Something’s not right

My period is still kicking my goddamn arse from John o’ Groats to Land’s End. Not pain-wise – the regular application of mefenamic acid, then diclofenac and tramadol, then back to mefenamic acid, and now ibuprofen and paracetamol (regime recommended by Kind Lady GP) actually made most days except the first pretty bearable. However, I have been bleeding like a slaughtered ox. It is distressing.

It’s not just that I bleed heavily. I save it up for socially inconvenient moments too. On Saturday, I felt a lot better, and the bleeding was medium-light, and so we went to a party. I spent most of it sitting down drinking tea and necking pain-killers while everyone else got joyously drunk, but I was feeling chipper enough to enjoy it and chat amusingly with the amusing people. And when it came to home-time, I nipped to the loo and changed. Super-plus-extra tampons, because I didn’t quite trust myself. Ha! cried Cute Ute, and within half-an-hour, blood was running down my legs. Of course, I was walking to the station at the time. And we were still over an hour from home. For the sake of fuck. Bacon saved, as it were, insofar as public humiliation goes, by a) wearing a dress and b) loo on train. If there hadn’t been a loo on the train, well, there’d’ve been a scarlet puddle on the train, so there.

And then this evening, Cute Ute pulled the same sodding stunt. Only, I was at home, so there was no social disadvantage to the ensuing mess, and considerably less of it, what with the loo being here rather than a brisk trot down the public street in company away.

And that’s it, isn’t it? Bleeding down your leg in mixed company is just Not Socially The Done Thing. So, on top of the pain, the faintness, the stained clothes, the whole going-home-smelling-like-a-rump-steak enflusterment (I hate other people’s dogs sometimes), there’s the shame. I’m 36. These ‘little accidents’, as my mother used to call them, with seriously metallic irony considering, are part of the hideous embarrassment of being a teenager, learning to anticipate and manage your cycles. These aren’t things that happen to grown women. Until I met the internet, I didn’t know any grown women who suffered awful cramps, or leaked in public, or threw up and passed out. I felt like a freak. Worse than that, I felt ashamed that everyone else seemed to manage their bodies and I still can’t (to go with the whole infertile thing).

I spent my twenties on the pill, and when I was on the pill, I too was one of those proper grown-up ladies. I had cramps, but they were nothing a hot-water-bottle, two ibuprofen and some chocolate couldn’t ease. I bled, and, yes, it was unusual, I suppose, that even on the pill I needed to use The Very Large Tampons, at least at night, but I very rarely found myself, say, throwing up so hard I hurt my ribs because my uterus was trying to compress itself into a black hole, or waddling to a train-station as fast as possible while my thighs slipped and stuck against each other in a manner both horrifying and mortifying.

And then I read a comment piece on period pain, in the Guardian. And the 200+ comments that followed it. Dear God, there are so many of us. So many. And so many of us are being fobbed off or dismissed by medical professionals (ohh, I remember that from my youth. ‘This is all perfectly normal. Lots of girls go through it. You’ll feel much better after you have a baby,’ they said, as my left ovary was millimetre by millimetre torn in half by a cyst that grew to the size of a goddamn grapefruit). So many of us have families and friends who not only don’t get it but are wilfully ignorant and unkind too. (People Are Arseholes, exhibit #372).

I swear, if this happened to men, there’d’ve been a decent set of treatment options available by 1620. They’re prepared to spend bazillions on researching drugs to prevent baldness, after all. Imagine if baldness actually stopped you being able to work, look after your house, wash, eat, walk, talk, for one week out of four? (And I like bald men. Quite a lot of women do. Name me a man who fancies bleeding vomiting weeping women. Or, don’t, as if he does exist I’m sure the perverted bastard should be beaten to a pulp and locked up).

I notice, stat-wise, that when I post graphically about my periods, a large chunk of my readership, eh, averts its eyes and scuttles demurely away. Would that I had that option. Would that all those of us who suffer badly from this ‘natural, healthy’ process had that option.

Would that those who do have the power to help us, doctors, researchers, drug-manufacturers, didn’t have the option to look away. Would that no one ever needed to feel ashamed and freakish right when she most needed help and support. Would that no one ever left a doctor’s office feeling humiliated or hopeless because she was not taken seriously. Would that every single day of work, or house-work, or parenting, lost to dysmenorrhea or menorrhagia or an unholy combination of the two, was tallied in scarlet paint on a sixty-foot billboard in Parliament Square. TMI, indeed. Because, Gentle Readers, by Not Talking About It, we are Not Helping. And the less we talk about it, the less those that can, and should, and ought to be, helping us, even know there’s a problem. And our silence leaves our fellow-sufferers isolated and ashamed. And that can’t possibly be right.


