Woman’s curse. Shameful. Painful. Pitiful. Gross. You can’t go into a mosque to pray when on your period because you are unclean. This is what I was taught by society and religion when I was a pubescent girl. It didn’t help that my periods were excruciatingly painful and unmanageably heavy. I wore adult diapers to gym class and bed because the heavy pads wouldn’t soak it all up. I changed in the bathroom instead of the locker room during that week, because I was ashamed of my period diapers. I alternated ibuprofen and tylenol, maxing out the dosage for 5 days. Stayed in bed with a hot water bottle against my abdomen and back, wearing my stupid diapers, moaning with each cramp. Sometimes I’d sneak some red wine because it would numb my pelvis a bit. By age 17, my doctor gave me two choices to deal with the heavy bleeding and pain: Birth control or morphine. Birth control significantly reduced the pain and flow. I would tell my friends and family that I planned on getting a hysterectomy as soon as I could – after having kids.
In my late 20s when I went off birth control to start my family, I didn’t have a period for 9 months. I thought this was a wonderful break, but then the horrible pain came back and this time it was constant. I wound up in the hospital twice for debilitating pain. The second time, I had surgery for a rupture cyst and got a diagnosis of endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome. Stage IV endometriosis. “The kind you rip out the whole kit and caboodle for,” the surgeon said. Western medical establishment gave me the following treatment choices: Lupron, a harsh drug that puts you into menopause. It has horrid side effects, but I took it for six months. Then have kids, except it took me three years to get pregnant. The final solution would be a hysterectomy, albeit not a “cure.” Desperate for a solution, I went through doctor after doctor. Eventually I found not a cure, but a management plan through Naturopathic and Chinese medicine. Five years of trial and error with my doctors: I drastically changed my diet, started a meditation practice, eliminated endocrine disrupting chemicals from my home, and got regular physical therapy and body work to break up the endometriosis adhesions that cause so much pain. My period started to become regular, lighter in flow, and bright red instead of black. I learned to read signs of health and disease in my monthly cycle. I learned that a healthy period for me is NOT painful. After an intensive weeklong physical therapy treatment for endometriosis, I got pregnant. I became appreciative of my flow because it fed my baby. All the pain and suffering was worth it for my son. I love my womb and my period because it was my son’s first home and nourishment. Now I don’t dread my period because it gives me the information I need to stay healthy.
Women are taking back ownership of their periods. There are period parties for girls who have begun menstruating. Instead of, “I’m sorry honey. We all have to deal with it.” they hear, “Congratulations dear, you now hold the cycle of life within your body.” Kiran Gandhi ran the 2015 London Marathon while on her period, without wearing a tampon or pad to show her pride for her flow and raise awareness for women who have no access to feminine products. Feminists have started a movement of period positivity to empower women, challenge media representations of menstruation, and educate about female reproductive health. There is greater understanding in the medical field as more research is conducted on women’s health and there is a greater awareness of different chemicals’ impact on the endocrine system. As a result, there are many more choices in products to manage the flow: unbleached organic cotton pads and tampons, menstrual cups, and period panties. There is a large market for personal hygiene products free of endocrine disruptors.
Through my decades long health struggle, I have learned that mental attitude has a big effect on health. I hope that this change in the dialogue around menstruation will give girls and women a positive mindset to help maintain their health. I hope that fewer girls will hate their bodies like I did. If I have a daughter, it is likely that she may inherit my endocrine disorders. But I hope that she will grow up in an environment that is supportive of her body, and that my knowledge will help her suffer less than I did.