Menstruation and Me

Originally published on The Huffington Post

I have an interesting relationship with my period. I don’t have one.

Two years ago I changed my birth control method from the pill to an intrauterine device (IUD). What I learned afterwards is that losing your monthly visits from ‘Aunt Flo’ is a common side effect — a side effect that is now my reality.

But that wasn’t always the case.

elisabeth baby pic1I have been a late bloomer my entire life. I didn’t get my first tooth until I was 18 months old; I didn’t start my growth spurt until midway through high school; and, perhaps most shockingly, I didn’t get my first period until I was 17 years old.

Throughout my teen years, my friends found comfort in each other’s shared complaints over menstrual cramps, mood swings and menstrual-related fatigue. I listened to their stories, unaware of what menstruation actually felt like and unable to contribute to conversation. I was a silent outsider.

But then my period came. And it came with a vengeance.

Perhaps it was making up for lost time or perhaps it was inevitable, but I could finally relate to my friends’ period stories. In fact, my period-related complaints often sounded worse. As it turned out, I was not experiencing a ‘normal’ menstrual cycle.

I had menorrhagia.

Symptoms of menorrhagia include periods lasting longer than seven days (check!), painful menstrual cramps (check!), menstrual blood clots (check!), anemia or fatigue (check!), needing to wake up in the middle of the night to change a pad (check!) and bleeding through more than seven tampons or pads per day (check!). To give you a better idea of the magnitude of the situation, I bled through 12 pads in a single school day, changing pads at least once every 45 minutes.

I dreaded standing up, sitting down, shifting my weight, walking, running, taking deep breaths, sneezing, laughing, yawning and any other physical activity, no matter how small — not to mention going to school. I wondered if what I was experiencing was normal. Was this my life from now on? Strategically planning bathroom visits and shoving as many pads as possible into my purse in hopes they lasted the entire school day? Thankfully, no.

As terrifying, inconvenient and annoying as my experience with menorrhagia was, I was lucky. I had easy access to clean and functioning bathrooms and proper menstrual hygiene products. I had checkups with my family doctor and gynecologist. I had a supportive mother. And, eventually, I was able to morph my menstrual cycle into what is considered ‘normal’ by taking birth control pills.

Unfortunately, countless women and girls around the world cannot say the same.

Image c/o Stephan von Malortie
Image c/o Stephan von Malortie

In many areas that lack access to sanitary menstrual hygiene methods and safe toilets, a girl’s period means more than just puberty. Getting your period means sexual harassment and embarrassment; it means perceived ‘uncleanliness’; it means vaginal infections from using dirty rags as pads; it means dropping out of school.

As someone who struggled with menstruation, I deeply sympathize with those who lack the ability to take control of their menstrual cycles. To the women and girls around the world who suffer from menorrhagia, please know that you are not alone. To the courageous girls who refuse to let their periods interfere with their educations, please know that the world is in awe of your strength. To everyone reading this (men and boys included), please know that menstruation is a normal part of life and should not be a taboo or embarrassing topic.

Menstruation matters — and not just for women and girls. Improper menstruation management can negatively impact public health, the environment, girls’ education and economic development. Don’t you think it’s time we end the stigma?

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Category: Menstruation
Tagged with: #MenstruationMatters    Girls    Health    menorrhagia    Menstrual health    menstrual hygiene    Menstruation    MHDay    Periods    Women

Elisabeth Epstein

Hi everyone! I recently earned my Master’s degree in International Development from The New School in New York City in May 2012. With a concentration in International Development and Global Health, I have worked behind the scenes as a Research Intern for the PBS documentary Half the Sky in addition to serving as the Research and Advocacy Intern for The Hunger Project. Globally, I have taught English to kindergartners in China, have researched clean water and HIV/AIDS in Kenya, and have gained first-hand experience understanding how migrants and refugees deal with public health issues in both Mexico and Thailand. I am especially interested in food security, nutrition and hunger and the role of women and girls in each of these issues. In my free time, I enjoy playing with my ever-so-fluffy Siberian Husky, eating delicious food, training for marathons and traveling. Follow me on Twitter @E_Epstein!

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  • I hope you don’t take me for a weirdo, but I really appreciate your sharing and what it teaches me. Peace and best, John

    • Elisabeth Epstein

      Hi John. You are definitely not a weirdo! I’m sure a lot of people aren’t aware of these types of women’s issues. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Take care!

  • michael mazur

    Not off topic, but for the longest time whenever i have encountered reports of the rape of girls and women, i’ve always felt that the only treatment these shamers of my gender need be subjected to is to force them, for the period of their incarceration, to repeatedly watch actual birthing videos from as close up as the porn they dosed themselves up on before going out, unhinged, seeking prey.

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