Written by Amelia Savell-Boss
I have been volunteering with Friends of Irise since 2013 and it only occurred to me after a few months of campaigning, fundraising and educating that I was talking about issues I no longer had to deal with. I am a ‘non-menstruator’ thanks to my Progesterone Only Pill (POP) which is an oral contraceptive. I have been taking the pill for about 4 years. One of the most common side effects is it stops your period. A terrifying concept at first as my initial thoughts being, ‘where does it all go?’ ‘If I stop taking it will I have the world’s most massive period?’ I cannot claim to understand the science of it all but I must admit that I am hugely thankful that it stopped what I considered to be a painful, arduous and at times very inconvenient process.
I had my first period at a neighbour’s house, I thought I felt something funny down below and ran to the bathroom to check it out. I secretly hoped it might be my first period, as most of my friends had started and I was desperate to join the club! I pulled down my pants to find a frightening looking stain, that was not what I had anticipated. I was well educated about my body, I understood ‘the period talk’ at school, I had an older sister and a mother who had always encouraged a positive and open dialogue about our bodies. Yet, looking down at what my body had produced I was flabbergasted. I ran home, told my mum, changed my knickers, put on my first proper sanitary pad and continued playing. My first menstrual cycle was a very positive experience.
Over the next 18 months, I would occasionally get light spotting. It was not until a few weeks after my 15th birthday and during a school trip, that I experienced my first full period. I was horrified to find it lasted 8 days in a row! I did not have enough sanitary pads to deal with it, but luckily my friends were able to help me.
Every month, like clockwork I would experience a minimum of a 7 often 8 day period. I had severe cramps, back ache, fatigue and often felt like a completely different person. I tried hot water bottles, hot lavender bags, prescribed pain killers and even the combined contraceptive pill. Nothing worked. The best solution I found was the POP which stopped my periods altogether.
Through working with Irise in Uganda I have been confronted with a number of girls and women’s stories that put my old woes to shame. I took for granted when I was in pain, I had the comfort of my family, friends and teachers. I took for granted that I had a clean environment to handle my period. I took for granted the knowledge I posses about my body. I understood I was not sick nor was I abnormal. I took for granted the abundance of products available to me.
I do not want to belittle the pain many women including myself have to endure. I merely want to convey the realisation I have come to. Recently, I attended a week-long conference in Entebbe, Uganda. The only facility available was a small pit latrine. Many schools I have seen have facilities worse than this which fail to meet basic international sanitation standards.
As a young woman, I never had to manage my period without the proper knowledge, support or sanitary products. Many young girls do not have the same luxury. Experiencing the pit latrine gave me the smallest insight into what 40% of the global population face who have no access to basic sanitation.
I do not look forward to the day when I will start my period again. Many women agree it is not a pleasant experience. In recognition of my privilege I hope to put my experience into perspective, and use it as motivation to do and achieve more for women and girls all over the world.
Amelia has a degree in Politics and Sociology from the University of Sheffield and is currently studying a MA in International Law, Ethics and Politics at the University of Birmingham. She is a volunteer on one of Irise Internationals research projects in Uganda, and began volunteering for the Friends of Irise student groups at Sheffield. She founded Friends of Irise Birmingham where she remains as branch coordindator and has recently been appointed as National Coordinator for Friends of Irise UK, to ensure that no girl is held back by her period.