If you are a parent of a soon-to-be teenage daughter, you are probably like me, a little bit scared of the years to come... (google 'teenage daughter' and one of the first results is 'obnoxious teenage daughter'...) All I can think is ... 'brace yourself'...
There is one women who is trying to make a difference for Mums and their daughters - introducing Milina Opsenica. Milina is the Founder and Creator of Beyond the Cusp workshops, designed to help young girls and their Mums learn and navigate the menstrual cycle and the Menarche.
What is Beyond the Cusp and why do you see the need for these workshops?
Beyond The Cusp is a workshop for tween daughters designed to let go of the stigma, shame and embarrassment around the menstrual cycle. It’s about teaching our young girls to understand how our bodies work, what is normal and not normal, and how we can actually be empowered by what is innately feminine, and that it is not the curse we’ve all thought it to be.
Knowledge is power. It’s also about remembering to acknowledge this important Rite of Passage. We’ve forgotten this transition in our culture and it’s leading our youth to seek out their own rites of passage from child to young adult. Our youth have a lot more to deal with that we did when we were younger, the world has become a lot smaller, anxiety and depression are on the increase and they are being exposed to things so much earlier than we were. As parents I feel we are heading into unchartered territory for a lot of this.
Research has found that during the 12 months following menarche (first period) there is an increased incidence of mother/daughter conflict, and the dominant predictor for adolescent depression and anxiety for girls was the experience they had around their first period. Feelings of humiliation, shame and loss of body control contributed to the strongest feelings. If we can help them understand, and be empowered by this part of them, I feel that they will be more equipped to deal with other things the world is throwing at them.
I have the bigger picture in mind here. Periods is just the start of it. If we can be open talking about periods, we can then be more open to talking about consent and all other aspects of our sexuality and sexual health. Our children need to know that we are there for them to talk about these big issues.
2. Tell us why is educating young girls about periods important in Australia - don’t Mums do this well enough?
We’ve definitely come a long way in one generation, and it really is evident that as mothers we want to change how our daughters view periods. We have so many resources that we can turn to to help this conversation, and I love that I am one voice in many. What I’m finding though is, while mothers are doing a great job talking about periods, sometimes its not early enough (girls can start their periods as early as 8), or it's not enough information, or the daughter is not willing to go there so shuts the conversation down. There is so much more to our menstrual cycle than just periods. I am still learning a lot myself. What I am teaching is everything I wish I knew earlier, much earlier, not at nearly 40!
Every mother I have had attend has said they have learnt something new in the workshop themselves. There is also something quite magical about learning this in a gathering of girls. It gives them the sense that this is something we CAN talk about together. It’s not something that we need to whisper about with doors shut. It’s a normal part of our wellbeing, we can giggle about it, we can ask questions and we can share stories. I love hearing how when the girls have left the workshop, they leave with a level of excitement and happy anticipation, and they are more than willing to talk openly.
3. What are some of the funny questions you have been asked about periods from young girls?
I create a safe space for the girls to ask questions during the workshops. I leave the room while the girls write their questions so they can be answered anonymously. Every workshop there is a new question I’ve not been asked before, and I’m often surprised with the thought they’ve put into their questions. I don’t know that any have been particularly funny (although they are always eyes wide open when we talk about having three holes), but there have definitely been questions that I would not have considered talking about if I was just having a general period chat. Many will want to know why they bleed or what ages they start, but some of the more thought provoking questions have included Does your period change over time? Why do you get discharge? Does your period benefit your body in any way?
4. What are girls most frightened of when it comes to getting their period the first time?
The girls are simply afraid of the unknown. They don’t know how it happens, why it happens, is there going to be a pool of blood burst out of them one day? What do they do with it all? What if it leaks through their clothes? How much is it going to hurt? It’s simply not knowing that they are most afraid of. Blood has always been linked to pain and suffering, like people harming each other or when somebody gets injured. It's not been seen as something that healthy body does all on its own. Knowing that their body is doing the right thing, and what to expect eases so much of their fear. Also knowing that they are not alone in this, that they can talk to their friends or their parents helps ease any anxiety over it.
