My Period Story: What It Was Like Growing Up With Heavy Periods
Growing up I was always the odd one out, a small slim girl with non-existent breasts, who according to my peers, entered the world of puberty ‘freakishly late’. I was surrounded by friends with buxom chests and curvaceous butts, who would brandish their tampons around like it was a lipstick, cementing the fact that aged 14, I had still never had a period. And then it hit me like a tonne of bricks; first came the breasts, small dots on my chest, that I have come to grow to love with age, and a little butt that wiggled when I walked. But it was my little red visitor that surprised me the most, flummoxed by the sharp pain in my stomach and the red blood in my panties. I stared down at my knickers in dismay, crimson red on floral lace. The searing pain in my stomach had me clutching my stomach in agony, and I wondered whether periods were this painful for anybody else?
As a teen my relationship with heavy periods was tumultuous at best, a far cry from the period positive advocacy that I hold so dear to my heart today. I would feel pain, yes, but it was the overwhelming sense of feeling ‘ashamed or unclean’ that would get me down the most as my emotions would become turbulent, my stomach sore, and I would watch my peers make jokes or poke fun at our lady time, re-cementing my fear every time my red lady friend would come around. Unlike those around me who would have periods for 4-5 days, mine would last weeks, and I wondered whether there was anything wrong with me.I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I would get through a whole box of tampons and pantyliners in less than a week when friends would barely soak through their tampons. At times my periods were so heavy that despite wearing double pantyliners to bed, I would wake up with blood on the sheets, something which I found discomforting when I was sharing a bed with others, especially sexual partners as I was worried that they might be ‘grossed out’ by the blood on the sheets. And yet, what I came to realise years later is that the partners were a lot more period positive than I was, still wanting to have sex with me when I was on my period, no matter how heavy it was, and reassuring me that there was nothing wrong with having a heavy period.
When I first started to become sexually active, I went on the pill, the most recommended contraception available to me at the time. Quite honestly though it was the wrong contraception for me: not only did it make my periods heavier and more painful than they were before, but it made me feel low, irritated and at times suicidal, so I began to explore other options, keen to find one that wouldn’t make menstruation even more painful for me than it already was, as well as being kinder to my mental health. Aged 15-17 I had periods that would last an average of 8-10 days, when I went on the implant aged 17, a matter of days turned into a matter of months, and my periods became heavier, longer and even more painful. A friend of mine who had a pregnancy scare wanted moral support for getting an ‘implant in her arm’, and having had a bad experience with the pill, I agreed to get an implant too, hoping that this form of contraception would be more effective than the last. And yet like the pill, it had harsh side effects.
While my periods had been irregular, lengthier than the average and painful, when I got an implant and changed my contraception, I went from heavy periods, to painful, heavy and long periods. In the first year that I had my implant in, I was bleeding on and off pretty much non-stop for six months, and then did not have a period for four months, which as someone who had a boyfriend at the time, put a strain on our relationship. Although my boyfriend didn’t mind me being on my period, it did make me feel ashamed, because at the time I had not been around period positivity, as I grew up in a society where being open and honest about my heavy periods just wasn’t an option.I wanted someone to tell me that there was nothing wrong with having sex with your boyfriend while you were on your period, I wanted someone who could laugh and joke with me about being on our periods, and I wanted someone who would teach me to be fierce and own my heavy periods. It was only in recent years, where I became more outspoken on social issues, that period advocacy became something that I aspired to raise awareness of, having read countless stories of young women like me who had heavy, lengthy and painful periods and needed someone to talk to about it.
When I went to my GP to discuss my heavier than average periods, they were just as flummoxed as I was, almost not believing that there were times where I would have periods non-stop. And despite the tests that I have had, apart from health conditions that I have in relation to my stomach and bowels, the doctors were none the wiser as to why I had been getting such painful and lengthy periods.I have heard words like endometriosis and Menorrhagia tossed around the room, as doctors would scratch their heads, wondering what the trigger for my extended periods were.While I have never been officially diagnosed with either condition – as I am still having ongoing tests – upon doing research I discovered that both conditions bore similarities to the signs and symptoms that I have on a daily basis. For example, endometriosis, defined as a painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus, would encompass symptoms such as pelvic pain and cramping, lower back and abdominal pain, excessive bleeding, fatigue, bloating and nausea, all signs which I would have during my periods.
