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©2019 by Bleedin' Saor. 

LET'S BLETHER ABOUT PERIODS

Noun

a chat or conversation

"I remember this feeling of overwhelming pain in my tummy." 

Lizzie Gardiner, 24

It was the 9th of October 2007, I was standing at a set of traffic lights waiting to go to school and I remember this feeling of overwhelming pain in my tummy. I got to school and went straight to the bathroom and saw that my first period had arrived. I stayed in the bathroom and cried for at least 20 minutes.

I knew what a period was because my mother, a few years previously, had sat me down with a book on women’s health; she told me what would happen and what to expect.

Being 9 years old at the time I was horrified at the pictures in the book. I didn’t understand why I was inside going through this book when I could have been outside playing.

As I got older my experience with my period only got worse, the pain I was feeling in my back and in my tummy was debilitating to the point where I would lie on my bed and cry for the first 2 or 3 days of my cycle. The only thing that would help would be a combination of painkillers and a hot water bottle at my back and tummy.

As over-the-counter painkillers weren’t working, I had to go to the doctors and now have to take Mefenamic Acid tablets to calm my period down! Luckily, they help and with the addition of heat pads on my tummy I can actually leave my bed and not have to miss out on university anymore!*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"I'm waiting for the day scientists discover a way to get rid of my period without any side-effects."

Cosima De Los Arcos

About a year ago I deferred from university and bought an old caravan. I had been dreaming of this for years - a time of travel and exploration.

 

I started to travel throughout Europe in my caravan. During the first six months of my trip, I had an IUD implanted inside of my uterus as my preferred method of contraception, and to avoid having my period. The IUD had completely stopped me from menstruating for several years and actually made me forget what it was like to have my period. I loved it! It was so comfortable for work and travel.

 

Sadly, during the second part of my trip the IUD started to cause problems for me, and I had to visit a doctor to have it removed.

 

Having my period back felt like a punishment; I would constantly forget I had it, ruining multiple sets of underwear and clothing.

Living in a caravan during this time did not make it easy. I couldn't take long showers, or wash my clothes like you can at home. I had to be more careful, more organised, and spend extra money, while already being on an extremely tight budget.

For a while, I hated that part of me, as it was holding me back from living a more carefree life.  

 

I'm okay with it now, but I'm waiting for the day scientists discover a way to get rid of my period without any side-effects.*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"I can definitely say that the menstrual cup is a difficult art to master but not an impossible one." 

Anonymous, 16

All my life I have been brought up with waste reduction in mind. After reading an article on how much waste women produce each year just from sanitary products, as if we don’t already feel bad enough, I felt that I had to try to reduce how much waste I produce each month due to my own period.

I decided that I wanted to try a menstrual cup. My sister got the menstrual cup from her university and just before she arrived back home for the weekend I had gotten my period - perfect timing if I do say so myself.

The cute bag that the menstrual cup arrived in made the scenario feel a little less scary and, with the handy instruction manual tucked in the bag, I proceeded to boil the cup. It had all now become rather daunting.
The cup was now neatly folded but was rather painful to comfortably position and it took many, MANY attempts to get right. Once I felt secure I carried on with my day.

I could definitely feel the cup and it became more uncomfortable as time went on but a quick repositioning did the trick to ensure comfort was resumed.
It was time to remove the menstrual cup and this was when I became rather nervous as a break of the vacuum seal was required to dislodge the cup. This was made more difficult and more painful due to the fact I had gotten acrylic nails earlier in the day!
I can definitely say that the menstrual cup is a difficult art to master but not an impossible one.*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"I do not only believe that periods need to be talked about, I believe they should be celebrated!"

Ester Eriksson, 21

When I think about periods, it is not from an emotionally detached place. I really care about periods, for a bunch of reasons.

I grew up as one part of a twin-duo, and my sister got her period a full year before I did. Even then, even despite knowing what a pain it is to deal with bleeding every month, I envied her. I wanted it too. Our mom raised us to see periods as something not only natural, but important and damn cool. Something to admire, because it means that our bodies were working. I still think so to this day.

The female body is incredible in many ways, and menstruation is part of the process that is literally the reason we’re all alive.

 

Menstruation is a feminist issue and the fact that it is seen as a taboo subject of conversation is plain erasure. It is restrictive. People with female reproductive systems are not allowed to be their entire selves in the public eye; we are constantly told that we need to censor this part of us. A part of us that is not only physiological, but also hormonal and, most importantly, not a choice.

By stigmatizing periods, we are shaming the female body and repressing women, some trans-men and some non-binary people for… being fertile? Functioning?