5. How do you make girls excited about their first period?
Talk about it, and talk about it positively. Give them as much information as you can and let them know the door is always open for more conversations. I’ve had many mums tell me their girls are excited about getting their periods after the workshop, just because they know what they can expect now, and it's not the embarrassing, gross, shameful thing they thought it was. Celebrating their first period is also important, but doing it in a way that is appropriate to your own daughter. Some may want to acknowledge it in a grand way with dinner with the whole family, while others may just want to snuggle on the couch to watch a movie and drink hot chocolate with you. Talk to your daughter about how she would like to acknowledge this rite of passage, just as you’d ask her how she’d like to celebrate her birthday. Make this time of becoming a young woman special for her and a time to remember.
6. How do we breakdown period taboo?
Breaking down period taboo starts with ourselves. We, as mothers need to become at peace with our own menstrual cycle, and sometimes that means going into some deep, dark spaces. We’ve lived through times of periods being seen as shameful, unhygienic and even sinful in some cultures. Some of us have had incredibly traumatic cycles, and some of us have done anything we can to stop our monthly bleed. Not from the fault of anyone, we’ve been uneducated and we’ve simply put up with being told that this is how it is. Pain is normal and we once a month PMS has us turning nasty. It doesn’t have to be that way, in fact it shouldn’t be that way, and these are signs that we should be treating our bodies and our minds differently.
The first thing we need to do to break down this taboo is to learn about our own cycles and how it really works for us. Start by tracking your cycle daily, noting how you feel, what your body is doing, your appetite etc. Within 3 cycles you’ll be amazed at the patterns that are unfolding. For those of us who no longer experience and monthly bleed for whatever reason, the moon cycles can also be used as a guide to determine how our energy ebbs and flows. There are some great women doing brilliant work in this area, like Lara Briden, Nat Kringoudis, Masie Hill, Lucy H. Pearce, Jane Hardwicke Collings, Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer. If it not for these women I’d still be cursing my own period. Once we are at peace with our own cycles and view it in a positive light, we can be the example to our children.
7. What do you think mothers of boys need to be doing to help with this taboo breakdown?
Again, being in tune with their own cycle is a good place to start. Openly talking about your period, let your whole family know when you have it and that you’d like a little more rest at this time. Don’t be afraid to rest when you’re bleeding, we need it! I think many times we don’t talk about our period because we don’t want the men in our lives to be uncomfortable. I used to be like that myself. Even though my husband grew up with two sisters, he didn’t like hearing about periods. But the more I spoke of it, the more comfortable he became, and now we can very openly discuss it. If we want our sons to grow up fully supporting the women in their lives, it's important they know about the menstrual cycle and how it affects us, even if he’s learning by osmosis.
8. Why is it called a menarche - and how do you suggest girls and their families should celebrate it?
Menarche is the term for a girls first period. Men is derived from Latin mensis (month), which in turn relates to Greek mene (moon), and Arche derive from Greek arkhē (beginning). Our ancestors knew just how much we worked with the moons cycles! Celebrating it is important for all of us, and to do it in a way that is appropriate for your daughter. Some ways to acknowledge it could be with a special piece of jewellery, and bedroom makeover, one on one time with Mum, a gathering with all the special women in her life, a night away with pampering, or a simple bath and a movie. I think its also something for us mums to acknowledge within ourselves. If we weren’t seen at this time and didn’t have the acknowledgement that we would have liked, do something special for yourself, and give yourself that celebration that you deserved.
9. Finally what do some of your attendees say about your workshops?
The girls are always so happy that it was not embarrassing or gross like they were expecting it to be. They love the crafts and getting to explore all of the products, and there is also a special time with their mums. The Mums are amazed by how much they learned themselves, and also that their girls are now so open and forthcoming with their questions, no longer embarrassed or afraid. They also love the portrait session at the end. I always think how amazing it would be for our girls to have these special memories captured, for them to share with their own daughters one day.
10. Where is the next workshop near me, how do I find or organize one for my daughter and her friends?
I will be announcing dates in September for workshops around Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Tweed Coast and Brisbane for later this year, and I will be hosting one in Auckland on September 7th. You can sign up to my newsletter to keep up to date with my latest workshops and plenty of other information on the menstrual cycle. I do like to travel and plan on being in Sydney in November. If you have a group of friends you’d like to do it with, (enjoying this with friends is one of the best things!) I can also host a private workshop with just a minimum of 5 girls. You can email me firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you. You can also find me on Instagram, Facebook or our website www.beyondthecusp.com.au