He was proud I had kept it a secret; in a family where secrets were the rule and the threat of violence ever present. And the message I got, once again, was: “don’t tell” and “you are on your own”.
Let your mind drift back gently to remember your woman-girl of 10 or 12 or 14. How did this rite of passage unfold for you? What messages were spoken or unspoken? What did you carry from those words? Was there anyone, sister friend or mother, who offered eyes of kindness? Have you offered that to yourself, or sought it out from your grown up sisters now? What about to your daughters?
We must begin to bless our womanhood. We cannot offer it first to our daughters. We must first begin to bless ourselves. Welcoming the moon cycle, reveling in its flow, is a beginning. Embracing the rhythms of rest and nurture that your body asks for. Recognizing that there are weeks of the month when creativity and energy will peak, and others where you will want to pull in and be in a cave. Gather in Red Tent circles, eat soup, knit, create, collage, sing. Find your people, your tribe, your sisterhood. Then, and only then, can you and I offer these gifts with open hands to our own daughters.
Embrace all that it means to say: I am a woman.
(Playing off the title of the “I am a midwife” series from MANA. )