26 responses to “Something’s not right

  • May ProblemUterus

    This, my dear, is fabulously written, and ever so true.

  • a

    I suspect there’s a definite catch-22 here. You can slow the bleeding, but then you interfere with the reproductive cycle. Pregnancy is probably the only way to improve conditions (aside from full removal), and you can’t get pregnant without letting the reproductive cycle have its way.

    I don’t look away, but I have nothing to add, I’m sorry seems so inadequate…

  • MFA Mama

    Hear, hear! I never avert my eyes from your blog, if for no other reason than it makes me ever so glad I had that hysterectomy, dreams about moar babies notwithstanding (two this week! THE HELL?). Because that was me, too, and god it’s awful. As much as I do love (LOVE!) my OB/GYN, I think she (SHE! Oh yes, even female doctors fail to fully grasp The Situation at times) took me MUCH more seriously when I looked her in the eye and said “I’ve had babies, and this is worse than the pain and bleeding RIGHT AFTER you do that.” It was almost as if that’s what it took to convince her I wasn’t just a big old whiner about the whole thing, although I must say that once she was galvanized into action she handled the HELL out of things with the ablation and later the hysterectomy. I wish you had options for permanent relief that wouldn’t leave you sterile and/or the ability to compare what you go through each month authoritatively with childbirth. Hugs.

  • bionicbrooklynite

    a-MEN. a-fucking-men. if i had a dollar for every time i’ve been told what’s happening isn’t….

    and, MFA Mama, you mean afterpains and PP bleeding are supposed to be worse than a period? because really, i had no idea. labor hurt more than my period, but nothing else. and certainly that wasn’t more blood (except for the hamster-clot; that was special).

    i’m curious to see whether having been pregnant will improve my periods (the current ones i’m not counting as surely breastfeeding is weakening them to some degree, if not stopping them as promised). i’m not holding my breath, as my mother says they hysterectomy was all that improved hers.

  • manapan

    Very well stated, May. I know that not talking about it doesn’t do anyone any favors, but still, the sheer embarrassment of it all. I just can’t bring myself to discuss it offline.

    And count me as another one surprised to hear that the postpartum pain and bleeding were supposed to be worse than a period. Maybe I had it easy on the bleeding because of the cesarean, though that doesn’t explain the pain. I take more ibuprofen during a typical period than I did in the six weeks after my surgery.

    • manapan

      Also, after reading that Guardian piece I just have to add that really? Mirena’s supposed to help it? I got mine August 2, then started bleeding August 8 and haven’t stopped since. If I could afford it, I’d buy stock in ultra absorbency tampons and iron supplements. I admit that the cramps are milder most days, but I can also feel it poking me when I have them. I’ve been told it can take three to six months for the constant bleeding to stop, and I’m very impatiently waiting.

      • Wombattwo

        It will stop. I remember going to see the consultant 4 months after she’d put mine in and I was still bleeding. I couldn’t believe she’d done that to me and was on the verge of making her take it out. But then, like a week later, all was peachy, and remained so for 5 years.

  • valery valentina

    Sorry for hiding…. Not bleeding much myself, hardly hurting ever I feel I have no right to say anything.
    Can’t even imagine how nightmarish it must feel to walk into a train with red legs squishing. Shall I make one of my eternal cups of tea for you? Honey-Lemon-Ginseng?

  • twangy

    YES. See, I haven’t even thought about this for years, but it’s true, it cost me my French and Maths papers in the Leaving Cert. I was rushed to the doctor for an injection between exams, a thing I never mentioned it because it sounded like a pathetic excuse. And so embarrassing. HOW CRAP IS THAT.

    We have to take this more seriously. I wonder if there is a facebook page? Would LIKE.

    I am very sorry you are in the throes, May. It is a living nightmare.

  • QoB

    I read every post. If I don’t comment as much, it’s because – like Valery – I feel not entitled to say much. I have, though, seen the impact a menorrhagic uterus can have on a person, and the difference it makes to find a proper treatment.
    I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this:(

  • Carole

    I read that article too. It IS disgraceful that so many people suffer so much, with little more than a shrug from the medical profession. It needs to be talked about and I’m glad you do so eloquently.

