Why we should talk more about periods

Having conversations about periods will help take away much of the stigma.

Having conversations about periods will help take away much of the stigma. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Long afternoons inside as a kid while our mum watched soaps and cuddled a hot water bottle made me aware that women sometimes struggled with pain. Tension headaches. "Tummy aches." Tiredness. All at a certain time of the month. 

In fact, aged just 30, she disappeared to the hospital and came back about two weeks later hopeful that things would be better.

Thirty seemed ancient to me at six and though I could barely say the word, I knew what a hysterectomy was. I proudly told the man in the news agent that "My mum has had her womb taken out". It was a choose-a-big-bag-of-sweets-each kind of day. I had Fox's Glacier Mints. My twin sister had strawberry bonbons. It was memorable because it felt special in some way.

By the time my own period came, through no fault of anybody else, they were a thing of dread. I asked my own doctor for a hysterectomy at 24 thinking it was the answer to my own pain, headaches, hot water bottle cuddling and afternoons of Hollyoaks but he suggested I "just have a baby or two" as a remedy. I never have. 

"Say your goodbyes," the nurse cheerily said as she pushed me, bleeding, and left me behind some flappy doors in a freezing cold corridor that I had only seen on Casualty or similar. That was my laparoscopy done. Went back and sat in front of a male surgeon who looked at my face and said "That's it gone now. You'll be fine," I was genuinely shocked as to how he knew I would be fine. Turned out he didn't. And I wasn't. 

As I approach the potential end-of-period stage of life, things haven't improved. If men had periods surely the menopause would be some sort of heroic mountainous achievement that would make them fire-eating beasts, manlier than ever and ready to take on the world. Instead women are presented with a-thinning-hair-drying-up-like-a-prune-in-a-July window dream, only leading them into a fifteen year long - and terribly unsexy - angry rant. 

Not knowing when I might be able to expect this thrilling adventure myself due to my mum's operation several decades ago, I merrily consulted with my lovely cousin for some sort of clue as to when the other women in our family  have menopaused...turns out this journey isn't getting any brighter yet.

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She told me that she went to the doctor aged 44 thinking it was the menopause. It took a lot of persuasion for him (it's a him again) to send her for blood tests. She went on to explain to me that once a woman is 45, under the NICE guidelines, no blood tests are allowed - women just have to expect that they are heading towards it. 

The very act of that conversation though was powerful for me. It led me to think that really we should all talk about this stuff a lot more so that we can be empowered with the experiences of others and armed with as much knowledge as we can muster up. 

It also reminded me of a time when carrying a tampon through the office was highlighted as some sort of shameful act - by a female colleague. Weirdly, condoms in a filing cabinet draw has always been a very socially acceptable thing in most offices I've worked in yet a woman is not allowed to hold a small Lillet in her hand, even though they are disguised as 'sweets'. An added design feature, apparently. 

When in Year 6, The Tampon Lady came to visit, all the boys were sidled out of the assembly hall in hushed tones. She told us that you could hang them off your ears as earrings and that if you just popped one into your vagina and didn't leave it in so long you would die of toxic shock syndrome then all would be well for the next 30-plus years. And that was that. 

Imagine if the boys had been allowed to stay.