I can remember the day my first period came as though it was yesterday. I was ten years old and I was on holiday with my grandmother in San Antonio, Texas, at my aunt’s house. While at on holiday, I joined my cousins at summer camp. It was while at camp that my period came. I sort of had an idea what it was because I’d heard the ‘big girls’ in my neighbourhood talk about theirs but I was miles away from home and feeling a bit lost. I told one of my cousins what had happened, although she is a few weeks younger than me she confirmed what I’d guessed. I didn’t think anything of it but when my younger cousin decided to shout out at the top of her voice in San Antonio International Airport on our return, that I’d had my period I felt a bit embarrassed. My aunt called my mum and my mum told me when I got home we’d talk more about it. Once back in Trinidad, mum gave me a diary and taught me how to check the days to my next period. She also said it was good to keep it as a record because sometimes doctors would ask at a check-up when I’d had my last period. And that was that. When my mate Mrs C invited me to a red tent women’s retreat, I had no idea what to expect apart from the fact that there would be a menarche ceremony.
Up until Mrs C invited me to the event, I had no idea what a red tent women’s group or a menarche ceremony was all about. In fact I never knew such gatherings existed. From my brief online research (on returning from the retreat) I’ve found that the word Menarche comes from the Greek words for moon and beginning. This is the time that a girl makes the ‘transition’ from girlhood to puberty. It also signals the possibility of fertility. It is believed that biology, geography, environmental conditions, race and nutrition are some of the characteristics that influence the age at which a girl’s first flow comes. While trawling the internet I came upon all sorts of information about the uses of menstrual blood, as you can imagine not all of them were positive. The most interesting ones I found were using it as a way to reconnect with the earth ‘is to use cloth pads, and give the soak water to a garden, pot plants or even a nature strip’ . I’m also aware it’s been used in contemporary art. In fact, the latter was offered to the menstruating women at the retreat. Small canvases had been prepared in the likelihood that a participant would want to create a piece of art with her menstrual blood. To my knowledge in the time that I was there no lady had done so.
The retreat took place on the weekend of Friday 27th – Sunday 29th. On Friday we pitched tents and gathered around a welcome circle to meet each other and give the children a chance to find out who all the adults were at the event. We were also updated on times for the events and ceremonies carded for the weekend. Saturday was the day that all of the activities took place. Unfortunately the only activity I was able to attend in its entirety was the menarche ceremony. I totally missed the salt bowl ritual ( the intention was that women gather together to support each other and get connected, they share their hopes and dreams as the salt bowl is passed around and each lady adds her own favourite oil, herb to the salt etc). I was only present for the start of the blessing for pregnant moms. My children were with me at the retreat but not with me at the ceremonies. They were playing with other older children who were hosting short fun activities for them. Nonetheless because they knew where I was, I was called away when needed. Nothing happened that weekend that I was unhappy with or felt uncomfortable about. I say this because I’m aware that the event may seem unusual and suspicious to some people. In fact when I first told hubby about it, he was curious why no men were involved. Funny how no one ever questions when men go on ‘lad holidays’, attend lodge meetings or seek recreation at men only clubs. I can’t remember what I said to him but in the end was supportive as he usually is to me. There were no special words, chants or mantras. Attendees shared life events, well wishes and hopes for the future all in their own words.
At the menarche ceremony we were given a menstrual care ‘to do list’ as it were but in essence it’s a guide. Each lady will choose what she wants to give special meaning to each month when her flow comes. We also each received a necklace, bracelet (each was a one of a kind), a red band made of yarn and a peacock feather. The yarn is a symbol and reminder of our connection to each other in a special way, due our monthly bleeding. The feather was also meant to be a memento signifies to a few of us it would signify freedom. For me my red band also signifies my intention to embrace all that goes with my cycle. Every woman who attended chose a word or sentence that will have special meaning to her and her cycle. The girl we gathered together for at the menarche ceremony additionally received a special gift from her mother. While a few ladies spoke words of encouragement and well wishes to her as she now moves into this new stage of her life.
The retreat event was organized by the La Reunión Roja women’s group in conjunction with the Red Tent Medway women’s group . Essentially the aim of both groups is to create a safe space and place where women can come together to celebrate, support, share, nurture and empower each other with compassion for all they experience in their daily lives. For any lady who’s interested, The Red Tent UK website hosts a directory of red tent groups in the UK. As for me, I’ve not decided if I will seek a group in my area. As I said earlier, up untill several weeks ago, I’d never known such groups and events existed. Although my dear friend Mrs C created the La Reunión Roja group in December 2013, we’d never had an opportunity to talk shop about it. We are both busy and my children are usually all over me like a rash (Trini expression). Telephone conversations are can be a bit complicated. Over the weekend, I got a flavour of what the movement is all about and I like it. Its been a while since I’ve been a member of anything that requires my physical presence due to childcare and such. For the moment I’m happier to read a bit more about the red ten movement.
To my lady readers I’m curious, do you remember the first time you had a period? How was it for you? Or do you have a pre-teen daughter? Have you considered how you will prepare you for this new phase of her life? Dad! How to you feel about your daughter when she approaches this phase of her life? How did/do your reassure her during this time. I’m also curious how other cultures make this change of life for girls. Feel free to leave your comments below.
Links that readers may find interesting for further reading:
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