In many cases, even before my period would start, I would get sharp pelvic pain and cramping, as well as prolonged pain in my back and stomach, that would extend several days into and after my period. However, one of the reasons why doctors are so unsure is because I have medically diagnosed IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), a condition that causes bouts of diarrhea, constipation and abdominal cramping, the pain of which can be confused with pain from endometriosis. As I have issues with my stomach and bowels, it is only natural that these are heightened during menstruation, and as I am also anemic, I am fatigued and tired on a daily basis, meaning that these ‘interlinked’ conditions are difficult to attribute to one disorder.Another word that my doctor used to describe my periods was Menorrhagia, a medical term for periods with abnormally heavy and prolonged bleeding. While in most cases a ‘heavy period’ is just that, a flow of more than 80 ml or lasting longer than 7 days per cycle may indicate menorrhagia[i], so if this is you, it would be worth talking to your GP to get to the bottom of why you are experiencing such heavy blood loss.
Until recently I wasn’t sure as to whether I could be considered as someone who had menorrhagia, but when I looked back on my period history, I realised that the possibility wasn’t so far-fetched after all. Not only would I go through several boxes of sanitary products each month, but I would also soak through tampons quicker than most, would have constant pain, fatigue and bleeding, as well as struggling to keep a positive mood. Enter Exhibit A: recently I was doing a photoshoot with a good friend, and within an hour of putting a tampon on, despite putting on a pad and tights on for safety, I had still leaked through my pants, tights and trousers, because I had just started my period the day before, and therefore it was at its prime lady time. I was mortified, but luckily for me I was wearing red – how ironic – so the stains were not noticeable to the naked eye, so I was able to freshen up without people giving me the ‘stank eye’.Thus, with the turbulent relationship that I have had with periods over the years you would be forgiven for wondering how ‘heavy periods have made me period positive’ and here is why. From teaching me to be more open to loving my body, to embracing self-care, here is how being period positive has become part of my daily routine.
Being On My Period Has Taught Me To Enjoy Intercourse In All Forms
I know that some people might also feel squeamish about me speaking about ‘period sex’ but the truth is, if I am feeling ‘in the mood’ I am not going to deprive myself, simply because I am on my period. At first, I was a little worried about intercourse on my period, anxious about what people might think, especially my partners at the time. After all as I said earlier, the implant made me bleed for large amounts of time, so going without sex for months when you have a partner might have been very difficult indeed.But here is the thing there is nothing gross about wanting to be sexually satisfied. Granted being on your period can make intercourse a little messy, but what people don’t realize is that because the ‘vagina is filled with blood’ it creates elevated circulation which not only makes the clitoris, labia and vagina more sensitive but also potentially more responsive, as you become more aware of your vagina than usual.
Naturally because you are on your period, there is no need for lube, as the blood acts as a natural lubricant for the vagina, meaning that both you and your partner will feel primed for sex, if the occasion arises. But how does this make me period positive? Well for starters, because I have heavy periods I have learned not to ‘deprive my body’ even during my time of the month because it is important to attend to our physical, sexual and emotional needs, especially during a period, where your emotions are heightened. I have learned that it is ok to have period sex, that sex during your period can actually feel quite nice and above all has given me a new appreciation for my gal pal Mrs Vagina. So why not take the stigma out of menstruation and have better orgasms while we’re at it?
Being Open and Creating an Honest Discourse around My Periods Has Shown Me How to Love My Body
I have always struggled with accepting my body, after being abused as a child and bullied by a teen. I was called ugly, skinny, a bag of bones, flat chested and a skeleton on a daily basis, which affected the way that I saw my body. I loathed my small breasts, wished that I was curvier, and felt like people were looking at me for all the wrong reasons. Over time I developed body dysmorphia, seeing my body in a warped light, hearing those cruel and callous words being played over and over in mind, until it had become part of my trajectory. There were times even when I would feel uncomfortable being naked in front of partner, worrying that he would grimace at my small and petite frame, which others had seen in such a negative light.
