I am not a certified expert. I am not a medical professional nor a student of medicine. However, I am a woman and my 20+ years of experience with my own menstrual cycle has compelled me to write this.
I don’t watch the talk show “The Real” too often. Not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I don’t have much time to indulge in daytime television. From the episodes I have caught, I appreciate the perspectives these bright and funny women bring to our living rooms and the thoughtful conversations they spark with a variety of interesting topics. But while catching an episode that aired this past Spring, I felt a different reaction when I stumbled upon the segment where they discussed whether or not a woman should “bail” on her date because she is on her period.
Each member of the show offered their views on the subject. Most of the commentary was positive and sensitive, but it took a turn for me when I heard one of the women say, “you shouldn’t let your period rule your life”. It wasn’t the statement that I disapproved of, but it was the conversation that immediately followed. It became personal. As a woman who has experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly of her cycle (like 98% of menstruating women), I felt the need to speak up for the millions of other women like me, who may already be ashamed to confess how their period can, at times, rule their life.
Not every woman has a medical condition that makes her menstrual cycle unbearable month to month. Some women are so lucky to have never experienced a period that couldn’t be controlled by “popping an Advil” or cuddling up with a heating pad. But there are MANY women who aren’t so lucky. From the lasting effects of birth control use to the hormonal changes occurred during pregnancy and after childbirth, a woman’s period can take on a new life of its own and wreak havoc from one month to the next.
Young, Wild and UNKNOWING
Can I share a bit of my personal journey? Here goes…
I was 12 years old when I got my first period. From sex education/health class to what my mother and other female family members taught me, I thought I knew what to expect. I heard about cramps and I knew to be prepared with sanitary napkins. What I didn’t know was that I would need to take Alka-Seltzer because my discomfort went beyond cramps. What I had not learned was that I would be so nauseated during my cycle that I couldn’t distinguish my menstrual symptoms from those of the stomach flu. How many of our young girls REALLY know everything there is to know about periods and THEIR BODY? How is that possible when the female body is developing and undergoing a hormonal overhaul during puberty and adolescence? How about our young girls who may not have a single female influence in their lives to teach and talk with them about these changes and what could happen once menstruation begins? Imagine how the trajectory of their development will look and the misunderstandings and misconceptions they will have about their period. I remember working at a middle school and I would get so frustrated with my female students for complaining and being unprepared every single month, but how dare I? It was then I remembered what it was like to be that age, going through this new and inevitable phase of life. Every girl’s journey is different just like every human body is complex and it’s my duty to support and educate, not judge, or humiliate.
More Than an Advil
Now let’s fast (not too fast) forward to when young girls develop from teenagers into young adults and somewhere along that path they may begin to use birth control for whatever personal reason THEY CHOOSE. Sure, they may have read a pamphlet handed over by their OB-GYN looking to start them on the latest and greatest contraceptive on the market, but are the side effects really discussed? All 9,787,090 of them? (Imaginary figure, but you get my point) Of course not!
This leads me to the next phase of my personal journey. Who remembers the birth control patch? Yeah!!! It seemed like a breakthrough product at the time. How easy it would be to just wear a patch for 3 weeks at a time and not remember to pop a pill daily. That was a teenage girl’s dream if she juggled schoolwork, sports, work, etc. I certainly fell for it! What I didn’t anticipate were the side effects that probably became the center of a class-action lawsuit between now and then. These side effects are what I continue to struggle with today. If someone had told me that I would need to take prescription medicine every month for most of my 20s and now 30s because of excruciating menstrual migraines, I would have never tried the patch. These migraines began once I stopped taking the patch, but because I had immediately transitioned to a new pill, I didn’t think much of it and the level of severity of my headaches weren’t at their peak. It wasn’t until I stopped taking birth control altogether that these headaches developed into migraines that could not be alleviated by any OTC medication and YES, that is a symptom worth “calling out of work” or “bailing on a date” for.
Nausea and migraines are just two symptoms that can have us, women, feeling out of sorts during our cycles, but there are so many more that could come and go from month to month. Some women may have medical conditions with which they were diagnosed at a young age, while others may develop conditions such as fibroids and adenomyosis later in life. And do we really need to discuss the mood swings?? Because BAY-BEE…..we don’t have that kind of time.
It Takes Time…and a Sister Village
Today, I am taking steps to balance my hormones and better understand the email endocrine system. It is not a process that happens overnight, especially when women go through childhood to young adulthood, completely unaware of how the system actually works. We may not do the reading and research until later in life to learn how what we put INSIDE our bodies and what we use ON our bodies, can completely throw our hormones out of wack. Seriously, did anyone consider the use of organic female products 10-20 years ago? How about the foods we eat? Or the beauty products we use? Were we educated as teenage girls and young women on how those things could play a role in how good or bad we feel during that time of the month?
As women, we get shamed for so much. We get shamed for the clothes we wear, how we style our hair, our reproductive choices, etc. Let’s not shame one another for the complexities of our bodies, complete with an endocrine system so sensitive and fragile that we have to carefully review our diets, skincare routine, sleep patterns and SO MUCH MORE. I’m not saying we should use our periods as an excuse not to excel in life (too many odds are already stacked against us), but what we can do is share information. Help our fellow sister who struggles monthly by suggesting a good read such as WomanCode (thanks, Mom!) to learn about her body and how the female endocrine systems works. Let’s tell her about plant-based female products (thanks, Lulu!) and how they can help her find relief. How about we suggest free methods of self-care such as meditation to instill calmness and minimize mood fluctuations caused by PMS. These are just a few ways we can help one another, young and old, to better understand our bodies and gain power over something that has the ability to control us. That power comes from educating ourselves and sharing that knowledge with others. We’ve got this and if you don’t have it just yet, I know a lady or two who can help.