The Power of Intergenerational Conversations in Breaking The Period Taboo
After years of experiencing debilitating menstrual cramps and countless visits to the doctor’s office, one day, my doctor said, “have you ever asked your mother or grandmother what their period experiences were like?” At first I laughed, for those are conversations I assumed were too inappropriate to talk about due to the period taboo that exists my community and many others.
One day, as I was laying in bed suffering from menstrual pain, my grandmother made me some tea and instead of saying “thank you” and closing the door like I usually do, I asked her to sit on my bed. I then proceeded to question what her period experience was like when she was my age. Little did I know this conversation would be so comforting and the steppingstone to understanding, embracing, and loving my flow.
My grandmother shared with me her menstrual experience; many of the period symptoms she dealt with, I go through now, such as cramps, bloating, fatigue, and irritability. In that moment, laying in bed with my grandmother rubbing my back and sharing her period stories as a young woman brought me so much comfort and joy. That day was the beginning of many fruitful conversations I’ve had with my grandmother about reproductive health.
Although my grandmother has not been able to cure my dysmenorrhea, she has reassured me that I am not alone. As someone who also experienced menstrual pain, she constantly shares home remedies and women’s health books with me. My inquisitiveness to learn about periods and my grandmother’s openness to share period stories and wellness tips has destigmatized menstruation in our family. Now, instead of me telling my grandfather I am “sick,” I say “I’m on my period and not feeling well.” The intergenerational bond between my grandmother and I has brought me so much healing, joy, and comfort.
As I was writing this post, I came across the short film Mothering which depicts a girl moving into a foster care home and realizing she got her period for the first time. As if getting your first period isn’t frightening enough, imagine moving into a residence with new people. While watching this film, the thing that resonated with me the most is the foster grandmother who comforted the girl by changing her blood-stained bed sheets, advising her to take a hot shower, giving her OTC pain medication, showing her how to use a pad, fixing her something to eat, and most importantly, holding her hand and reassuring her that everything was going to be okay.
This film exemplifies my first period experience- minus living in a foster care home. I too, was comforted by my grandmother who didn’t scold me for bleeding on my white pants, but told me to take a hot shower, gave me a pad, pain relievers, and a blanket to wrap around in and lay down on her bed. Now that I think about it, every time I’ve been in menstrual pain and in the presence of my grandmothers, I feel like the pain miraculously goes away. Or maybe it’s my mind telling me “Bria, you’re safe,” and “Bria, you’re in the presence of wise women who will take care of you” which makes me think less about my pain, and more about the comfort I am receiving.
Last year, I co-hosted a period party with my mentor, Irvienne, for Black and Brown girls in Roxbury, MA. We were very intentional about holding a safe and brave space for community members to share period stories. During the event, we facilitated a discussion in which women and girls across the lifespan engaged in community conversations about menstruation. It was so powerful to see girls as young as 8 years old hear stories from women 50 years old and above about their first period experience. On that day, Black and Brown girls learned how to fully embrace their flows and Black and Brown women learned how to be more open and share stories about a social taboo that has discouraged them from speaking on it in the past.
This post is an appreciation for my grandmothers and all of the mothers, grandmothers, aunties, cousins, mentors, and community mamas who listen, share stories, and support the younger girls in their lives. May you continue sharing period stories and helping us embrace and love our flows.
In the words of the late and great Tupac, “and since we all came from a woman. Got our name from a woman…” let’s also remember we got our womb from a woman. My challenge for girls and young women is to have an honest conversation about your period with someone older in your life, whether it’s your mother, grandmother, sister, auntie, cousin, friend, or mentor. Ask them what their period experience was like growing up. As awkward as it may seem, do it anyways. You never know what story you may hear that will help you understand, embrace, and love your own flow, unapologetically.
We plan to post personal stories, educational content, and interviews with those on the frontlines of menstrual equity to start conversations, spread awareness, and spark change in our communities. We would love your feedback here. Please read, enjoy and share!