    Yikes about your continued flooding. How much asprin are you taking? Could it really be that? The fact that all that blood suggests a healthly womb lining won’t be much comfort (although it does). When do you next see a doctor-type person?

  • Lilian

    I too spend quite a lot of time thinking that it seems quite mad that in today’s society we (or rather They) still think it’s alright to dismiss things like period pain, incapacitatingly (I know that’s probably not a word, but never mind) heavy bleeding, PMS, etc., and let it just carry on because ‘it’s just one of those things women have to go through’. Like you, I’m pretty sure that if men had to go through it something would have been done by now. I normally find the psychological effects of PMS (i.e. utter misery/depression) the worst bit of the cycle, although I’m not a big fan of the bleeding like a slaughtered animal bit either.

    Totally agree with your last paragraph – well, all of this post, really.

  • Womb For Improvement

    It is not right. The upsetting thing is there are things that can help – unfortunately not if you are trying to conceive. I feel for you.

    • Laurel

      With the heavy-period posts, I read, but I never know what to say because it seems like you’re doing everything you could possibly be doing without having a hysterectomy, but you want children so you can’t, and it sounds as if you are in this catch-22 until that changes. So it’s not that I think that it’s shameful or yucky–I mean, it’s yucky, but so many things are. Or, put another way, I have not experienced this particular bodily indignity, or only the dimmest shadow, but have experienced others so I can empathize in that fashion.

      But, myself and the rest of your readership aside, I do believe you’re right about culture at large. I would venture the guess that these things aren’t paid attention to not only because they are considered Womanly and Not Talked About, but also–as MFA Mama touched upon–because they are unseen. Pain can only be described, and usually the doctors don’t see blood. And of course pain is a particularly touchy topic, at least around here, because of those who fake illnesses to feed an addiction.

      Actually, “seeing blood” leads to an interesting theoretical question for me. If you were to come in (assuming you were well enough, and uncaring enough about the violation of privacy) and see one of your regular doctors on one of your truly bloody days, I wonder if that would get something through that all the descriptions don’t? But then again you have already done that with emergency physicians, haven’t you…

      Regardless, conducting that thought experiment would probably not affect your point that the research and techniques are sorely lacking. There must be, for example, better surgical and diagnostic methodologies just waiting to be discovered. Sigh.

  • ricecakesandredemption

    I hope this will be helpful to you and not sound crazy – it sounded crazy to me when I first heard it. I have had four surgeries for endometriosis – among them a pretty serious bowel resection and loss of one of my ovaries and tubes. I was still in pain- the lets go to the ER once a month even though I just ate a bottle of narcotics kind of pain – like you I’m also 36. I also have had 7 failed IVF cycles — but that’s a whole nother’ story. I recently went on an anti-inflammatory (no wheat no dairy) diet and most recently I’m now vegan and it has dramatically reduced my impossible pain. Enough so that I – a red meat – cheese loving woman- am willing to never ever touch any of it again without a second thought! I also got rid of gluten too. It is the only way I have been able to control the endometriosis. I could seriously cry just saying that “I am able to control the endometriosis” Seriously – try it for thirty days – it has saved my life.

  • Betty M

    Oh May. Finally a decent pain killing combo and now this. Just not fair. I have suffered the indignity of public flooding on occasion and it is just horrible. I think that the assorted docs need to be aware. I saw the Guardian article and the stream of comments too. It is shocking that so little apparently has been done. Don’t the drug cos realise people will pay good money to deal with this which presumably is part of the impulse to try and deal with baldness. The best piece I have read on this whole topic is one by Hilary Mantel in an LRB years ago. I expect it is online now. I’ll have a look in the archive.Things have improved since she was young which is a small comfort but not nearly far enough.

