By Cynthia Ayeza, Uganda:
I want to write honestly and so I will. I am a woman – a growing woman –and so I will be as every bit woman as I know how. I will start with stating that this is for the girls who are willing to read to know that they are not alone, while also allowing for me to write knowing that I am not alone. Often we speak of “the truth about life” when what we really mean to say is, “in our experience”; so I want to write from both an experiential place as well as the observational place. For every time I use the word girl, I refer to ladies or women or girls generally – anything from the teens (if you can relate) to whatever age – again, if you can relate or not. But I will start with the dreaded thorn in the flesh – why I hate being a woman.
When I was in my 13th year of life, entering the 14th, Tom visited me. I forget what others called it but basically I started my menstruation – yes, many call it Tom. Others call it Petunia or is it Triphina? We should call it what it is – menstruation. I was one of the last girls to start, with one of my friends being the only one left. I remember when I started and told her, she run home to her mother crying about the fact that I had started my period and she still hadn't. I think she might have felt left out of the “becoming a woman” race (not that it was a race by any means), but how I wish I could trade places with her. For me, it was the start of sure embarrassment every month, and for some reason, always in public spaces.
When I got home, I was fascinated by the blood; not excited, just fascinated. We had been told about this since primary five (around age nine or ten) and having it happen was something of a near surreal experience except that it was also going to be the start of a hellish experience for me. So the first time was smooth, weird, no pain, no drama – and an uncle who thought he had the right to speak to me about it attempted some kind of educative talk. Don't worry. I shut him down. My mother too tried and I ended that with a simple, “We were told at school, I know what to do”.
The second period came a month later and announced itself with excruciating pain, a high temperature, and sweat like a slow dripping shower, gut-wrenching puking and eventual blacking out. I did not know that the body was capable of shutting down at some point – or perhaps the brain – because it could only process so much pain. When I came to, I was drained and quickly made sense of what had happened. And then the doctor visits started, and their answers were as shallow as the idea itself – at least for my age then. They said, “Have a baby, all the pain will go away”. The pain killers took on strength upon strength but the experience was always the same. I became the girl with “the tummy issues”. I didn't mind the label at all; I was more worried about the next period, the amount of pain and how it never seemed to be the same as the last time. It was always worse!
Interestingly, I do not know of any girl who looks forward to her period, except if you are sexually active BUT do not want to get pregnant. In such cases, the girls will even pray for the period – married or not. Aside from this, I am yet to meet a girl who absolutely delights in having her menstruation period every month, or quarterly or once every six months (yes, it happens). Nonetheless, it is what it is.
Several years on and I still have this thorn in the flesh, but I have managed to survive with overdoses of painkillers (admittedly, it is not right; do not do this please). Most times it works. Other times, the same old drama happens. Perhaps of all the things I could have against being female, this would be the one thing – maybe even the only thing. The Christians blame Eve; I am a Christian and I do not have the time to blame her. How can something that is a sign that perhaps I am capable of bringing life into this world also bring me so much misery? But that is a topic for another time. However, if I had all the money in the world, I would pump some of it into finding a solution for girls who experience the same excruciating pain during their menstrual (and I know at least three), including the sanitary care that is needed since there is still so much we do not know. For example, using pads and tampons makes so many of us susceptible to various, regular infections – no matter how great our hygiene is. Whatever the case, there is hope and I am one hopeful girl.
I know a menstrual activist here in South Africa, and I am going to reach out to her about a menstrual cup as an alternative to using tampons and pads. I hope to share more of that information here with you, and hopefully we can all be helped in one way or the other.
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