I’m no stranger to the marvel of menstruation, having experienced it pretty regularly since the age of 12. I’ve found new and interesting ways to deal with menstruation, from menstrual cups to period underpants. Me and periods? We are basically (reluctant) BFFs. Seriously, I’m amazed by what our bodies do.
Each cycle, our uterus develops a lining to prepare for the possibility of a pregnancy, releasing an egg from our ovaries, just so, trying to get our bodies in the mood at the right time. There’s all kinds of things involved. Chemicals and hormones adjusting and heaps of interesting changes to do with mucous.
I know, I know. Mucous is not a sexy word. Even mentioning it will probably put you off the act of procreation. But, I digress.
As wonderful and amazing as the process is, I would love to know why our bodies get so pissed off if there is no pregnancy. I can only assume that’s what happens. Why else would getting your period mean you get to spend a day or more feeling like your uterus is sucker-punching you from the inside? Some women have period pain so debilitating that it effects work, school or other areas of their lives. Do they just so happen to have a uterus with anger issues? One that just hates the task of emptying out every few weeks and takes it out on the rest of the body, managing to cause pain in the abdomen and lower back as well as a nice headache and a bunch of other horrible symptoms? Is the uterus just generally spiteful? Surely not!
Am I sounding ridiculous yet? It’s about to get even more ridiculous, because I recently discovered that there’s actually very little research in to the causes of period pain. I remember being told it was caused by the uterus contracting, which sort of made sense. In reality, though, this doesn’t explain why it’s so much worse for some women and less so for others. It also doesn’t explain why some women, who experience debilitating pain over many years, opt for a hysterectomy and still experience significant pain afterwards. I mean, that’s just cruel!
What Even IS Period Pain?
The two main known causes of strong period pain are endometriosis and a condition called dysmenorrhea, which basically translates to “painful periods”. The latter has a fancy name and that’s about it. The former, endometriosis, is when the uterine lining goes haywire, growing all over the places where it shouldn’t and often causing terrible period pain and even fertility problems. It’s thought to be pretty under diagnosed, probably in part because you need a surgical procedure to confirm you have it and partly, many believe, because doctors can be pretty dismissive of menstrual pain. Keep in mind, there’s evidence that strong period pain can be as bad as the pain from a heart attack. “Take some paracetamol/ibuprofen” is probably the most common recommendation from doctors, but I know I’ve had instances where those medications haven’t even touched the sides of my pain levels.
Medical Men’s Club.
The somewhat dismissive attitude towards women in medicine isn’t a new thing. After all, it was a male doctor who started the ever-persistent trend of women birthing on their backs, because it made things easier for him, back in the 1500’s. This is despite the fact that it’s generally more difficult for the mother, who is made to push against gravity which puts her at greater risk for other problems, such as tears or the need for medical interventions like episiotomy or instrumental delivery.
Even in more modern times, we only have to look at the history of the modest Pap smear. When it was first devised by Dr Georgios Papanicoloau back in the 1920s, he struggled to get the procedure taught and performed in hospitals and clinics because doctors and pathologists (who were overwhelmingly men) were resistive to the idea of being able to diagnose cancer this way. Many simply weren’t interested. Their resistance and disinterest meant that cervical cancer remained the leading cause of death in American women at the time and that Pap smear tests weren’t performed routinely for decades after their invention. How many lives could have been saved? We’ll never know. So it’s not a huge surprise that period pain and other menstrual problems aren’t top of the list, even now.
They seem to be in a box marked “Don’t Wanna Talk About It” that’s been shoved into a corner because discussing it further is uncomfortable. Much like periods, if you ask me. Except that periods are often more than just uncomfortable.
Patriarchy and Period Pain.
When we talk about living in a Patriarchy, there will always be someone that denies its existence. They’ll say that it’s a feminist lie designed to blame men for our problems and give a bunch of dodgy examples and arguments. Yet here we have the historically male-dominated field of medicine, that has known about debilitating menstrual pain for centuries and hasn’t really been moved to really question what causes it or what might fix it. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all male doctors, scientists and researchers. Men, like Papanicoloau himself, have certainly made medical advances of enormous benefit to women. Just not in this one area because no one seems to think it’s significant, trapped in the pretty damn sexist belief that women are somehow more likely to exaggerate their pain than men, which seems to have roots in the old chestnut about women being hysterical, because uterus.
Call me hideously jaded, but if bucket loads of men experienced heart-attack-equivalent pain every few weeks for most of their lives, I bet there’d be a significant body of research by now on why it happened and the best ways to alleviate it. Perhaps even a root cause identified and a cure or excellent treatment available. I really hope there are some people in medicine and research fields who are willing to look into period pain. Because until then, we’re stuck as we are, with not enough knowledge or help for many of us to feel better. As I type this, slumped over my desk and nursing a heat pack, that makes me feel really depressed- and no, it’s not my hormones!
#FYBF @ With Some Grace.