Period party - A transition from girlhood to womanhood

BY CANDIECE KNIGHT

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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WHEN Dr Adwoa Anuora's 11-year-old daughter Ma'at complained about feeling ill before school a few weeks ago, she did the first thing any Jamaican mother would do — she gave her some tea.

But when the tea didn't help, the concerned mother did some further checks, which revealed that Ma'at was experiencing menarche (her first period).

The mother was very excited, but the daughter wasn't.

“She was saying stuff like, 'I can't believe I now have another set of pains to deal with'. 'My breasts hurt and now this hurts'. But I was excited, and I shared what was happening with a few family members and very close friends of mine, and one of them suggested having a period party,” Dr Onuora told All Woman.

So that Saturday the junior common room at Mary Seacole Hall, which is the home of the hall's I'm Glad I'm a Girl Foundation, became a celebratory space for Ma'at to transition from girlhood to womanhood.

The theme was clear — blood red. The dress code, the décor, the watermelon slices, the red velvet cupcakes, and the 'Welcome to womanhood' cake all took the doom and gloom out of the first period.

Ma'at's seven closest friends from school were invited, and some of their mothers tagged along for the afternoon of body positive education and fun.

“When I look back at just how it is that my generation and the women before us experienced our first period, it was met with secrecy and shame, or this fear-mongering type of narrative or lecture that came with it. So many of us didn't have open conversations with our parents about it because we knew that with that came a conversation about pregnancy and policing of our bodies so as to not end up pregnant,” Dr Onuora lamented.

“I wanted to undo, through my daughter, those hundreds of years of trauma surrounding the transition from girlhood to womanhood, and this important rite of passage that accompanies that journey. I wanted different for my daughter. I wanted her to learn to embrace this as normal and necessary, and to let her know that there is nothing shameful about it.”

The all-girl squad had a conversation with counsellors from the recently concluded I'm Glad I'm a Girl summer camp about menstruation stereotypes, and how to overcome them.

They also benefited from a one-hour yoga session with restorative yin instructor Elizabeth Goffe, who is the owner of Trueself Centre. Goffe taught the transitioning women period pain management techniques and yoga poses to help relax muscles.

“We also had them make their own waist beads, which are traditionally a part of West African culture. They are worn by women to show that they are now in a reproductive state.”

The crowning moment for the mother-daughter duo, however, was when Dr Onuora passed on her own waist bead, which she had worn for years until she got pregnant with Ma'at, to her daughter.

“I had put it away when I got pregnant with her, and 11 years later I am passing my waist bead unto her and commemorating her transition,” she shared.

Ma'at left the party feeling a bit more upbeat about her cycle kick-starting.

“I feel pretty good, honestly,” she told All Woman. “I'm still getting used to the idea of getting my period and maturing into a woman, but it's not that bad. I know that it's perfectly normal to have a period, and it's nothing to be scared of.”

Dr Onuora encourages other mothers to have open discussions with their children, and not just go about trying to police their bodies when they notice the changes happening.

“Their first place of learning should be in the home,” she said. “While the schools do some of it, your mother is your first teacher. Let it be a situation where you have an open relationship with your daughter. Have very open and honest dialogue. Use the actual biological terms to refer to the organs, instead of using all types of different monikers. Talk to them about their vaginas. Talk to them about their breasts.”

She also recommended using other resources to equip children with knowledge that may have not been passed on to them by their parents.

“There are a lot of books out there that give the information to them in a very age-appropriate way. Two of my favourites are, The Body Book for Girls and What's Happening to my Body?, but there are numerous others that you can use,” she said.


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