Celebrating menarche, the onset of menstruation, is an important way to honor and empower young girls as they enter womanhood. It can be a time to share wisdom and support. Our guest writer, Lara Paulus, shares her first period stories from the Netherlands.

Unlike many other countries, menarche traditions are absent in the Netherlands. The tradition within my family was a gift from my father.  
 
I vividly remember laying on the sofa, off sick from school. My dad came home from work and sat next to me; his eyes teary. He gifted me silver heart earrings.  
 
“You’ve become a woman now, my love”.  
 
Even though it was the sweetest thing he could have done, I was screaming inside. In this moment, I hated my own body, I hated being a woman, but most of all—I didn’t want to grow up. What was happening to me?

Menarche, the onset of menstruation, is celebrated worldwide, honouring young girls as they enter into womanhood.

First Period Traditions

For many around the world, menarche is a time of celebration. But for 10-year-old me, it definitely wasn’t! I didn’t understand all the signs of puberty—the premenstrual mood swings, body hair, sweaty armpits, and weird cramps in my lower belly.  
 
But the most impactful was the sudden increase of self-awareness. My body image drastically changed. I was becoming a woman and I didn’t like it. 

My mom and sister were menstruating, but this seemed inapplicable to me. I first became aware of menarche during a playdate with my primary school friend. She unpacked her school bag and a menstrual pad fell from its pocket. My eyes grew large as I held it in my hand.  
 
“Why are you shocked?” she asked. 
 
I was speechless. She took the pad from my hands, saying “I’m not on my period yet, my mom says it’s just in case it starts at school”. Apparently, they had many chats about starting your period at home.

The Netherlands and Menstruation

According to statistics, menarche normally occurs between the ages of 9 to 16 (in developed countries). In the Netherlands, primary schools don’t often offer education around menstruation before or during this age. And a rare number of schools install sanitary bins or offer menstrual products for those having their period. Menstrual health still feels taboo.

Prepping for Your First Period

If schools are incapable of delivering menstrual health lessons, then parents, foster parents, guardians, friends and others are key to assisting young girls in their menstrual cycle journey. 
 
How can we advocate for ourselves and others about to start their periods?

How To Advocate for Yourself Before Your First Period

Personally, I believe the key to feeling less overwhelmed is the knowledge gained in advance.

  • Do your research. Diva answers the top 7 questions regarding your first period. What is it and why do women menstruate? 
  • Talk through your thoughts and know that you’re not alone. Around 50% of the world population (3,904,727,342!!) are women, and (almost all) will go through this experience. 
  • Discuss and experiment with different kinds of menstrual product; pads, tampons, or menstrual cups and discs. Take your time and find what fits best for you and your body. 
  • Assemble for yourself or give a “menstrual toolkit” to someone you care for—like my friend’s mom did. You can get things like pads, tampons, a heating pad, panty liners, or period underwear. Or even just a pad to put in their school bag will do the job at first. 
first period stories
Advocate for others to make their menstrual journey more empowering.

First Period Stories

I first received my menstrual education from my friend. Afterwards, during my period, I got more information from my mother and sister. What did I find most helpful?

  • Create your own tradition/celebration to mark the occasion—if you wish—but keep it simple.
  • Discuss menstrual health and find a routine that makes you most comfortable during that time of the month. 

Advocating for Others

My own insecurity and lack of knowledge made it impossible to advocate for myself and others at the time. But learning how to advocate for ourselves and others throughout our unique menstrual journeys can make a big difference in our lives.

References:
“My mama told me it would happen?”: Women’s Experiences with Menarche and Menstruation in the United States. Naoum Z Z (US) [1], DeMaria A L (US) [2], Delay C (US) [3], Sundstorm B (US) [4], Rehberg A (US) [5], Ramos-Ortiz J (US) [6], Meier S (US) [7], Brig K (US) [8] 

US National Health Statistics Report, September 2020

About the Author

About the Author

Lara Paulus grew up in the Netherlands. She has a Global Health MSc degree from Maastricht University. Her focus lies on accessibility on menstrual health, as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights among most vulnerable populations such as refugees and low-income populations. She is currently working for a Global Health Market research company and works as a freelance content writer in various women’s health subjects.