Talking to our girls about menstrual health.
An interview with Milina Opsenica - Founder of Beyond the Cusp.
Talking to our girls about menstrual health.
An interview with Milina Opsenica - Founder of Beyond the Cusp.
In this episode Angela, speaks with Milinia Opsenica, the Founder of Beyond the Cusp. Milina's mission is to normalise and encourage open conversations and honour the Rite of Passage as girls transition from a child to a young woman marked by getting their periods. She breaks down the simple ways to have conversations with our girls about what to expect and where they can go if they need support including how teachers can support our girls during this time. Angela shares her own story about getting her periods and how open conversations can change the relationship girls have with their bodies and with themselves.
Periods young girls daughter speak milina girls cycle underwear feel normalizing thinking mums conversation women body people bit shame teachers talk
Angela: Welcome to A Kid's Life Podcast, you're listening to Angela Lockwood, and today I am joined by Milina Opsenica. She's a founder of Beyond the Cusp. Now, this topic we're talking about today isn't something that is often spoken about. And what I love about this topic is it's something that I was never talked to about when I was young. I never had any education about this. And I find it's such an important topic to talk about. Now, if you get easily grossed out, I want you to stay on because this is exactly the topic that we need to be talking about. If you have young women in your life, young children in your life, young girls, it is about menstrual health. And Milina is definitely a leader in this space of understanding and educating young girls and their mums and their and their dads and families and people that work with them around what menstrual health is, what they can expect, and how to embrace it in its fullness. So Milina welcome to A Kid's Life podcast.
Milina: I thank you, Angela. That is a beautiful introduction. And I'm so excited to be chatting with you today.
Angela: Thank you, like I love I really do love this topic. I know a lot of people get really grossed out about it, right. So a lot of people really seem to be very scared about menstruation and talking about menstruation. But it's crazy because over 50% of the population, experience it and I find your story and your background really fascinating. So I can't wait to dig into this, this detail in this content, and really give some people maybe things that they've never even considered or heard of before. So before we do, though, something that really interests me about your story is that you came from a sales and marketing background. And now you're speaking about menstrual health, how do you make that leap from sales and marketing, photographer to now an educator on menstrual health?
Milina: Yes, it came out of left field for me as well to be honest, when, when I was presented with this, and it came after a little bit of self-discovery, to be honest. So I was nearing my 40s, I was wanting to understand a little bit more about my own body. And I started delving a bit deeper into womb space, and hailing around the womb, and learning a bit more about my own menstrual cycle. And I read a particular book, which I encourage every woman to read because it blew my mind and was a massive game changer for me. And the book is called “Wild Power”. And it's all about our inner seasons of our cycle and how we are cyclical beings, even though we live in a world where everything is very linear, we have to be on all the time and go go go. And this book changed everything for me. And I started looking at myself in an entirely different way, looking at my body in an entirely different way. And I have grown to love myself and my body in a way that I could never have ever dreamed of. And doing it at a time when my girls are kind of reaching the stage where they are becoming a lot more self-conscious, was very, very timely for me. So as I started to learn about this, my eldest daughter probably would have been about nine at the time. I also started thinking because I hadn't even spoken to her about periods at all by the stage. So I think there might have been one conversation when she brought home the book.,“Are you there God, it's me, Margaret”. from the library. So can you remember that boatload of Judy Blume books? I remember reading it when I was 12. And she brought it home. I think she was eight. And I knew it was about periods. And I was thinking, oh my god, I'm gonna have to talk to her. I don't know what to say all the things.
