The clinical term for our menstrual cramps or pain is primary dysmenorrhea. The pain is due to the breaking down of our uterus lining, which produces all the blood that we see. Yet, there’s also another cause of women’s menstrual suffering that often takes too long – or in some cases too late – to be diagnosed. It’s endometriosis.
We’ve come a long way from all the scary thoughts about menstruation and we have started to embrace it as an old friend who visits once a month. Still, we can’t deny that that menstruation hurts some of us. Imagine the sides of your uterus being scraped down with a fork. Yet some women choose to hide behind their smile, even as they are experiencing the debilitating pain. I don’t think it’s right.
Ever since high school, I’ve had a harrowing pain on the first day of my period every month that forced me to miss classes. Even today I have to routinely excuse myself from work for a day. I’m not here to comment on companies’ policies because I know that a lot of them do support a woman’s right to take paid or unpaid leave of employment on the first to second day of their period. To me the problem is that we subconsciously treat menstrual pain as if it doesn’t matter – or, worse, that we should shrug it off.
While in high school I missed my period for month. One day in computer class, my abdomen was throbbing with pain that I had never felt before. I called my mom and we went to the gynecologist the next day. I found out that I had a cyst on my right ovary. The blame was placed on stress caused by school pressures, including those grueling assignments. The IB system can be ruthless. I was prescribed with some birth control pills to regulate my hormones and rid of the cyst.
Still, month after month, on the exact first day of my period, the rush of pain persists. Often people would pat me on the back and tell me it’s normal; it’s totally fine. And I believed them. I accepted the pain and thought a lot of women out there felt the same way.
Lately though, I have increasingly been questioning it, mainly, the behavior or opinions of others about period pain. I feel that the pat in the back is akin to saying what they actually think: “You’re just exaggerating.” I had actually felt guilty in the past of complaining and I was scared that I would be snubbed by my peers and friends. So I would grimace through the physical agony.
But recently I plucked up courage and headed over to the gynecologist once again with my mom for an ultrasound. He said that everything looked normal except for one little bump. So I had an MRI test to find out just what in the world was going on. And, finally, I had a name for it: Adenomyosis. The gynecologist explained it as a condition in which the lining of my uterus breaks through the wall of my uterus. In other words, all the blood that’s supposed to flow through the vagina stays behind, which explains the agonizing pain. I have to say, though, I’m proud of making a brave choice to seek medical treatment.
I encourage girls and women everywhere to not succumb to the fear of judgement made by others and to start to really think about their well-being. Knowledge plays a key role in breaking sexist stereotypes. I believe that if your period pain prevents you from living your day normally – even for just a few hours – you have every right to speak up. Know that you can be referred to an experienced gynecologist to look for the possibility of an underlying condition that causes the period pains, because it could potentially harm your reproductive health. When more of us raise our voice, I’m confident that more research in Indonesia will be done to provide more attention in that area.
There are a lot of feminist discourses these days on the strength of women, which I’m all about. But if we “complain” about our period, somehow that makes us less of a woman, which really gets my blood going (pun intended). So, we may be over the menstrual taboos, thanks to the various advocacy efforts, especially through social media; heck, we should even feel free to walk to the toilet without discreetly stuffing our pad or tampon in our (bafflingly) small jean pockets. But when it comes to period pain we are yet to be freed from the fear of being judged as “overly dramatic”, as if our body does not deserve to be taken care of. Just because menstrual cramps seem to be a universal experience for women, it doesn’t mean we should suffer in silence.
Cemara Dinda is quite the avid reader who sometimes goes into giddy tremors at the scent of a coffee being brewed. She is a graduate of English Literature, but is currently enjoying her time immersing in NGO work.