It is International Menstrual hygiene day on May 28th and we at Mums and stories are featuring the story of an individual who with her team is ensuring we debunk myths and taboos on menstruation.
Meet Aditi Gupta from Menstrupedia talk about her journey, pointers on how to talk about periods to growing daughters and on her mum Sushma too.
“It all began when me and Tuhin who is Menstrupedia’s co-founder and also my husband now were friends and studying in National Institute of Design. Tuhin came to know more about the pain and inconvenience that girls and women go through every month during their periods. He was also aware of how they are often treated impure because of it. It wouldn’t be very hard to imagine what a young girl goes through in the absence of a proper source of information on the subject and on top of that being branded impure by her own family.
I had myself experienced and dealt with menstruation related problems in my life and had always felt a need for trustworthy and easily accessible information on this subject. This might be a situation not just in India but in many other countries as well. And we saw a lot of design scope to take up this gap of information as communication designers.
Over the years, my mother has played a very crucial role in making of Menstrupedia comic book. I always have felt that family members should be comfortable to talk about periods using the tool that we are making. So my mother, Sushma Gupta was a part of the content formation, prototype and also its testing. Also involved was my younger brother as he was around when the project was initiated at NID in 2009. My mother is extremely proud of our work and she always keeps a copy of the books and recommends it to others and motivates people to talk about periods.
What started out as a thesis project at NID has now become Menstrupedia. I had taken up a year long project to study the level of awareness about menstruation in young girls. Though it was my project, Tuhin was the one who came up with the idea of making a comic book. He is the artist and co-author for Menstrupedia comic. Both of us saw this as a communication design problem. At the end of the project we found a need for an appropriate guide about menstruation for young girls.
After working 3 years in e-learning industry, Tuhin and me got married, saved some money as an initial investment and we both quit our jobs and started working full time on Menstrupedia from August 2013. Soon we had another founder Rajat Mittal too joining us on this initiative. Finally Menstrupedia website – http://menstrupedia.com/comic/english was launched in October, 2012
There are a few pointers where mums can help their daughters deal with menstruation, especially when it is the first cycle or the initial ones to make children comfortable.
a) Confront the menarche. Be there when your daughter gets her first period. If you are outside, head home or pick her up from where she is without creating disturbance. When she reveals what has happened, don’t express astonishment or disappointment. Instead, begin by letting her know that everything is alright, and help her put on a sanitary pad. Later, sit her down and talk to her, calmly. Explain periods if she is not sufficiently aware in a simple, efficient way. Make sure that she is comfortable and beginning to handle it well.
b) Listen to her. Ask her about her concerns or fears, how it happened, or anything else she may want to let you know. Allow her to share whether she is experiencing pains, irritation or mood swings. Find solutions to minor discomforts by offering her food or water, hot water bag for pains, ice-cream to make her feel better on the pain or discomfort etc. Listening to her lets her know that you are approachable and are there to fulfill her needs. It will also remove any sense of nervousness that she might be going through.
c) Be warm, reassuring and accepting. Be mature about any emotional response she might give you. It is likely for her to be scared or shocked, break down, or be traumatized by the sudden change—especially if she is not fully informed or prepared. On the other hand, she might be able to take it extremely well or even be happy about finally getting her period. Know that all these reactions are equally valid, and each adolescent has her own way of adapting. Be patient, and assure her that it’s okay to feel the way she does. Mothers, you can also try to enliven the atmosphere by sharing your own menarche story.
d) Don’t dramatize. Do not react in extremes. Try not to spread the word all around the place that your daughter has “become a woman!” too soon, or alternatively, stress on how early it is, or how terrible this is going to be for you. Your daughter is already figuring her way through a new and unfamiliar phase that has just begun, and is probably already confused or upset about it. Good mentorship from you can encourage her to accept it better, whereas any form of exaggeration will only be harmful.
e) Avoid overwhelming her with demands. Do not impose taboos and restrictions on her. Avoid expecting her to drastically change her lifestyle and behaviour to match teenage stereotypes. Do not prohibit her from engaging in physical activity or sports. Let her know that it might take time to get used to and she might have to be careful until she does, but reassure her that she can still continue to do everything that she used to.
f) Don’t focus too much on period problems. Make conversations around her first period less scary, especially when they are about cramps, pains, health issues, side-effects or allergies, pre-menstrual syndrome, leaks, etc. It is good to make her aware, but ensure that she can view periods in a realistic way, and not as something that will only bring her bad experiences. Normalize periods as much as you can, and establish that it is a natural, healthy part of growing up.
g) Encourage body positivity. Clear out any issues or insecurities she may begin to have about her body and the changes that it is undergoing. Make her feel valued and beautiful. Avoid pointing out weight changes or differences in her appearance in ways that might make her feel uncomfortable with herself. Urge others around her to remember the same. Reinforce actions that make her happy with her growth, and with the body she inhabits. Let her know that she does not have to be a particular way to be beautiful, because she already is.
h) Celebrate. Last, but not the least, relieve her of her hard day by celebrating. Let people in the family know, and celebrate in small ways that make her happy. You can gift her a period kit, take her on a fun trip to the sanitary pad aisle of a store and familiarize her with the products, watch a movie, throw her a small party or even something as simple as a hug will do. This shows that even if it has been slightly unpleasant so far, periods can be a welcome transition to a remarkable time in her life.
On changes with reference to changing attitudes, we are seeing some of them and it’s a very encouraging step in the right direction but it still is a long battle and would take few generations.
However, my hope is just one generation, if we raise our girls who are informed about periods, myths, discrimination during periods would be completely eradicated.
I have also come across grand mothers who would say that what of we followed myths, I am ready to give way to my grand daughters.
I have also come across very educated mothers who live in cities and would completely reject the idea and say that whatever you say, I would not allow my daughter to entry into the temple during her periods.
One of my favourite instances has been when this single father wrote to me how eagerly he was waiting for the book to come as it was becoming quite difficult to talk about periods to his daughter who has just hit puberty.”