The day before my 21st birthday, I learned I was pregnant. I was in my junior year of college and head over heels in love with my best friend. Though I was not entirely sure about what to major in, I was sure that I wanted to have our baby.
Which doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared—because I was terrified. In those early days right after I found out, I would look at my naked body in the mirror and stare at my stomach. I searched for some physical sign of the tremendous turn my life had taken but from what I could see, I didn’t look any different. I took my prenatal vitamins, and once the morning sickness wore off, I did my best to eat foods I thought would help my baby grow. I started to eventually feel the change happening inside me.
I had all sorts of worries during my pregnancy and throughout those early postpartum days—especially around what it meant to raise a daughter in this world. We live in a society that doesn’t always treat us fairly, and becoming a mother to a girl brought that reality into sharp focus for me.
I wanted to be sure my daughter grew up confident, with a secure knowledge of her worth.
I wanted her to understand that her body was sacred ground.
I wanted her to feel an expansive sense of possibility.
I wanted her to know what a magical thing it was to be a girl, and one day a woman.
When my daughter would come home from preschool she would tell me all about her day and all about her classmates’ and teachers’ days, too. She was a fountain of information. I knew mothers of other children in her class and they would complain about not knowing anything about their kids’ days, but I couldn’t relate. That was not my life.
Even when I was tired and less than excited to hear about the intricacies of preschool life, I still encouraged her to tell me about it. I sat and listened and asked questions because I wanted to build a strong foundation for a relationship where she felt like she could tell me things, one where she knew I was always there for her.
As my little girl became a big girl and her time in elementary school wound down, our relationship shifted. She still came home eager to tell me things about her day, but I could tell there were things she was keeping to herself. It bothered me at first, but I learned that that distance was a part of the journey of motherhood. Knowing when to hold on and when to let go.
It wasn’t about anything I had done or not done. It wasn’t about me at all—it was about my daughter finding her way, finding herself. So I tried to limit when I pushed and let her share when she wanted to share.
And then one summer morning, she shared with me that she had gotten her period for the first time.
I was 11 when I got my period and I didn’t know what it was when it happened. I saw this brownish-red smear in my underwear and was mortified. I actually hid it for days, until I started to worry that I might be bleeding internally and figured the shame of disclosing what was happening to my mother was worth it if it meant I wouldn’t die.
When I told her, she got really excited. She told me I had gotten my period and that it meant I was growing up—that I could even get pregnant (which sounded terrible to me at the time). She decided we should throw a party. She sent invitations to a couple of my friends from school and gave out tampons and pads as party favors. There was even a cake.
When I’ve relayed this story to people over the years, they always remark on how cool it is that my mother reacted this way. But it didn’t feel “cool” to me at the time and I spent most of the party hiding in the bathroom.
When my daughter told me she had gotten her period, I wanted to make sure she felt celebrated and nurtured, but also respected. I wanted to honor the way she wanted to mark this milestone and transition in her life.
We went on a walk together—just the two of us. I asked her how she was feeling and gave her space to answer. I didn’t offer up my own feelings or share what my period was like for me until she asked. I wanted to let her experience be her own.
She wasn’t afraid the way I was and she didn’t share the excitement my mother expressed either. Her energy was softer, more thoughtful. She told me I had prepared her well. She took it as a rite of passage, and we honored her milestone the way she requested—with face masks, tea and cookies.
And it’s one of my mama milestones I’ll never forget.