I threw a 'period party' for my daughter when she was 13. Now 34, she helps friends do the same for their kids.

Melania Murphy and her daughter at her "period party" in July 2002
The author and her daughter at her "period party" in July 2002.Melania Murphy
  • When I was growing up, I felt like there was a lot of stigma attached to menstruation.

  • I wanted my daughter to grow up in a different environment, one of education and celebration.

  • I threw a party for her when she became a teenager, and now she helps her friends do the same.

I grew up in the 1970s, and the topic of getting your period was quite taboo. Although I was surrounded by female relatives — mom, aunts, grandmother, great-aunts — it felt off-limits to talk about, even among family. Today, girls can find a wealth of information about menstruation simply by searching the internet, but my only option to learn about my body was to buy Seventeen and Cosmopolitan magazines and read articles like, "I tried tampons for the first time" and "7 things you should know about getting your period."

I remember one day I asked my mom, "When should I start wearing a bra? Is it when I get my period?" Her face flushed with embarrassment. She looked down at the ground, and after a few very awkward moments of silence, suggested I go talk to my older cousin Teri, who had already gotten her period and was not shy about talking about it. I wasn't sure if it was my mom's Catholic upbringing or something else that made her reticent to broach the subject with me, but I never brought it up with her again.

I didn't want my daughter to be ashamed of her body

So when I had a daughter, I did a complete 180 and made sure to openly talk with her about how menstruation works. I told her that our bodies go through a process to create what's necessary for pregnancy every month, but when we don't become pregnant, the unused material is shed and comes out as blood.

I also told her when she started menstruating, we would commemorate her becoming a young lady by having a party. I didn't want her to hear derogatory terms like "being on the rag" or "the curse," which could cause fear or dread. Instead, I hoped she'd look forward to puberty and feel proud of being a woman.

This environment of openness caused a few moments of hilarity I couldn't have imagined, including when the neighbors came over to see our remodeled bathroom, and my daughter, then 6 years old, opened one of the new drawers and announced, "Here's where my mommy keeps her tampons when her butt bleeds."

Or when she was 9 and randomly asked her 7-year-old brother at the dinner table, "What are you going to get me for my period party?"

He shrugged and said, "I don't know. What do you want?"

"Mom says it should be red," she answered.

My husband stared at me as if to say, "What have you been telling her?"

Planning a 'period party' for a teenager

The big party almost didn't happen, however, because, like all girls going through the awkward preteen years, her emotions and self-consciousness wavered. One day she'd talk about her period party with the same enthusiasm as a little girl describing an upcoming birthday party. The next week she'd proclaim that I couldn't make her have the "stupid" party. She warned me she would refuse to show up and would hate me forever if I went through with it.

So when she got her period, though we did start planning a party for her, I backed off the idea of focusing all the festivities on menstruation. Instead, we agreed it would be an observance of the year she turned 13 — a rite of passage, kind of like the Jewish bat mitzvah or Latin American quinceañera.

On the invitations, we decided to officially call it her "Turning 13" get-together. But regardless of the name, I was pleased. I felt like we were still doing what we'd always talked about: having a celebration to honor the natural process her body was going through.

We kept the guest list small — a half dozen of my like-minded soul sisters who agreed the physical, emotional, and spiritual changes transforming girls into young women should be revered, as well as my mom, sister, and cousins. Each guest brought a bead or stone that we strung to make a necklace for her and shared wisdom and blessings on a page in a small keepsake scrapbook, both treasured items that she could keep.

The atmosphere was more relaxed and laid-back than festive. Visitors arrived at the house one by one that summer afternoon, which gave each person time to talk to the guest of honor and ask her questions about hobbies, interests, and school. To make the event special, I had fresh-cut flowers — roses, sunflowers, lilies, and carnations with baby's breath — arranged around the house and provided delicate finger sandwiches, light salads, and a layered vanilla cake.

At one point, we came together in a circle. One of our friends in attendance recited a prepared poem and story acknowledging the occasion and we gave my daughter a blue scarf (though I don't remember the significance of the blue scarf). Each person read the special note they created in her scrapbook and attached their bead or stone to the necklace. All in all, the whole thing was lovely.

Necklace with stones and beads for Melania Murphy's daughter
Guests made this necklace at the period party.Melania Murphy

We both remember it fondly

At the time, my daughter was embarrassed by the idea of directly acknowledging her period in front of friends and loved ones. Now, at 34, she fondly looks back on the event and, in reminiscing, once again refers to it as her "period party."

She recently visited a friend who has a young daughter and she shared memories of her coming-of-age jubilee — yes, her period party — and how she still treasures her necklace. Her friend was moved by the special way we respected the process of becoming a young woman and asked her a very special question: "I want to do that for my daughter. Will you help me plan it?"

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