So at the time, when I was learning about myself, I was also looking into how to speak to my daughters. And what I was learning was, I felt kind of ripped off that I had gone through so many years of not understanding my body and beating myself up for thinking differently about my body from week to week when all it was doing was what it naturally should do. And I thought I really don't want this for my own daughters, I cannot have them get into their 40s going or you know, late 30s thinking, what have I not been taught what is you know, all these amazing things that our body does, and then not being aware of it. So I did a lot more reading research into things I taught myself a lot. And at the same time, I was reflecting on my own childhood. And I was brought up in a very religious household, although I was brought up by a single dad, it was a religious household. But the one thing, which I'm no longer part of this religion, but the one thing that I did take away was the, during my teen years, the support we had from other women mentors within the church group, and those women kept me grounded through my teens. And I reflected on that thinking, This is what our teen girls really miss out on is these mentors that are outside of our mum that teach us things that we might not normally learn. And I felt like we need this kind of space for our young girls now. And so that helped me kind of meld the two things together. The importance of knowing what our body is doing, plus the support from a wider community of, of women. And it's been working really, really well. And, you know, I often think I'm not educated in any kind of, you know, I'm not a medical, I'm not trained in anything medically. But what I do have to offer is really, really important, and how I kind of got them got to be where I am is so important.
Angela: I can remember it as a young girl. I also grew up in quite a religious household, and no one ever spoke about your periods. Like I have no idea what it was. And I remember when I got them. Well, of course, it's just that perfect scenario of friends over my parents, you know, my mom had friends over, and I went to the bathroom. And then I noticed, you know that I just got my periods. And so I was quite scared going, I Oh, my gosh, what is this all about? Like, I think I've got those things that I've heard the word, but I have no idea what it means for me. And I couldn't remember walking out into the lounge room and I said, Mom, I sort of need to talk to you. She goes, is it the time? It was one of every five to be completely embarrassed and what it is goes into my shell. Yes, it's that time like no trauma attached to that, hey, this saying it so clearly. But yeah, it was really, it was an interesting time where it was a little bit of fear. It was unknown, it was uncertain. And I can remember mum being really excited about it. I'm thinking, Why in the world. Are you excited about this? And why are you telling friends right now like, this is embarrassing. So I'm sure women listeners have got their own story about when they got their periods and how that all came about.
I remember listening to your podcast, obviously, you have the podcast Beyond the Cusp. And there was a really interesting story. I loved listening to where you talked about how you'd go shopping with your dad and he would actually buy your products. Now, I don't know about you when I still do this mid 40s hiding the products underneath the biscuits. And why don't we do that? Like what? Why is this shame attached to buying menstrual products? And I love that your dad did that? Was he a hider of products?
Milina: Well, so yeah, so I had to when I first got my period very much like you I didn't know, I didn't know much about it at all. Those things just weren't spoken of. And, I just wanted to touch on your story too. That would have been very, very confusing as a child to almost feel celebrated when you didn't even know what was happening. And like if you know if she was saying this is getting excited about it, you think about all the other things we celebrate. It doesn't lead up to it. There's you know, if you're celebrating a birthday, there's a lead up to it. It's not just all of a sudden, something amazing happens when you haven't even spoken about it before.
Angela: And I was very good. It can be emulated. Like how come I'm celebrating the fact that I'm bleeding? again. I don't celebrate when I cut myself. So yeah. How do we communicate with our daughters? You know, how do we balance that it is a beautiful thing and it is celebratory, but it's also you know, this is going to happen to you every month for the long part of your life. The reality of it, but we'll get to that I want to talk about your dad, dad. That scenario.
Milina: I love these stories. So I lived with my dad, three older brothers and a younger sister. So it's a very, very masculine household, I wouldn't see my mom on every second weekend holidays.
Milina: I got my period when I got home from school and noticed it in my underwear. And what I had to go and tell dad because we had nothing, absolutely nothing in the house. So he went and got something for me and some chocolates as well at the same time. And you know, He's my hero, my dad is, you know, he had to probably grow up with us as well. But yeah, so I would go shopping. From then on, I would go shopping. And I would tend to hide them, I'd go off while he'd be doing the grocery shopping, I'd go off into that aisle by myself. So he wasn't even around me and then came back and quickly, quickly hid it. But again, because we just, we never spoke about it with anyone, even with our friends. Like I remember one friend asking me continuously nearly every week, have you got your period yet? Have you got your period yet? And I think because she had it? And because every time I'd say no, she got on Me neither. But I think she did have it. But she was too scared to admit it. But there's just this underlying shame and stigma around it. So we would kind of hide it. I never even had anyone to speak to either had, you know, older brothers, and they had girlfriends. But you know, I wouldn't really speak to them. I would now but not at the time. And even still, my mum really wouldn't. It was just a given once you got it, you got it, and you just deal with it. So I think there is a lot of confusion. Because, yeah, it's just accepted that you get on with it, and you do it quietly. And that's more by osmosis then. than anything else.
