This International Women’s Day, I want to help shine a light on a subject us women know all too well, but rarely talk about. On any given day, 800 million girls and women between the ages of 14 and 49 are menstruating, yes that’s right menstruating! Yet we all secretly take our pads into the bathroom, dispose of them as discreetly as possible and we daren’t let anyone know that we constantly checking our reflection in the fear we might be leaking through our clothes. Why? Because from a very young age it’s inferred that it’s dirty, it’s a woman’s issue and it’s something you keep to yourself.
Millions before us suffered in silence, it’s time for us to take a stance. Tackling the stigma around menstruation is essential to address in our fight for gender equality!
That’s why I’m proud to be an Ambassador for Girlhood: The Story. A period planner that’s part journal, part guide and is designed to help prepare, guide and support young girls through their journey into womanhood. Launching this International Women’s Day, this amazing project will help to change attitudes towards periods for the women of tomorrow.
I didn’t have a journal to help capture my story, but if I did, here’s what it would have said.
Primary School – learning the theory
I distinctly remember that awkward primary school lesson where the girls were ushered into one room, the boys in another. I remember the nervous giggling amongst my group of friends. We hadn’t really understood what was explained to us, but we were all desperate to get home and unpack the free period products we were given. We wondered what the boys had been taught in their classroom and so there followed the playground chats of us exchanging what we had learnt. For me, that set the foundation of talking about periods, it was all just playground whispers.
Secondary School – my first period
My first box of pads and tampons stayed well hidden in the top shelf of my wardrobe for many years. Unlike most of my friends, I didn’t start my period till i was 16! This served me quite well. As a sporting enthusiast, it meant my periods didn’t get in the way of my weekly football, netball, hockey and tennis matches. But, I did feel a little left out. Starting your period, almost felt like a badge of honour, a sign that you were entering womanhood. Low and behold, as I was riding my bike home from the tennis club, I felt a sudden urge to go to the bathroom and when I wiped away red, although I was a little scared, I was mostly relieved.
In secondary school boys eventually learnt the biology of ‘the time of the month’, but they were not taught the day to day implications for a woman. The pain, the hormones, the forward planning for having a stock of period products available at hand. I think it’s so important to bring boys into the conversation earlier on so they are better equipped to address the topic with friends, sisters and coworkers alike .
Working life – managing periods with a demanding career
Periods affect everyone differently, I know by speaking to friends and colleagues that no two periods or people are the same. But for anything between 3 – 10 days a month most women will bleed and it can affect us both physically and mentally. For me it’s had a significant impact on my working life and career.
Working in energy and engineering, which for much of my career had been a male dominated industry, it never felt like a place where this could be talked about. For me, talking about or referencing ‘women’s issues’ felt like showing a sign of weakness. Which upon reflection seems strange, I’m sure the men I worked had wives, sisters and even daughters going through what I was!
In the last 19 years of my adult life, I have spent c.684 days being on that dreaded time of the month. Because of heavy flows, excruciating stomach cramps and lower back ache, I’ve had to take days off sick and work from home at short notice. For many years, I suffered in silence as I assumed the levels of pain I was experiencing were ‘normal’. I turned down going to work events and social gatherings if my period was due, because I know I wouldn’t be showing up as the best version of myself. I suffered in silence for years, until I sought out medical help. Even with my high pain threshold, my periods were impacting my day to day life. When discussing my painful periods with my GP, I didn’t realise there were so many interventions, he explained I would need the patience to test solutions until I found one that worked for me.
Starting a family – learning all over again
Women’s health in general is so important to openly discuss with your doctor. Once I’d finally got a handle on my periods, I was ready to start having a family. When trying to have a baby, I realised how little I knew about my body and my monthly cycle. I assumed it would just happen when I wanted it to. I didn’t know, or at least I didn’t remember learning about ovulation, the most fertile days of a cycle or how diet and lifestyle can affect your chances of having a baby. If there was any advice I could give my 16 year old self, it would be to know the biology of my body better!
Womanhood – addressing the taboo
Women’s health remains a taboo and one that we need to address. I think it begins with each of us unashamedly talking about our periods to our GP, friends, colleagues, family, sons and daughters. It’s one of the most natural processes a woman’s body experiences and should be understood by all. It shouldn’t be left for schools to address, we too have a responsibility to educate ourselves and others. Like many other taboo subjects, by talking openly about it, we can begin to normalise it. If we can change the narrative around periods for young girls, perhaps we can finally be rid of the stigma.
So why not do something amazing this International Women’s Day and buy a copy of Girlhood: The Story for your daughter, sister, cousin, niece or friend. Or simply pledge any amount on their Kickstarter page to support the cause. Let’s have a bloody conversation about periods!