  • Anonymous

    Yes. And yes again, to ‘if men had it, things would be VERY different’. Like a couple of others, I rarely comment but always read your blog. Being blessed with periods I hardly notice I don’t feel qualified to comment, though can relate a tiny tiny bit to the embarrassment having had some kind of, I guess menopausal, colossal and unexpected flooding incident last year resulting in the dripping blood walk of shame down the high street. But I do have a (lifelong) problem with incontinence, about which there is similar silence and embarassment, and you are right, it’s time these things were spoken about. daisy x

  • JaneB

    well said! My problems are fairly minor… but my bleeding is erratic, too, so I have much empathy. Worst public embarrassment – on a medium-light day, went to a meeting in a client’s office, went to the loo beforehand and used a night-weight towel just-in-case, but when I got up after an hour to get a coffee, I left a bloody stain in the pale grey chair…

  • Korechronicles

    I’ve always said that if men also had to go through this crapfest then we would have a week per month of period leave as a standard clause in everyone’s employment contract.

    You, my dear May, have said everything I have ever wanted to say about the unfair and embarrassing consequences of an endocrine malfunction and general borking of the parts that function in a relatively efficient and effective manner for the majority of women. And some of those women have no more understanding of what those of us who carry the burden of losing the genetic lottery and winning the endo/adeno booby prize go through, than those of the opposite gender.

    I have never returned to the beautiful Stratford (Hi, HFF!) after the debacle of the unexpected flooding through my pale blue skin tight flares (Do not judge…it WAS the ’70’s) during a punt trip on the Avon and the never ending walk of shame through the crowded Sunday market to get back to our car with Life Partner trying to shield me from scrutiny. I firmly believe that my continued aversion to red meat is the result of the nauseous anxiety that it triggers in me whenever I smell the strong copper aroma wafting out of the butcher’s shop. It might sound overly dramatic but the connection with that day is burnt into the depths of my being.

    For me, suffering these indignities, was a difficult, silent and lonely experience. None of my sisters or friends were affected in this way and my own mother told me the pain was simply mind over matter. If I was more strong minded, it would not hurt. I continually wondered what the hell was the matter with me. And for the partners, especially, it cannot be a topic of conversation over coffee at work the next day. Very few of your colleagues and mates want to know that you have not slept since 3am as you have been running around fetching pain killers in escalating and equally ineffective dosages, cleaning up vomit and blood and standing over a writhing, sobbing spouse who is wanting to die, wringing your hands and wondering what in the hell you should do next.

    I’m so bloody angry that women are still suffering and that there has been no improvement in that in close to 40 years.

    • Hairy Farmer Family

      *waves madly back*
      My poor dear woman, I had no idea that Stratford was loaded with such awful karmic vibes for you in re Embarrassing Trouser Stains. If this is a mass-affliction-on-these-co-ordinates thing, then that would explain… lots, aktually. We may as well gloomily chalk it up to ley lines, given the current state of research.

      And the butchers shop smell phenomenon… yes. Just… yes.

  • I’m probably missing something really obvious « Nuts in May

    […] – In my last post, when I said: ‘I notice, stat-wise, that when I post graphically about my periods, a large […]

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    YES. YES. This is what I feel. You have, as usual, described it absolutely perfectly. The anger. The distress. The embarrassment.

    ‘And so many of us are being fobbed off or dismissed by medical professionals (ohh, I remember that from my youth. ‘This is all perfectly normal. Lots of girls go through it. You’ll feel much better after you have a baby,’ they said…’

    They said it to me too, the lying bastards. I mean, Yes, to be fair, not every girl gets her ass kicked this badly every month, but there are, as you say, enough of us to be a significant proportion.

    The one thing I am thankful for is that sanitary towels have come on in design since the 1980s. I managed to miss the belted variety – small mercies! – but the things I used to use were awful. I used to have to use 4 at night, arranging them into a Y shape under my bottom so I didn’t soak the bed STRAIGHT away. My mother used to be aghast at 1) the permanent bucket of pants soaking in the bucket in my room, because of course, I bled on purpose for 6 solid weeks at a time 2) the amount of knickers I stained past rescue 3) the amount of toilet roll I got through (I was actually nicknamed the Phantom Toilet Roll Eater on a mass family holiday to the wilds of Scotland during my first ever – indescribable – period; that were… nice. Didn’t make me feel embarrassed at all.) and the staggering cost of keeping me in sanitary supplies. My period blighted… everything, damnit. And it still costs me dear in underwear, sheets and dignity.

    I stand with you; cross, indignant, and upset.

    • May

      Oh God. I remember my mother being FURIOUS with me because I’d stained the mattress. And then she told my step-father, and he shouted at me too, and all the time (I was 14) I was thinking ‘but I’m BLEEDING, I can’t HELP IT,’ and wishing I was either dead or a boy.

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