Girls who can’t afford pads ‘cope’ with their periods using dishrags, newspapers, straw, leaves, and mud. They sneak away to bury the used material in the ground. They confine themselves to their rooms in shame.
I’m responding to 15-year-old Abita Crystabel and other girls at Lenana and around the world who experience menstruation as something negative and debilitating. And yet, if we think about it, our ability to create a child, and in such a reliable and efficient way, is nothing short of a miracle.
How can we experience the miracle in menstruation?
I’ll start with some basic facts. When as girls we reach puberty, our womb (or uterus) prepares itself for motherhood each month, creating a lining in the event that the dominant egg becomes fertilized and attaches itself to the uterine wall. Think of it as getting out the softest, warmest blankets in the house for an expected visitor, a very special guest.
For whatever reason, if an egg is not fertilized, our womb sheds the lining (or puts away the blankets) until next month. This breakdown and shedding of the lining is our period. On average the whole cycle lasts about 28 days, with Day One being the first day of bleeding. Ovulation, when the dominant egg travels down the fallopian tube for possible fertilization, happens around day 14. Note that pregnancy can occur three days prior to ovulation, during, or even three days afterwards.
Why do we have cramps? If the matured egg is not fertilized, the uterus needs to discard its lining and start over again, right? Well, cells in the uterus produce a natural chemical called Prostaglandin, which causes the uterus, a muscle, to contract. These contractions are what pushes out the uterine lining, and for some women, they are too strong, causing cramps, nausea, headaches, diarrhoea, and even back pain.
The best solution to painful periods is plenty of water (or coconut water), a healthy, balanced diet low in sugar and gluten, and aerobic exercise, like jogging and skipping rope. Applying heat and lightly massaging the cramps can help, as well.
While all women have a menstrual cycle, we experience it differently. I’ve never had cramps, which likely means my cells produce low amounts of prostaglandin, the chemical that causes contractions. And, guess what, for the birth of both of my sons, I had to take a drug called Pitocin to induce labor. It stimulated painful contractions that lasted over 15 hours . . . and I opted out of painkillers. Ouch!!! In the end, I can say that every hour spent screaming and clenching was worth the new life placed in my arms.
Okay, now the second necessity to seeing the miracle in menstruation: sanitary napkins. This is something I take for granted every month, and to be honest, I cannot imagine my periods without them.
Yes, there are other ways, such as ‘pads’ made of mud and straw. A rag. Newspaper. But these options are not clean, and they do not provide the security needed to participate in life.
We shoulder the responsibility of childbearing and need to be safe from infection during menstruation. We should not miss class or work or avoid sports and exercise. We should never feel ashamed.
The next time you suffer from menstrual cramps or feel inconvenienced and moody, remember the miracle. We have the gift of life within us . . . need I say more?