Period Diaries - Volume 1
As adults, it can be easy to forget the visceral feeling of getting your period for the first time. But when the subject comes up, it can bring us right back to those memories.
It's something that Saara Siddiqi knows all too well, as a program manager at St. Stephen's house with decades of experience talking to young people about periods.
"There's so much to unpack, when you're speaking to young people about periods," she says. "It's not something that's talked about, so it evokes giggles, and discomfort."
She's spoken with countless groups of young women, asking questions meant to encourage exploration of an uncomfortable topic what does it mean to them to have a period? What has their family taught them about it? How do they plan to approach period products? Every topic is fair game.
Often, she's asked what it was like for her when she was growing up. It makes her reflect on her own experience and consider what she will tell her own children when the time comes.
"I'm a practicing Muslim woman, and my children are in elementary school, so they're of an age where they see my practice," she says. "They also see when practice doesn't happen, and they ask questions like, 'Why didn't you fast today?'"
Many Muslim women take a pause from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan while they're menstruating, returning to their dawn-to-sunset fasting practice when their periods have passed.
At first, Saara wasn't sure how to answer her children's questions. Now, she's starting the conversation slowly, telling her children the women sometimes get a "pass" from fasting.
"I just tell them, 'I have a pass right now, and women get passes," she says. "That seems to be sufficient for now, and when the time comes, I can build on it."
Part of growing that conversation will mean bringing her daughter into the shared experience of menstruation in a way that feels safe and caring.
"I want her to know that she's going to enter into a special club with me," says Saara. "When I was growing up, my family threw a party, and the whole family was whispering about the fact that I was 'a woman now.' If I think about that now as an adult, I kind of wish it wasn't a party for everybody. I wish it was the women in my family bringing me into something."
Saara has a friend who's thinking of having a group of women over to talk about their period experiences when her own daughter gets her period.
"I think that's something I might like to do," says Saara. "Just have a group of women over to share and talk and love her up."
It's all part of the long journey to unpack negative societal messages about periods.
"It took a long time to move past the idea that they're dirty," she says. "Now, I just try to continue unpacking those ideas and apply a critical lens to my thoughts. Everyone deserves to have access to period products, and to talk about periods without feeling embarrassed or ashamed."
Period Diaries is a new series from The Period Purse, where we'll be sharing stories from a range of people who menstruate to better understand the different ways we all experience periods. If you'd like to be featured in our next instalment, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org