I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I have struggled with having a period. I grew up accidentally staining so many pairs of underwear, pants, sheets and I hated it. I became uncomfortable with this part of myself and I wasn’t comfortable with anything stereotypically ‘female’.
I’ve never been comfortable with insertable period products either, so I strategically planned my outfits to avoid anyone noticing I may be wearing pads. And if I needed to borrow a menstrual product and all my friends had were tampons, instead of saying something I’d take it to the bathroom, throw it out and use toilet paper. I guess what I felt was shame.
Facing my Period Head On
My relationship with my period, and periods in general began to transform in 2013 when I discovered reusable period products. As an environmentalist I was excited to discover a new way to create less waste and save money over time. It also introduced me to people who could speak openly and comfortably about their periods.
Switching to reusables changed my view from periods being this dirty thing you hide and cover up in the trash, to something I had to develop a relationship with. Having to wash my pads every month helped grow my self awareness and connection to what it means to have a period.
Although I never intend to be pregnant, I have recognized it truly is incredible that I have the ability to grow a human inside of me. I have started talking about periods and reusables in hopes of helping others with their own shame or disgust.
Only two years into me accepting and embracing my period, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma. One of the side effects of my chemotherapy treatment was early menopause. I quickly lost my period (and my body hair). I literally felt like a child again which, to be honest, I didn’t completely hate. In some ways it was nice to not worry about a period while dealing with all my other chemo side effects.
Although sometimes I wasn’t sure if my mood swings, concentration issues and difficulty sleeping were from chemo, menopause or both. Being so emotional and uncomfortable sharing it with others, I often blamed it on the menopause. I wondered if my period would come back and how menopause would affect my body afterwards.
Getting my Period all Over Again
I did get my period back about a month after chemo finished. But along with other things in my life and my body, my period changed. I resented it and it brought back feelings of shame. I now have more cramps, more back aches, more lethargy and more inconsistency.
Sometimes my period is light and short, sometimes it’s insanely heavy for a few days but then light and lasts for 2 weeks. It was incredibly frustrating having to relearn this part of myself. I started to think that maybe it was better when I had lost my period during chemo.
I started using an app to keep track and help me learn my new patterns, but it hasn’t always been helpful. Once, I got my period when I shouldn’t have: exploding blood through all my clothes right onto my friends couch while a group of us were hanging out over the holidays two years ago!
Talk about embarrassing! Impatient and concerned, I finally saw a gynecologist and had tests done. In her words, I have a perfect uterus and nothing is wrong. So, I decided to make peace with the situation and commit to relearning and re-accepting my period and my new normal.
One thing I recognize now is how lucky I had it before cancer. My period was light and I never had cramps or any other physical issues on or leading up to. Now I understand what I always heard other people complaining about. Today I have a deeper and better understanding of myself and my body and I have stronger connections to others with periods.