See, that is where it gets even more complicated for me, and even more emotional. Like I said, I really do care about periods. Because as much as it is shamed, it is also hypocritically taken for granted. Women, excuse the binary language, are expected to be fertile and when not menstruating, for whatever reason (save birth control, which is deliberate), are shamed for that as well. It is just one of the many examples of dilemmas in which we as women cannot win.

 

I do not only believe that periods need to be talked about, I believe they should be celebrated!*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"It took me a while to realise what a period was; and that realisation came in very different stages." 

Vlad Ivanov

It took me a while to realise what a period was; and that realisation came in very different stages.

 

First it was an awkward chuckle in biology class, not any different than the buzz that fills a sex ed class filled with 14 year olds. We were curious and at the same time embarrassed.

As I progressed into high school, a period was the main reason why a girl would be in a bad mood. You get screamed at by your classmate for something - “She’s probably on her period.”

Suddenly the group chat becomes like a minefield and each of your sentences need to be very well thought out - otherwise it all goes kaboom. Why? Probably because the girls in the chat are “on their periods”.

 

As I snapped out of my teenage years, periods took a very different place in my subconscious. The UK nationwide protests around female sanitary products being taxed as a luxury item coincided with my realisation of the discrimination females face in the workplace and beyond.

This led to a mixed feeling of anger, shame, astonishment, and an urge to be part of the change. Anger and shame at my teenage self. Astonishment at my ignorance. An urge to take part of the movement that tackles both ignorance and shame.*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"You know your body better than anyone."

Leigh Dilks

I remember hearing the word endometriosis for the first time in 2009. I was at a complete loss. After explaining my debilitating symptoms to a health professional, she looked at me and said: "I think you have endometriosis". It took me a couple of attempts to pronounce it, let alone spell it! I was desperate to know if the symptoms of this condition matched mine. Alongside a diagnosis, what I also wanted to know, is why, as a society, we don’t talk more openly about menstrual health. If we did then it might not take an average 7.5 years to be diagnosed with endometriosis.

 

The flippant use of ‘it’s just period pain’ and ‘a couple of paracetamol will see you right’ meant it took until the age of 34 to be diagnosed with endometriosis. It’s taken 10 years of surgeries and eight different medications (from pain relief to pseudo menopause), to get me to a place where I am finally able to manage my condition.

 

Endometriosis Awareness Week starts on 4 March and Endometriosis UK is running a campaign called What I Wish I’d Known. The Period Blether provides the perfect opportunity for these stories to be shared so that others who are struggling with many gynaecological symptoms feel empowered to take their concerns to a medical professional. More importantly to ensure you are listened to and given the best health care possible. After all, you know your body better than anyone.*


Endometriosis UK: https://www.endometriosis-uk.org

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"I'm conducting a mild but helpful rebellion."

Pamela Brankin, 42

I had an achingly normal upbringing, in a good way. I lived with my parents and my sister, and periods were never taboo. Ok, maybe with my dad! But I vividly remember ‘the talk’ and from there on, it never crossed my mind that there were families who didn’t discuss periods. Who didn’t complain to each other about cramps, floods, or any of the other joys that women deal with. We just talked, and in the talking, we were normal.

Except, years went by and I realised that we weren’t normal. My friends didn’t - and couldn’t - talk to their mums. Sometimes, they couldn’t even talk to each other. This is sad and problematic because at both a personal and societal level, silence prevents real progress from being made. It’s harmful to women’s self-esteem, their understanding of their own biology, and reinforces myths, misconceptions, and negative cultural attitudes about menstruation.

As a health communications professional, I understand the power of narrative, of simply telling our stories, in public health. It can change lives. And this is too important to stay silent any longer.

At home, I’m doing my bit as a wife and mother of a 4-year-old boy to normalise menstruation. My perennially curious son knows what my mooncup is, while my niece has recently spent time in Nepal working on a period poverty project. We are a period positive family!

In public, I’m conducting a mild but helpful rebellion. If you see a woman filling the supermarket conveyor belt with packs and packs of sanitary towels destined for food bank donations and refugee welcome packs, proud and unabashed while men avert their eyes, it might be me!*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"Girls should not have to miss out on their education because they cannot afford sanitary products."

Naomi Tailor, 20

I’m not going to lie, before I got involved with the project I was unaware of how many women are affected by period poverty.

Finding out that period poverty affects 1 in 5 girls in Scotland and causes 137,000 young girls to miss school every year really shocked me. Girls should not have to miss out on their education because they cannot afford basic, essential sanitary products to cope with a perfectly natural bodily function.