Angela: I know a lot of women, of course experience their periods in the cycle, around having their periods very differently. Some people find it really painful. Some people find that it's fine. And they you know, it just happens to some people that sticks around for longer. Some people have a couple of days, you know, there's a whole range of different experiences. How do we communicate to our daughters that it's okay, the fact that you are and please excuse my frankness, you are bleeding, you know, for a period of time every single month, and it's going to happen to you for the next 40 years of your life, maybe? How do we balance the positiveness of embracing your femininity and loving your body and you know what a gift it is to be able to go through what you go through this and to be able to have children and their whole the whole thing with the reality that Do you know what, sometimes it might be really painful, and you might get teary and, you know, there's days where you might feel a little bit cranky? And how do you communicate that balance to them without freaking them out.
Milina: So the first part of this is that anything that they have been exposed to, when it comes to blood before has been painful, has been either an injury or has been an accident. So for them, blood means pain, and blood means trauma, blood means something that you know is not comfortable for them. So when they start to think we bleed from there in an area that again has not spoken about, it can be really fearful for them. And a lot of the fear just comes from not understanding what's happening. So we need to be able to communicate with them quite factually, to start with what actually is happening. So one of the things I do in the workshop is I ask the girls, you know, we all know where our brains are, we all know where our lungs are. Today, we're going to be learning about another part of our body, just like our brain and our lungs that has a job to do. And their job is to either have a period or create a baby if we choose to do so one day. So speaking from factually it actually takes away so much fear. You know, they know all these body parts so why not know our beautiful uterus and our beautiful womb space as well.
Angela: I love that Milina. Sorry to interrupt you there but I just want to tell you I felt so happy then because we didn't learn about that or it was skipped over. I know my grade nine teacher in health was a male. And he had no idea. It didn't know anything about the uterus and the womb. It was just something quick like quickly look at the you know, the textbook quickly read about it. So you know, just you being able to share that message. So simply, I think if listeners think that it is just another part of our body, we learn about all the other beautiful parts. And this is just another part. And I think that's a really powerful message for people to takeaways for making it factual first, that, yes, I've taken that.
Milina: And another thing to do as well is to make sure you name everything correctly. So one thing I didn't know until a lot later in life was that our vagina is on the inside of our body. And our vulva is on the outside of our body. And again, just normalising what the names of things are, and when where they are, when you when you start to call things, other names, or be quiet about it, that is when the shame comes in, and tells them that these things are, they are embarrassing to talk about, or they are shameful. You don't hear men a penis as a penis, you know, they don't have all these other quiet things about it. But we do live in a culture where we have been shamed for so long, and it is so deep. And I even find myself sometimes becoming cautious of where I talk about periods because of not from my own point of view, but to appease other people around me. And that's where a lot of the shame comes from as well. So when I started speaking to my own daughters, like I mentioned earlier, it did take me a while. And I really had to make a conscious effort to not push the conversation, but just to feel comfortable talking about it in a way that felt right for me. And I did have to do a lot of work on myself, there was a lot of healing involved with myself around shame and around trauma as well. But that was another part of it. I didn't want my daughters to think that they couldn't talk to me about other things. So the period is just one conversation. You've got other conversations around consent, around sex around pornography around all of these other topics, or these other subjects that they will come across in the next few years as well. If I can't talk to them about periods, something that happens naturally within them, then I wouldn't be able to talk to them about those things as well. And because I experienced some of those things, and I had no one to talk to, I didn't want them to go through the same things again. So speaking, factually, thinking about how we want to change the way that we were raised. And changing those. And also, I find another big thing is we hide parts of our cycle from our partners or our husbands to not make them uncomfortable. And I had to get over that as well. So my husband was once I don't talk about that even though he grew up in a female household, he had a lot of females around them. You know, we don't want to talk about that. But now he's very, very comfortable talking about periods even to some people I find interesting here to have a conversation about periods. So it's become normal for him as well. Which makes us human right, because these men, yes, yeah, Yep, absolutely. And it shouldn't just be left to the mums. It should be a family conversation that can then lead on to other conversations when our teens need to talk about other things.
