It was a normal high school day, and I was chatting away with my friends in between class breaks when I suddenly felt an uncomfortable abdominal pain. There was not much I could do so I ignored the pain throughout the day even though it was persistent. As usual, after school we all went to our dormitories to rest a bit, and later prepared for afternoon sports.
I was taking off my school uniform when my friend noticed my stained with blood underwear. She screamed, “Welcome to womanhood!” Everyone in the dorm cheered and chanted, “Welcome to womanhood!” The reason for so much excitement from my dormmates was that I was 15 years old and the only one who had not had a period. They used to make fun of me and called me ‘miss late bloomer’ or ‘little girl’. I took a shower, and afterwards my mates supported me and showed me how to use sanitary pads and remain hygienic.
After that first experience, though, I dreaded getting my period every month. I always experienced the common pre-menstruation symptoms such as mood swings, tender breasts, fatigue, abdomen bloating, unhealthy food cravings and depression. When I would feel one of those symptoms, I knew that the next 5-7 days would be miserable.
Over the years, menstruation pains became unbearable. I had to take strong pain relievers every two hours to cope with my daily activities. Changing soaked sanitary pads frequently and stained bed sheets in the middle of the night became normal. This agonising experience would go on for seven days every month, without fail. It had not occurred to me to share any of these experiences with my friends or family members because I thought it was normal. Besides, why would I talk about my messy periods?
In February 2021, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a woman sharing a similar experience to mine—she had since gotten help. I immediately did research online about painful periods and long heavy flows. I discovered that many women experience the same but, even more importantly, that there is a medical explanation and solution. I then made an appointment with my healthcare provider and, based on my symptoms, I was screened for uterine fibroids. Results came back after a few days confirming that I did indeed have fibroids. I learned that there are various treatment options, depending on the type of fibroids. In my case, the solution was uterine fibroids embolization, a minimally invasive treatment.
It has been two months since my treatment and since then my period journey has been pleasant. I no longer experience period pain; my flow is normal and lasts only three days.
During my annual healthcare check-ups over the years, I never shared my menstrual history with the healthcare provider; I did not think it was necessary. I could have received treatment a while ago but because I did not have the information, I did not follow-up. There are menstrual health issues that, if not attended to, could potentially lead to long term complications for your reproductive health. Access to information is vital to understand what problems to look out for and discuss with your doctor.
Reflecting on my ordeal, I wondered why I did not seek help sooner. When I was growing up, menstruation was an uncomfortable topic to discuss, and I believed menstruations were painful for everyone. Even though my friends were supportive through my transition to womanhood, we were all too young to know and understand menstrual health and management. Proper guidance and comprehensive education would have helped me pick up abnormal menstrual symptoms at an earlier point.
The secrecy and stigma attached to menstruation and its complications contributes to girls and women not being able to openly talk about their experiences. There is a need to re-shape menstruation not as a gender-specific issue that needs to be kept private but rather as a societal issue, so that girls and women can experience safe, healthy and more comfortable periods. If they have problems related to their period, or even just questions, women should be able to seek help without shame. I endured pain for years because I thought it was normal; A stranger from the internet saved me.
Girls and women, let us be the change we want to see and speak openly and boldly about our menstruation experiences. If you don’t have a happy period, seek medical advice.