The thing about being an ‘older’ mum is that just as you are coming to terms with the end of your fertility, your daughter is approaching the beginning of hers.
And while, in many ways, I am thinking “good riddance!” and looking forward to many Feminax-free years (other pain killers are available), Caitlin has all the fun of this to deal with.
Of course it’s a natural part of being a woman, but the arrival of menstruation heralds a new phase of life in which nothing is ever quite the same again.
There may be some lucky souls who breeze through it and, as in the Bodyform adverts, find it no impediment to a combat-level workout, or a bar to water skiing across lakes with their long hair streaming like a glossy curtain behind them.
Frankly, I’ve never met one of these women.
‘Monthlies’ have always been more curse than blessing, despite the persistent attempts of sanitary protection companies to convince us that life can continue at an even higher octane pace than usual.
No. Anyone who has had the misfortune to wrestle with a Tampax Super Plus in a dank public toilet in Inveraray on a family holiday in the 80s, will understand that, rather than being an affirmation of femininity, it’s proof that our creator had a very dodgy sense of humour.
Of course, society in general tends to regard the ending of periods as proof of old age. I believe the term ‘dried up’ is often applied.
Nobody, you’ll notice talks about the withering shrinkage which affects older men. I can’t ever remember hearing the phrase ‘withered old bachelor’.
But, because I have a 9 year old daughter, I have to put a brave face (or foof) on things and pretend it’s all a glorious adventure.
In all seriousness though, our daughters are lucky to have access to sanitary protection and medical care which is severely lacking in poorer countries. And I once read of a woman who used to buy old handbags and fill them with personal hygiene supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and tampons to give out to the homeless women she found in her city centre. What a brilliant idea.
Menstruation is as much a political as a biological issue in some quarters but that is a topic for another post.
But I digress. I have compiled a few snippets of advice which I will pass on when needed.
*Always carry sanitary protection with you
Because periods are often irregular and will catch you out. The wrapping of many sanitary towels will rustle louder than a Roman legion marching up a gravel path so it’s pointless to try to conceal the noise.
*Try to stop period pain as soon as you can
If you have period pain, try to stop it in its tracks before it gets worse. Painkillers (Feminax was always my saviour), a hot water bottle and a nap work wonders.
*Tell your employer if it’s becoming a problem
Should employers allow women with period pain sick leave? That’s tricky but I’ve always felt that if you suffer from the kind of dragging period pain that floors you then you should be able to stay home. Sometimes of course, you can’t but if you genuinely can’t perform then I think you should at least explain your predicament to HR.
*If your period pain is frequently bad, see your GP
If your period pain is that bad, you should see a doctor. The most common treatment used to be the prescribing of the contraceptive pill but you should get yourself checked out for other causes of extreme pain such as cysts or endometriosis.
The contraceptive pill, of course, comes with its own set of risks so you will need to carefully weigh up the pros and cons.
Some mums might not be too happy about their young daughters taking the pill which is understandable but if it helps them to cope with extreme pain I think it is worth considering, on the basis that there are regular GP check-ups, particularly for blood pressure.
*Be aware of Toxic Shock Syndrome
I have never liked tampons and given the risks of Toxic Shock Syndrome, I am surprised more women don’t avoid them.
Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by bacteria getting into the body and releasing harmful toxins. It’s often associated with tampon use in young women and it can get worse very quickly and even be fatal if not treated promptly.
*Consider alternative forms of sanitary protection
*Listen to your body
The old joke is that a woman with PMS needs chocolate or carbs to help her feel better. I’ve always found my appetite would increase significantly and, as long as you don’t go mad, the odd chocolatey treat won’t hurt. By this I mean a Twix or two and not three pounds of Hotel Chocolat’s finest.
*Expect some mood swings
Crying at random stuff is normal during your time of the month. Nature documentaries, sad words on Countdown, missing your bus, insufficient choice of sarnie for your Boots Meal Deal – there really is no telling what might set you off. But it’s all completely normal.
We become slaves to our Oestrogen, just one of our hormones that is capable of creating havoc.
*Take extra care of your skin
Spots and break-outs are common around the time of your period. Much pocket money was spent on Clearasil and Neutrogena, both of which were great at dealing with oily, spotty skin. Later came the Clinique 3 Step regime and their trusty concealer which I use to this day.
*Gentle exercise will help
Particularly to get things flowing and to help ease that horrid dragging feeling. Just a gentle 30 minute walk will help.
*Try to stay regular
Make sure you are not constipated as this seems to make the pain worse. Bran flakes or a high fibre cereal every day from the middle of your cycle onwards may help avoid this.
*Nappy sacks might be a life saver
Bear with me but since having kids I’ve realised that nappy sacks (plastic bags designed to help dispose of soiled nappies) are great to use a sanitary bags if you are out and about and there is no sanitary towel bin – and let’s be honest, most of these are not emptied anywhere near as often as they should be.
*Brands DO make a difference
If there is one area where paying that little bit more makes a difference, it is with sanitary protection (as it also is with nappies!).
If you’re not sure which absorbancy towel or tampon to buy, buy one level higher than you think you’ll need. It’s always good to keep a stash of lighter absorbancy towels or panty liners for those days when you’re just about to start or your flow is tailing off.
*Your cycle will vary
If you’re stressed or lose a lot of weight for example, your cycle may vary dramatically. A classic example of this is when you are studying for exams or an equally challenging life event.
You may also find that stressing about getting pregnant may not only prevent you conceiving but may affect your cycle so much you don’t know where you are with it!
You should also see a GP if you suffer from a very heavy flow.
So there you have it. While it would be great to pretend it’s all hearts and butterflies, I think it’s better to prepare our tween / teenage daughters for what is to come.
It’s hard, isn’t it to know exactly when to broach the subject of menstruation with your tweenage daughter – or sex come to that. My parents bought me a book about fruit flies. Truth. It’s OK though. I think the fruit flies really loved each other.
Have you discussed menstruation with your daughters? How did you approach it? And for those of you with sons, did you explain it to them too?