Angela: Listening to again, your podcast, which I find such a valuable resource Beyond the Casp. And also for our listeners, I'll link all of the ways that they can connect with you at the bottom of the podcast. But I love the podcast the way that you really factually talk about periods. And I know after listening to one of the episodes, I realized one of the things I do is I do hide the pain. I can't say that I do experience a lot of the painful elements of having my periods and I would just be really cranky or snappy, and I wouldn't say why. And it was after listening to one of your episodes. I'm like, No, I'm gonna say to my son and my husband you know, I actually feel this way right now because of this reason. And it was funny the first time I did it, my son, go, oh, oh, okay. Moonwalk out of this room. I just, oh, I just thought okay, cool. That's the end of that conversation. But I'm glad that I could share that with you and say, you know, I am feeling a bit flat right now. And this is why and the reason I'm laying on the lounge is because of this reason. And I don't want to normalize pain or anything like that, that is associated sometimes with having your periods. But I just wanted him to know that, you know, when you get a girlfriend, this is going to be something you're going to have to consider, you know, because she might be a little bit snappy, it doesn't mean she doesn't like you anymore. Or you've said something wrong. It might actually doesn't always have something to do with you men. You know, sometimes our moods have everything to do with us. And you know, how you feel it's not always about you to other people in our lives. But yeah, I'm finding I know, for me having young children, and particularly a daughter, who, I'm sure is stepping into that stafe soon, that I didn't know a lot of this stuff.
Milina like me there were so many things that I haven't been educated on even having children, you know, like crazy, I would joke and go, I don't know how to, I don't know what's going on down there. And I'm a health professional, which is even scarier. Right. So I think, yeah, there's a lot of subjects and topics. And I think this, this one needs to stop being a taboo topic, because we don't want our young girls being worried about another thing in life, you know, there needs to be simplified and, and made it such a natural, lovely process. So the work you're doing is so powerful. And I've said that a couple of times, I just love it.
Milina: Yeah, I still will tell my whole family when I have my period. I suppose my cycles are fairly normal in terms of when it comes to pain, so I will have cramps on the first day. So I've actually got my period today for the first day when it's today. Congratulations or whatever. And I was dropping my daughter off at the bus stop this morning. And she was snapping up about something. And I said to her look, I'm feeling really crappy today, I do not want to get into these conversations, just kind of and she started going again, I said, look, I don't want to, I'm feeling crampy I don't want to because it just wears you. It was you. And another thing I wanted to point out. So you're lying on the couch because you're feeling a little bit low and energy, which we are absolutely lower in energy, our hormones at that first few days, particularly at the bottom doubt they're at their lowest our energy levels are low. So you know, we might be experiencing some pain, but also give ourselves permission to go, I'm just going to put my feet up, even if it's for 10 minutes, just leave me for a little while I give myself this wrist. And if we compare our cycle, we have a 29 ish day cycle, men go through the same cycle, but in a 24 hour period. I do it when we are bleeding, which is also the administration period, with which we would call our mid phase, like their 11 o'clock to three o'clock at night. What are they doing, then they're resting. They're not up to doing, you know, making dinner and doing all those things they are resting and we should be allowed to rest when our body needs to.
Angela: So Milina, how young should we be starting to speak to girls about periods and what they might expect? Yep.