It took a long time to build up the body confidence and is something that I am still on a journey to conquer, but part of the reason why I am more comfortable in my own skin is because heavy periods have shown me how to love and appreciate my body more. It has taught me to be ok with my small breasts because I have learned to love my body in all shapes and sizes, it has given me a new found appreciation for my vagina and above all has shown me that when we are open and honest, it breaks down a wall that allows us to love ourselves more fiercely as well as being more accepting of our bodies. So while there are times where I might wish I was curvier, I no longer think about surgically enhancing my chest, am more comfortable with being naked and above all, have a better and healthier relationship with what I call my Lady Friend Mrs Menstruation. Because like the beautiful Ru Paul said, ‘If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else’?’
Heavy Periods Have Allowed Me To Challenge The Status Quo And Speak Out
I remember when I wasn’t period positive, when I would be ‘grossed out’ about people’s graphic descriptions of periods and thinking that it wasn’t something that should be spoken about in public, simply because I was conditioned to believe that it was wrong to speak about so openly. Oh, how times have changed, to the point where I am comfortable speaking about my period in public, and not caring who raises their eyebrows at me. Because let’s face it, the majority of us get periods so why should we be so hush hush about it? What because someone told you it is not ladylike, that it is uncouth to discuss our private affairs so openly?Well I say give over, because there is nothing more freeing and liberating than challenging the status quo and speaking out. Growing up I thought I was a freak because I would have heavy, irregular periods in comparison to my friends, and not being able to share an open and honest discourse around periods, did stunt my view of menstruation at first. But one day it just clicked, and a weight lifted off my shoulders. I realised from research that not only are there treatment options available for heavy periods, not only should we not be afraid to confide in our GPs but that we should also be ok to discuss menstruation with others, and not worry about what they may think.
Which is why I am working with Wear White Again to normalise period talk and challenge the status quo. Wear White Again not only encourages and facilitates a conversation around heavy periods, but also seeks to break down the taboo surrounding heavy periods and normalise the condition. Because let’s face it, us women get periods and it’s about time that we sat down and spoke about them.
Being Period Positive Has Enabled Me To Seek Advice And Guidance Without Shame
For years I would suffer in silence, hesitant to be more open about my heavy periods because I was told that it was not ‘normal’ or freakish which for a long time I internalised as the ‘truth’. But here is the actual T, there is no shame in us having periods, nor should we feel frightened to speak out and seek advice. If you have heavy periods, that does not make you a freak, abnormal or someone who should not speak out, it makes you someone who shares a period story with millions of other women around the world, who like you, should be encouraged to discuss their period openly. Becoming period positive has enabled me to seek guidance and advice without shame, no longer uncomfortable with buying tampons and pads in front of others and being more open to self-discovery.
I recently read the brilliant Talking Heavy Periods guide, created by Wear White Again which gave me a wider and more extensive education on heavy periods as a medical condition and the treatment options available, which gave me reassurance and validation, during a time where I am still undergoing tests for my heavy periods. Not only did it dispel myths around period care and shed light on how talking about periods is nothing to be ashamed of, but it also made me see periods in a more humorous light. In fact, did you know that some people describe their periods as tomato soup, The Red Wedding and Dracula’s Lunch? No neither did I but I must admit it did make me laugh.
But on a more serious note, it did show me how attitudes towards period talk are still something that we need to be more ‘period positive about’, with 31% of men and women feeling uncomfortable about speaking openly about their periods[ii] and 1 in 10 women not feeling comfortable about speaking to their friends about their periods.ii In fact, the guide goes further to say that 24% of women stated that they thought their partner would be uncomfortable if they were to discuss their periods with them.ii As someone who has heavy periods, I have to be open and honest with my partners, especially when we are sexually active, and 9 times out of 10 I have found them to be very responsive to ‘period talk’ and in no way uncomfortable to discuss it.
So, isn’t it time that we challenged the status quo and became more period positive in the process? Do the right thing, be period positive.
What Are Your Tips On Becoming More Period Positive?
Please note this is a collaborative post with Wear White Again but all thoughts and stories are my own and are not affected by monetary compensation.
[i] NHS Choices: Heavy Periods, 2016. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heavy-periods/ Last accessed February 2019
[ii] Data on file: MISC-05659-GBR-EN Rev 001