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Travails of "growing up"

Sahana's post about a 6 year old attaining puberty shocked me and I was intrigued enough to google the net for more information and this is what I found. Do have a look at her post.

Wikipedia describes the above syndrome as:
As a medical term, precocious puberty describes puberty occurring at an unusually early age. In most of these children, the process is normal in every respect except the unusually early age, and simply represents a variation of normal development. In a minority of children, the early development is triggered by a disease such as a tumor or injury of the brain. Even in instances where there is no disease, unusually early puberty can have adverse effects on social behavior and psychological development, can reduce adult height potential, and may shift some lifelong health risks. Central precocious puberty can be treated by suppressing the pituitary hormones that induce sex steroid production.
When I spoke to Sahana about this article and requested her to share this information with the child's parents, she said she would be happy to do so but hoped that the mother would take it in the right spirit and not say things like, once the periods start they should not be stopped. I was aghast at this possibility and I would not have imagined myself doing that had I been in the mother's position. But of course, the point of my post is not just to draw attention to the existence of such a syndrome which is not to be confused with early puberty and leave it untreated.

It brings me to ponder about how people approach "attaining age" or puberty with an unscientific attitude. When I was growing up, there were many households that practiced the "staying aloof" during periods. Separate beds, separate plates, not allowed to enter the kitchen or touch the vessels in which the food is cooked, someone would have to serve the girl, the clothes worn would have to be washed by the girl herself, in short, ostracized for the entire 4-5 days in a month. I don't know if such practices are still being followed. (I sure hope these have been abandoned). Imagine a girl attaining puberty at the age of 8 or 9, which is becoming a norm these days, being made to undergo all this. How traumatic it can be for such a child? Such customs make a big deal out this natural phenomenon and worse still treat it as though it is a curse to befall on womankind. I remember my sister and I having to "sit aside" during those times and although we attained menarche at 13 or 14 years, it was still very difficult to accept those restrictions. It was mostly imposed by our grandmother who looked after us. Mother used to work and hence could not really rebel on behalf of us. Also, my mother being a product of those very restrictions, maybe even harsher during her times, was conditioned to accept such things without protest. Of course, it is a different story that after a few years, I turned into a complete rebel and refused to comply with most of the restrictions. The girl undergoing physical and emotional changes has enough on her plate and does not need social stigma and taboos enforced on her. Especially, when these beliefs do not hold much water in our modern age.

Puberty can be confusing, traumatic, embarrassing and depressing at varying degrees depending upon the conditioning at home. Peer-pressure can be at it's peak and pre-teens who are amongst the first ones or the last ones to attain puberty are the most affected. Onset of puberty not only announces the arrival of hormonal upheaval, it also marks the distinct cross-over to man/woman-hood. The twin-challenge of dealing with changes in the physical appearance as well as the emotional roller-coaster ride may cause a lot of distress. Precocious puberty or not, the most important factor here would be the support of the parents at home and the teachers at school. I do not remember being schooled for this eventual physical change. It happened as it did for many others and life went on. I never asked much questions when I was younger and accepted things at face-value. However, children are a lot more curious now and they do not shy away from questioning things. And, thank God for that. Of course, I am dreading the questions regarding the changing body, raging emotions, confusing relationships with peers of the same and opposite sex, when the time comes. But I also understand that it would be best that these need to be addressed with utmost honesty and clarity as it would be appropriate for the age. Because, if not us (the parents or the teachers), the next resort would be the internet or friends which can prove dangerous. The plethora of information on the net can be a boon if there is a support system always available at home and school but can turn dangerous if left unmanned in the hands of an impressionable young.

An open environment at home is so much needed today so that our children can approach us first for any kind of discussion. I do hope in earnest, 'am able to provide it for R.


  1. What an analysis Uma. As you were, I was a rebel too. And such staying aloof still exists in some villages.
    And I just cannot forget those days when I was supposed use a piece of cloth to soak it all up. Washing and Reuse cycle made me vomit everytime.
    We were not financially well-off to afford use and throw pads at that time. But, my throwing-up did not stop. I am very sensitive to smells.
    So, I was introduced to pads. I saw that as a boon!!!

    I read a news few months back, where a girl used cloth, she washed and put it dry over a bush. When she reused, a bug had entered her vagina, she even died! This happened in far village of Manipur.

    Many things to it Uma.
    Creating a open environment is indeed the best solution I see.

    1. gosh Sahana! you had to use cloth? I was lucky enough to have all the financial comforts but that did not make me less rebellious towards the restrictions. I really feel they instil negative feelings towards something that is infact just nature's way.
      and am shocked to hear about the incident. How terrible for the girl!
      We are spoilt for choice vis-a-vis conveniences in life and even basic right to hygiene and sanity is denied in the far-flung interiors. How sad can the condition get!

  2. Thankfully, I never faced so many restrictions... Not going to the temple was the only restriction and was mainly imposed by my grandmother... mom has always been very open minded and even she never believed in all these orthodox restrictions imposed on young girls... and i completely agree with the open environment thought..

    1. That's good Radhika! yeah, not going to temples is something I follow even now but am not entirely sure of the reasons..

  3. Hi Uma, first time on your blog from Sahana's.

    Very well written article and hits the right points too. What could be embarrassing for such a young girl is the social stigma and how boys at school may behave in a rather insensitive way when they see a blood stained skirt. I used to disgust at the fact that we had white skirts, though just for one day. I couldn't gather the courage to discuss with my mom when it happened for the first time!! And about the practice of staying aloof, someone on twitter confessed that his mother treats his sisters such and doesn't allow them to enter the kitchen. Many men have blogged on this issue too, the good thing is we are talking about such issues openly, it's certainly a start!

    Few days back I had written on the topic, about how women aren't allowed to enter temples. Impure Women This is the article I wrote, if it may interest you.