Milina: So as I mentioned, I didn't speak to my daughters until much later. If I had it again, I would do it differently. But in saying that I'm actually really, really comfortable with how our relationships are around conversations now. But there it has taken a lot of work. My advice would just be to make it normal, as soon as possible. And to as well as early as possible in terms of speaking about your own cycle. So this is what's happening to me, I've got my period at the moment. These are the products I use, I just need to go to the bathroom. Because you know when they're young they follow you around it everywhere. If you've got little children, you can normalize it from a very young age and it's just then a part of what happens to mommy. If they're a little bit older, again, you can just start introducing that I have got my period. I know that there are women mothers who no longer have a period for whatever reason or they might not bleed because. They're on certain medications, they can also use just tuning into their own bodies. And using our energetic cycle to say, Look, I'm really tired at this time, or this is the time I want to do a bit more socializing. Using those kinds of cycles, it is a bit harder when we don't have a period ourselves to talk about it. But definitely normalizing things from as early as possible. And then also just asking what they know about it themselves, our children know a lot more than we give them credit for, they have access to things that we never had access to, they are talking about things in the school playgrounds, even if they don't have access to our phone or a device themselves, someone does, and they're talking about things a lot earlier. So asking them what they know. I like sharing stories, so sharing a lot of stories about our office periods, even if sometimes they are not the most positive things, by sharing our stories and showing them that we are changing things for them. And it can be a more positive experience, and that you are the person that they can come to when they need to. But I think the earlier, the better, because they know more than what we realize they know.
Angela: And, you know, I do a lot of work in schools, particularly through my program, The Inclusive Classroom about, supporting teachers to better, include kids of all diversity. So, you know, a lot of kids get their periods for the first time at school. What, should teachers have available? You know, can you give us any tips on how teachers can communicate with children, if a girl comes up to them? You know, because it'd be like, I could imagine at school, there'd be lots of children, lots of girls, who would, they might get scared, if they haven't had this conversation? Or they, you know, they might be worried they have their periods at school? What should teachers do? And how should they sort of support that young girl, if she does get a period at school?
Milina: Yeah, it's surprising how many 10 year olds are getting their periods now, you know, they're still in primary school, some of the primary schools might not have the bins in the toilets. So it can be a very anxiety inducing experience for them. I know, within some schools, there are teachers that girls can go to if they need products, and things like that. But I think there needs to be a whole lot more support, having watched my daughter, who, you know, we have very, very open conversations now and she's quite comfortable with her period, she still gets really anxious about leaking, and about how often she needs to change your pet. So I would, I would encourage any mothers to let the teachers know when their daughter does have their period, just so they have someone to kind of watch out for them. So when they're at school, there is someone there that they can go to when they are feeling anxious, or that the hardest thing to know is how often do I have to change a pet. Have I leaked through my uniform and need to go to the toilet quite often, to check that. And I know, in some schools, it's quite hard even to leave a classroom without feeling like it's an imposition. Do I need to check anything? So having a teacher that is aware of what is going on, can ease a lot of anxieties. And again, just normalizing the conversation, normalizing even just spot periods is really, really important. But having a go would be a big thing. Also having products available would be really, really helpful. But I know, I know it gets a bit hard because some students are not very you know, they're not very mature with what they do with certain things. So that gets a bit hard but definitely having a go and having the conversation between a parent and a teacher. Yeah, to know that they've got support there.
Angela: Then what about from the parents perspective is there you know, I've I know for my daughter I have in her bag products just in case you know, the love these new this new underwear that's now out for young girls, gosh, I wish we had those when we were younger. And you know, just so that it's a backup. What should parents be doing now? So if you've got a daughter sort of be five, six, anywhere up through high school, what should be in their bags?
