by Amber Khan
For some, they are prepared for this moment. They are even looking forward to it. And when that day arrives, they are eager to share the news with their mothers, as they know it will be met with praise and excitement.
For others, it may be one of the scariest and most confusing times in their life. They were never aware of this unavoidable development. And when it arrives, they are lost as to what it means and who to tell.
As two women recounted from their childhood:
“I woke up and was covered in blood. My clothes, my sheets, my mattress – all stained. I screamed. I thought I was dying. I have never seen so much blood in my life.”
“I was playing outside, running around with my sisters. When I came inside I saw bloodstains all over my pants. But I never fell or got hurt – I didn’t understand where it was coming from.”
Undoubtedly, approaching this topic with our children can be challenging. For some parents, they have successfully found a balance between education and sensitivity. However, for many others, they struggle. The idea of celebrating this event contradicts their religious and cultural understandings of menstruation. They prefer, instead, to shy away from the topic altogether, leaving their daughters alone and in the dark.
But one mustn’t stress over the perplexity of this situation. We are blessed to have the example of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to show us how to do it right.
Umayyah bint Qays (may Allah be pleased with her) was a young girl who had not yet reached puberty. She joined the Muslim army on its way to Khaybar. The Prophet (pbuh) had her sit on his she-camel, just behind his luggage and they rode for some time. When they stopped, Rasul Allah (pbuh) descended and had his camel kneel down, whereupon Umayyah got off as well. To her mortification, she noticed that the luggage she’d been sitting on was smeared with blood – her first period.
Umayyah sat back on the bag, leaning forward to try and hide the bloodstain.
Rasul Allah (pbuh) noticed both her actions and the bloodstain and said gently, “Perhaps this is menstrual blood?” Umayyah nodded in confirmation and Rasul Allah (pbuh) suggested kindly, “Attend to yourself, then take some water, put some salt in it and wash the bag, then return.”
Umayyah followed his instructions and was once again seated upon Rasul Allah’s camel.
After the Muslims were victorious at Khaybar, Rasul Allah (pbuh) chose a necklace from amongst the spoils of war and summoned Umayyah. He placed it around her neck with his own hands. She wore that necklace until she died.
(Al-Muhaddithat; al-Tabaqat al-Kubra by Ibn Sa’d. Nadwi, M. K. 2007. Al-Muhadithaat: The Women Scholars in Islam. London and Oxford: Interface Publications, pp. 59).
Certainly, the lessons behind this tradition are astoundingly beautiful.
- Despite that it was her first period, Umayyah knew where this bleeding was from, revealing that she was taught such knowledge prior to her menstruation.
- Shyness is a natural quality to the reproductive process. Umayyah tried to hide the stains, however, her shyness did not prevent her from learning and obeying the Prophet’s (pbuh) teachings.
- The Prophet’s (pbuh) reaction to the situation displayed both proper knowledge and delicacy when dealing with an impressionable, young girl.
- The Prophet (pbuh) recognized the significance of menarche and therefore he presented her with a special token to symbolize the mark of this occasion.
We can also learn what he (pbuh) did not do to Umayyah
- Ignore the situation out of her (or his) embarrassment
- Shame her for what had happened to the luggage.
- Find a woman to deal with the situation.
- Downplay or ignore the pivotal moment of menarche.
Sister Umayyah’s necklace, which she wore everyday until her death, was a constant reminder of that day, of that moment. She felt proud to wear it around her neck for others to see.
How many of us can say we are proud of our menarche? That we would want to be reminded of it? Or do we think of it like the damaged luggage bag – ruined with attempts to hide it?
For many parents who did not grow up with a positive menstrual experience struggle with breaking that cycle for their own daughters. Surely, it requires them to step out of their comfort zone full of cultural and social stigmas. But if done correctly, it will leave their daughters as Umayyah was left – confident and educated in her body and her inner self.
As one similar young woman recounts:
“I was in school and had to the go to the bathroom. It was there where I saw traces of blood. I smiled. My mom said this day would be coming and it finally happened. I couldn’t wait to tell her. When I finally got home, I shared every detail. She hugged me and said, ‘This is a special day for you and me.’ It was one of the happiest days of my life. I felt like my mom. I felt like a woman.”
Here are five tips on how to promote openness and gentle conversations with our daughters about menstruation:
- Start “the talk” early. Waiting until your daughter has her first period is too late. Prepare her for what’s coming so she’s not alarmed.
- Encourage honesty with privacy. It’s common for parents to teach our daughters to lie about when they’re menstruating to protect their male relatives’ discomfort. This not only encourages sinning but also enforces a negative stigma to a natural event. Rather, brainstorm together ways on how to honestly yet privately disclose to others’ inquiries about why they aren’t fasting or praying.
- Teach sons about menstruation. Menstruation may directly affect females but it has an Islamic impact on males as well. Therefore, talking to your sons about menstruation will have a positive influence on all their relationships in life – as brothers, sons, husbands, and fathers.
- Talk less, listen more. Puberty can be a very confusing time for any child. Giving them a platform to share their thoughts without hearing a lecture or feeling judged will not only make them share with you more but also feel comfortable to come to you first over other sources.
- Don’t shy away from education. Shyness has its place. It is our natural disposition to feel shy when near transgression. However, it is unnatural if it prevents one from learning a topic, no matter how sensitive, that will benefit us. Therefore, be the example to your child and proactively seek knowledge about such sensitive matters for your own education as well as to better explain it to your offspring.
Amber Khan is a trained physician and Director of Education – US for HEART Women & Girls. She lives with her husband and children in Michigan.