    1. Hi Chintan, Welcome here and thank you very much for the kind words..
      I agree. Gosh, the PT white skirts used to give the girls such nightmares!
      hoping over to read your article..
      many thanks for the follow too..:-)

  4. Wow! puberty at 6?!! poor thing.. I remember how my aunts and mom were given separate plates and normally stayed away from the household during their menstrual cycle at the grandma's place..Thankfully that has never happened to me.. But paati did tell me that the main intention was to make sure that women took rest during those 4-5 days. Still , separate plates is just too much ! I wonder if these practices continue these days, though

    1. giving women rest in those days made sense but the way it was dealt is not something welcoming. Also, these days, when physical strain is not so much and hygiene-wise too there are lot of options, the custom can be enraging and humiliating for the woman in question.

  5. You've done a very sane and logical analysis of the entire menstrual cycle bit. Not many do it with such clear thoughts. I completely agree to your views. Open environment is the only means to do some good. Lets see.

    I've been there and done that - restrictions, rebellion, and all of that. In fact, I saw a TV debate on this yesterday and wanted to do a post. May be, some day.

    1. Thank you SnS for the kind words..:-)
      You have been there too, right? Please do a post. Would love to hear what you've to say!

  6. Uma, let me surprise you by saying that this practice is followed by both sides in our family still! I don't enter the kitchen when I have my periods, and no visiting temples.. I have given up on trying to reason.. As this has been a practice on my side, i don't find it new or strange.. I don't stick to any other restrictions but not having to cook for 3 days suits me fine:)The whole set of extended relatives on either side, still treat it seriously! The only diff is, the ils are far better than my own grand-mom who used to be very rigid.. I have 2 options- just go with the flow and not antagonize my folks over something they consider very sensitive and important, or get my in-laws move out to a separate house.. But that is something i don't want to do because, though conservative, they are very affectionate people and have always been there for me.. I have also not bothered to tell them that i'm an agnostic or atheist.. it doesn't hurt me to visit a temple with the family, or argue with them on why Rama and Krishna are bad examples! I see no point:) I'm aware, and am able to take things in my stride.. I've learnt to put love & people over other things.. Right or wrong, i don't know.. I have explained menstruation to Vyas in a way he can comprehend.. I have also explained to him that 'seclusion' is out-dated, but mindlessly followed.. And that am fine with it as long as i can continue to hug my babies, sleep next to them, share food from the same plate etc... Does it make sense? I don't know!

    1. No Vidya, am not surprised. If the practice is still followed in my house, it can be done elsewhere too. Of course, the next generation needs to be spared is my deepest urge.
      And Vidya, I really salute you for showing so much maturity in handling this. I am not sure if I could've been so gracious. I truly respect the reasons for which you do not want to assert your views on this.
      But if you had a daughter and the customs were passed on, would you be OK? Not being personal or rude,just want to know.

    2. My nieces, one aged 14, another 16, follow it and have not questioned because they are conditioned to follow like their own mothers, aunts, grands etc.. It is surprising really! If I had a daughter, I think I would have moved out Uma.. Asking her if she had a problem following a backward custom, is moot, and i would spare her the trouble!

    3. they don't question? now am surprised!
      Thanks for the candid reply..:-)

  7. Puberty at 6?! Shocking indeed.

    I have to thank you for this post. I did not know that early puberty could also be a medical condition, and could warrant medical attention. I used to think early puberty was just early puberty, and had to be accepted with a pinch of salt.

    Thankfully, my parents did not make me go through the usual restrictions during menstruation. I would have hated it. However, I have read somewhere that the main intention behind all those restrictions is that the girl gets complete rest for 4-5 days. Ultimately, it all depends on the way the restrictions are imposed and on the girl herself, I guess.

    I love the concluding para of your post. So true. Motherhood today is a challenge. Today's children have much more freedom, resources and knowledge at their disposal, and it is up to the parents, largely, to channel them in the right direction. I hope I am able to do it well too, when I do get around to doing it.

    1. yes, shocking indeed but also a wee-bit relieved that the process can be reversed till a more appropriate age. Though the mental stress can be the same, I think.
      I am not sure I enjoyed the "rest" period as anyway I was not bombarded with too much work to be relaxed on those occasions..:-) However, I still don't enter temples 'cause am not at peace doing so.
      Welcome here and thanks for the comment..:-)

  8. I really hate the old norms of isolation. I have not understood the significance of that at all. I know a friend in whose in-laws place such practices are still followed. The women are isolated and confined to a separate room at that time. However, I don't feel comfortable going to temples at that time, coz like you, I dont feel at peace.

    Early puberty is really sad because it is like losing one's childhood. It would be a big trauma for the child. I know a case where a girl attained puberty at 8. She is now grown up and is a very normal woman; happily married with kids :)

    1. yeah puberty at 8 is no longer unusual and is not considered early. It is becoming a common feature.
      However, early puberty, like at the instance above, needs to be treated and not left to fate.

  9. Very well written Uma, brought back memories and lot of head nodding at my end.

    I did go through some of these restrictions, but as you have mentioned I felt it was better off for me than for my mom who even used to sit on the floor and eat during these times, while others ate at the table. My strict Patti relaxed these norms for my mom too when I started experiencing the same as she did not want to impose them on me, her only granddaughter! Another very embarassing aspect for me was that everyone in the family including male members would have information about the "date" and the next expected one :O ! Nowadays I only give respect to my parents religious beliefs so do not attend pujas during my periods, but otherwise I find it very freeing that nobody knows what I am experiencing unless I wish to tell them :) !

    1. hey Aparna, thanks so much!
      I know it could be so embarrassing! totally with you on: "I find it very freeing that nobody knows what I am experiencing unless I wish to tell them :) !".


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