Milina: Yeah, products nowadays are so good, so amazing. Differently, they should always have something ready to go in their bags, multiple items if possible. Even if it's just for a friend, the friend can get caught out and they can offer support there differently. There is no right and wrong with what people tend to use what they want to choose to use. But having pads and underwear is a really good idea. Even with some wipes I can have some wipes. If anything does happen, like over my tip when it comes to using the underwear, which are a fantastic, fantastic product is to use them with a pet. And that way they can use it with a pad, they can actually see what their period, it looks like they can get used to how much it would fill up, or how much you know how long they need to go before they need to change it, making sure you've even shown them how to use a pad. So opening it up, sticking it into your underwear, how to dispose of it, all of those things. Because we might just think it's to use them so many times it's second nature to us. But for them, they might get confused by it. So make sure you show them how to use it. And even with the tampon showing them what to do with it. Because some girls don't realize that it is actually inserted inside. I think it's like a pad will sit in their underwear. So make sure you show them exactly how it's used. So with that underwear, if you use the pad on top of the underwear, that will get them through a couple of hours, then once they need to change that they can dispose of that and then they've got the underwear for the rest of the day. So they don't need to kind of get another pair to use because again, they still go through that shame of can they hear me opening a pad.
Angela: And you can't take them to the toilet. Right? So it won't get tiring. Yeah, hiding it. Where do I put it? Do I put it in my school pocket? Yeah. And when I'm listening to what you said, it's really about reducing a lot of the anxiety and the uncertainty around getting your periods for young girls because the kids can often feel really alone. And this is one thing I don't need to feel alone with. And you know, it's not like it's going to be this beautiful thing where they're going to get it when they're at home, you know, they're going to wake up in the morning and birds are going to fly around. And you know, it's going be this joyful moment, it could be that they need to get the bathroom at school. Now they're out playing sports, and they feel something in the belly or whatever it is that they're feeling. And I love that it's about reducing the anxiety for the girls and normalizing. Now, before we sort of finish up, I feel like I have got so many questions. I still want to ask you, Milina, for a friend. I know that you do run in person workshops and online workshops for moms and daughters. But you also have a new program that's coming out. Can you just tell us a little bit about that?
Milina: Yes. So I have been running my workshops for a couple of years. And I was getting some interest from other women to also run the workshops in their own communities. So I have started teaching other women to facilitate these workshops in their own communities. So I have a few around Australia, I have a couple in the UK. And I also have, I'm doing another intake this September. So September 20, we have, we have another intake. So it's, it's everything that I have learned in this process and everything that I share in the workshops, but I do make it about the message. And I think the message is so important, but also our own individual stories are so important, and how we can offer that within our communities. So yeah, that's my, that's my other program helping women run these workshops, which have been so phenomenal and have opened up so many conversations with the families. And yeah, it's, I feel very honored to be bringing this kind of message.
Angela: Well, I want to thank you because you have helped me, even in my parenting journey, and that's why I wanted to have you on A Kid's Life Podcast, because I believe that the work that you are doing really will have a positive impact. And here we are in our mid 40s talking about, you know, these crazy stories from when we were kids, and how amazing would it be if we can minimize that for our daughters. So thank you so much. And, of course I'll link all of the programs, but where can people find out more about Beyond the Cusp and the work that you're doing Milina?
Milina: Yeah, so my Instagram is where I'm probably most active. So that's just @beyondthecusp. Yeah, so come and follow me along there and see me try to do silly real things.
Angela: I was going to say which we have not mentioned, your Instagram is absolutely beautiful because in your spare time you happen to be a remarkable, phenomenal, beautiful creative photographer as well. So it's definitely a beautiful Instagram feed. But we will link again to everything of Milina's and Beyond the Cusp. But thank you so much for being on A Kid's Life podcast. Milina, it is such a delight always to speak to you. And I just want to say please get this out there to as many girls as you possibly can, because girls really need to hear this. But equally so does the mums and the girls that work with these young women. So thank you so much for the work you do.
Milina: And I thank you, that means so much. Thank you, Angela.
Angela: Thanks, everybody for listening to A Kid's Life Podcast. I'm Angela Lockwood. And we've just been speaking with Milina Opsenica of Beyond the Cusp. Of course, if you want to hear more episodes about all of the issues that kids are facing in modern times, just to educate and simplify it for us adults, please subscribe to A Kid's Life Podcast on all of the platforms where you listen to podcasts, and everyone have a wonderful, wonderful day. And thanks again for joining me Angela Lockwood.