I was 14 years old when I woke up one morning with a severing pain in my abdomen. I also felt like throwing up and I was sweating profusely.
I didn’t understand what was going on until I got out of bed and ran to the bathroom because I was about to vomit.
And there it was; a big red blotch on the night dress signaling that my periods had come.
THE PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE
That time of the month brings with it tons of symptoms including bloating, fatigue, increased or decreased appetite, back pain, and the worst, mild to debilitating cramps.
I’ve missed countless school and work days because of bad period pain, to the point where I had to be hospitalized after passing out. Having period pain is like having someone squeeze and rip out your pelvic area, and for some women, this lasts for days.
What makes it worse is that doctors say that there is no real cure for period pain (my doctor told me that they should disappear after I have my first child). The only thing that minimizes pain and discomfort is taking a contraceptive pill, which in my experience, doesn’t work too well because the body eventually gets immune to the pill or has the adverse effect where hormones go haywire, causing problems such as excessive bleeding and mood swings.
Heavy bleeding is another nightmare that some women experience. It wreaks havoc on your underwear and your clothes if your pad overflows, leaving you self-conscious and uncomfortable, and it depletes your body of much needed iron, leaving you feeling heavily fatigued.
THE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE
I had a colleague who became insanely bitchy before and during her period, lashing out at everyone and saying the most inappropriate things when she was angry.
A friend of mine becomes weepy and depressed during her period, and all effort to console her amounts to nothing.
I just want to be left alone a corner to deal as best as I can with life’s admin until the dark cloud of a period blows over.
Periods bring along a whirlwind of emotions ranging from depression to irritability to anxiety attacks, making it difficult to deal with the world and all its problems.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about the emotional roller-coaster except to bite your tongue if you’re predisposed to anger, say no to all negative thoughts if you’re prone to depression and weepiness and to grin and bear the 3 to 7 days of your period, doing the bare minimum to avoid getting fired at work and avoiding unnecessary fights with your loved ones.
THE FINANCIAL EXPERIENCE
It would be great if sanitary pads were not as expensive as they currently are as if they’re luxury items and not a necessity. In South Africa, a pack of 18 pads costs an average of R40 ($2.90). You’re lucky if you only need one pack to last you through your period, but some women need two packs, which takes the monthly cost up to R80 ($5.70). That’s close to R1000 ($71.80) per year, and considering that a woman has her period for 30 to 40 years, that’s a total cost of R30, 000 ($2152.80) or R40, 000 ($2870.40).
To add to financial woes, seeing a gynecologist is another expense, especially if you’re not on medical aid. Consultation fees are between R400 and R1000 ($28.70 and $71.80), and you still have to pay for medication, which at minimum, consists of prescription pain killers like anti-inflammatories, which cost an average price of R80 ($5.70). If your doctor prescribes contraceptive pills, it becomes a monthly medical expense, which eats into your medical aid fund or your pocket if you don’t have medical aid.
THE CULTURAL EXPERIENCE
I remember my mother calling my aunts and all her friends when I told her that my periods had started. They all made a big hoo-ha out of it, congratulating me for becoming a woman and further warning me to stay away from boys. The whole thing was completely embarrassing, but I was too drained from period pain to stage a protest.
By the third time I had my period, I learned that I couldn’t use the shower because culturally, I was considered as unclean, and I couldn’t hang my body sponge and underwear next to other drying laundry on the washing line because my things were also considered as unclean.
This made me feel like menstruation was dirty and something to be ashamed of, and that I was equally as disgusting.
Society is even worse in their treatment of periods.
Growing up, it was taboo to talk about them, to the point where even talking about sanitary pads was viewed as disgusting. On one school day, my periods started earlier than expected and I didn’t have a sanitary pad at hand. I had to discreetly ask my female classmates for a sanitary pad, with the whole process looking like I was trying to buy illegal goods all because girls were taught to never discuss menstruation and sanitary pads openly.
Women in other regions in the world are discriminated against for having periods, such as girls in Nepal who are barred from attending school when menstruating as they are seen as unclean, or women in Japan who are barred from being sushi chefs for fear that menstruation will affect their ability to detect the tastes and smells of raw fish.
It’s all unnecessary and ridiculous.
I think society must just calm down and realize that just like breathing, menstruation is normal and natural. And the finance and health industries should stop exploiting feminine health by making it difficult to afford sanitary pads and access to feminine health.
I hope that my doctor is correct in saying that period pain will disappear after I have my first child. It would be awesome to have a pain-free period.