Your Daughter’s First Period: Making A Statement
In adolescence, we referred to a period as “end of a statement.” It was the world’s most awkward code word for a subject we felt warranted a code word. We were taught that we were impure while on periods, so it must be hidden even in conversation.
Essentially, we internalized problematic cultural interpretations of femininity, didn’t trust our bodies, and questioned our places in Islam. As adults, my friends and I finally learned Islamic sex education, a science more feminist than we imagined, and far more than the world appreciated. We strove to be as open-minded as our faith was, and promised that we would not perpetuate the traumatic pubescent narratives of our adolescence. They were stories, after all, based on culture and not on religion. Then Allah SWT sent me a daughter, one who hasn’t stopped making a statement since she came into this world.
Imagine my surprise at the rage I felt when I found out she had her first period. My inclination was not to believe her because she was so NORMAL about it. I spent most of my middle school years in the fetal position from pain and heavy bleeding, but my nine year-old daughter hardly reported a cramp and took an accident in stride, not freaking out by mattress stains like I did. She was not running for bleach and fire to undo her filth because she didn’t know to call it that. I hadn’t yet broken her bubble of perfection with my internalized self-loathing of the female form and its messes.
It took a couple of cycles for me to confirm that it was in fact real, and by then I recognized my discomfort, the old narratives trying to squeeze enlightenment right out of me. While she did not want to discuss it with me at first, she opened up after talking to friends who had already had their periods. She became more open, talking to her brothers and father about it as simply as she announced hunger: “I’m on my period.”
I’ll be honest, it still makes my stomach twist when she’s vocal about her period within earshot of any household males. I have to breathe and remember that there is no haya in religion, my sons are learning how to support women, and my husband, an only child, is getting his first experience of helping his daughter through puberty. She’s making a normal statement about normal processes and I’m learning to have a normal reaction to it. The normal reaction is not to have a reaction at all. Leave her bubble intact and rebuild mine.
Marking this milestone
Moms now give their daughters “hijab parties” to commemorate periods without calling them “period parties.” However, my daughter has no interest in hijab, and I have no interest in acknowledging that time is passing quicker than I can enjoy it. I want more childhood with these kids whose heights, appetites, and timelines are on fast forward without a “stop” or even a “pause” feature. Only 25% of their lives will be spent under my roof if I’m lucky, and half of that is over already.
My sister convinced my daughter to mark her period with a spa party. Hearing “party” or “friends” after lockdown, my daughter wanted to proceed. I fought the scheme for a while until both of them broke me down. Throwing the party meant accepting time and change to me, and I was ready for neither. Yet she provided the outline of her story, and I had to reconcile discomforts with desire to change the narrative with which I was raised to help her write it.
Thankfully, my sister facilitated the actual event. Doing mini facials and manis, and making organic beauty products with a gaggle of tween girls takes a special person who is not me. My sister was built for that. I’m in my comfort zone teaching. We need to pass on Islamic hygiene traditions and exemptions to our daughters. How else will they learn about taharah, najasah, abstaining from formal prayer and fasting, getting rid of pubic hair, and ghusl? They’re more likely to pay attention and ask questions if we do the hard work of creating a safe space in which they can do both with their peers. My sister set up safety with fun, and I swooped in with facts to take advantage of these relaxed, open brains. I have to admit that talking to the group was a lot easier for me than it was to talk to my daughter one on one. I can’t be biased or uncomfortable in a classroom, but facts are facts until it’s about my own kid and then I tense up. So the group setting was safe and therapeutic for me, too.
The Islamic lens
It was the perfect opportunity to emphasize to girls that they are perfect creations of Allah SWT chosen to bear the most difficult of physical burdens. The reality of moustaches, hairy big toes, vaginal discharge, normal body odors, and pubic depilatory techniques were balanced with pad tutorials and the science of menstruation. Most importantly, every girl left being exhaustively assured that she is not impure or imperfect. Her body would do what it’s supposed to, and she could ask us anything.
It was so rewarding when the girls asked how to make up their fasts, touch or recite Quran, and how to talk to Allah while on their periods! Moms in the peanut gallery rejoiced, but also because this wasn’t done for us when we started our periods. Some of us had to navigate them alone or unsupported because we’d become “dirty” overnight. Some moms present hadn’t discussed all of these topics with their girls at once. The truths of puberty and periods were far less painful and traumatic through an Islamic lens. In fact, they were empowering. We all had therapy together that day and closed the pages of the old story for the new.
In the end, we don’t hit puberty once. We do it again with our kids, both of us getting acquainted with the new functions of our bodies. She, to her periods and me to my visceral reactions to growth and change. Both are normal statements to the truth and mercy of Allah SWT. My daughter wants to have this party with her friends annually now, to spa and to review what her body is doing that year and how to address it. I might have created a monster, but Allah made the best for me in her.
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