 

I was brought up in a very open environment which really helped me when I first started my period. I feel very lucky to have had a good supportive group of people around me like my mum and my close friends.

Despite feeling like I could approach people, I still wouldn’t really want to because, like many young girls, I felt embarrassed about my period.

In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have been embarrassed, but it all comes down to the stigma around periods and society making us feel like we should be embarrassed by our bodies.

 

The best way to break the stigma is to encourage people to talk more openly about periods in a normal manner, because that’s exactly what they are: completely normal.*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"It's just about normalising the topic so that people don't feel embarrassed."

Sandra Cairncross, 50

When I was contacted about this blog I thought it was a great idea but I knew that it would kind of take me out my comfort zone. I think it’s partly a product of my age, I grew up in the sixties and seventies and people didn’t talk about periods at all. 

 

About twelve years ago I felt that something wasn’t quite right, so I went to the doctors to get it checked out. They did a whole host of tests and it turned out there was nothing serious to do with my periods but there were other signs that suggested I needed to get a hysterectomy. 

 

I suppose one of the things that I now feel quite strongly is that if people aren’t talking about menstrual health then you don’t know what’s normal and what’s not. I know if something had happened to me in my twenties I probably would have been reluctant to go to the doctors. 

 

Once I was in my forties and I had had a child I was more confident and felt I was able to go to the doctors and talk about menstrual health. 

 

I suppose that’s the main reason why I wanted to contribute to this project. It’s about opening up the conversations and discussions so that more people are talking about menstrual health and are understanding what happens. 

 

‘Don’t be afraid to talk about it’ sounds a wee bit patronising but it’s just something normal that happens, it shouldn’t be a secret it should be matter of fact. It’s just about normalising the topic so that people don’t feel embarrassed.*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"Don't let society tell you that your body doing its thing is disgusting."

Katie Daniel, 20

I'll be honest with you, when I was initially asked to write a blog post about periods it made me shudder a little, but that kind of discomfort is the exact kind of socialised bs this whole project is trying to tackle.

 

In order to maintain our own hygiene and comfort during a period, we are forced to spend our own money in order to purchase pads, tampons, menstrual cups, or whatever it is that you fancy. It seems a little unfair that these costs are pushed upon people who have no say in whether or not their body decides to bleed once a month.

Some great initiatives have been put into place. Scotland made free access to sanitary products in schools a thing, including our own university, the latter of which has a sanitary product station that is free to access on every campus.

 

As for my experience, I started my period when I was 11 years old, back in the first year of high school. I remember just crying, freaking out, because I was like, “omg why does this have to happen to me already?!”

I'm not gonna lie, it's obviously still not a walk in the park but it got a lot easier.

I went through a period (pun not intended) when I was between 14 and 16 where my body was on a crazy schedule. My hormones were obviously out of whack because my period was lasting several weeks and I was so miserable because it just didn't seem to end!

My saviour was finding a contraceptive pill that worked for me and managed to regulate my body's schedule. It was so nice to be able to take back control over when my TOM (time of month) would hit. I also managed to set my body into the habit of bleeding for the 'normal' 4-5 days in the week.

I feel like having this control has made my period a lot more manageable and I don't have to dread it coming along the way that I used to.

I was lucky to have a mum who I was comfortable enough with to speak about my problems. I also know that I was lucky that the first pill I was put on was co-operative with my body, which isn't the case for many people.

 

Don't let society tell you that your body doing its thing is disgusting or something you should be ashamed of - it's no secret!

The solution to any worry people may have about their bodies is to talk about it.

We need to break through the stigma - it's a natural bodily function people!*

Read more about me at whatkatiedidnext.blog

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"It's nothing to be ashamed about."

Caterina Bidoni, 35

The first time I had any real idea about menstruation was when I found the instruction leaflet from a packet of my mum’s tampons lying unexpectedly on the washing basket in our bathroom. I must have been about eleven at the time.

Of course I had sat through Primary 7 sex education, as had the rest of my female cohort. I remember that while the boys were herded through to another room to learn about masturbation and wet dreams we must have been told about our young girl bodies’ amazing capability for procreation.

I do not remember much about this as that part of life seemed like a very far away reality that had little to do with me.

Needless to say that my chancing upon the anatomically detailed pictures depicting the correct insertion of a tampon into the vagina shocked, terrified and fascinated my eleven year-old self in all sorts of confusing ways.

Being in my mid thirties I am now pretty much at peace with myself but know that I am still a product of my time. I see a lot of exposure of important issues like sexual consent, female infibulation and archaic menstrual practices, but a little piece of me, deep down inside like an automatic switch, still grimaces with avoidance when I encounter a painting or installation or act that is overt and demanding our attention. I’m still a little bit the embarrassed teenager who doesn’t want anyone to know that she has her period.

I’m currently pregnant with my first child and the wonder of life and my body never ceases to inspire me. It’s a boy and I plan to teach him about menstruation from a young age so that he may help his peers, male and female alike, to just bleedin’-well get used to the idea!

It’s nothing to be ashamed about.*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"The door slowly swung open revealing me mid squat."

Anonymous, 20

One of the most embarrassing stories about my period would be from when I was younger, around 13 or 14.

I was on a the way back from a brilliant family holiday and my period started on the plane, thankfully I had some tampons with me.

As I was in the bathroom turbulence started and just as the announcement came across the tannoy the bathroom door slowly swung open revealing me mid squat, halfway through inserting a tampon.

I managed to catch the door before it fully opened but not before I locked eyes with a complete stranger.

I don’t know if I hadn’t locked the door correctly or if the turbulence shook it loose but that was definitely one of the most awkward walks out of a bathroom ever.

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"My dad bought me what I needed but we didn't talk about everything that goes with it..."

Lindsay Morgan, 36

My mum passed away when I was 11 and I got my first period not long after. My Dad bought me what I needed but we didn't talk about everything that goes with it, the menstrual cramps, the sadness, the exhaustion. These side effects are not experienced by everyone but for me, the pain is really uncomfortable and I didn't know that the sadness brought on by my hormones is normal.

It was very lonely and isolating and I genuinely believe had my Dad been more knowledgeable and felt able to talk to me about all of this, it wouldn't have been such a lonely experience. 

 

At 27, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Up until that point, I had never heard of these conditions and my lack of awareness was shocking.

These conditions affect my health and well-being massively but it's staggering how little is known about this even in the medical world.

There needs to so much more research in to menstrual health and the silence and stigma around menstruation needs to end!*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"We, as women, shouldn't have to pay for our periods."

Sophie Cummings, 22

My story is an embarrassing, personal one that I turned into a social campaign for change.

I first got my period when I was around 11.

I remember being in my house and telling my mum that I got my period...straight to the point, typical Sophie.

I was so blasé about it all, so engrossed with being a child that I wasn’t bothered about the ‘maturity’ or ‘responsibility’ that came with my period. 

My most embarrassing period story was when I was on a plane back from Florida. I had only started my period a couple of months before so I was still learning how to ‘keep an eye on it’.

After a lovely family holiday it was during the 8-hour flight back that I realised I had leaked...badly. I had to tell my family and had to resort to using really awful, cheap sanitary products for the rest of the journey. I also had to sit with my new Disneyland hoodie around my waist and to my total and utter embarrassment the trousers I was wearing were a lovely camel colour - totally unforgiving in this instance!

As an 11-year-old who was in her ‘cool phase’ at the time, this made me want the world to swallow me up whole!

A few years ago I realised that we as women shouldn’t have to pay for our periods and why was this concept accepted by society and the norm; why had no questioned it? Free Period UK was born and has been growing over the last two years!

I am a proud feminist and activist in the fight against period poverty both in the UK and globally! If we don’t tackle society’s norm then things will never change!*

Find my petition at  #FreePeriodUK

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

"You just put it on like a big plaster on your ... eh ... crotch?"

Sam Calder, 20

Before starting this project, I had almost no idea about periods. In primary school, boys were separated from girls when it came to the talk about periods. This has led to A LOT of misinformation and 'thru the grape vine' discussion. Here is my story.

So picture the scene, we are there as a team discussing the project and what we have planned. Myself, the only boy in the room sitting at a table with a sea of sanitary products spread like a cheese board. Foreign artefacts from another world.

Just how do they work? Taking the lead I grab a pack of pads and grab one out the box. As I unwrap it, the look on my face is pure surprise. Its HUGE. I soon come to realise there are sticky tabs.

“Oh itʼs like a big plaster?”

I soon realise my mistake as the confused looks come my way. But of course, I had to double down.

“You just put it on like a big plaster on your... eh...crotch?” 

An eruption of laughter and an extensive periods 101 lesson to end the day.

After being on this project for no longer than a month I have already overcome awkwardness around periods. It is incredible when you talk about periods so often it becomes a non-issue, no taboo.

Hopefully in this project we can extend this feeling of openness and will to talk to all men and women who are afraid to talk

about periods.*

*story may have been edited for length and clarity

Send us a message with your thoughts, opinions or stories for a chance to be featured in our campaign.