No, We Are Not Exaggerating

Menstruation signifies our becoming of a woman, so to speak. Right? Our voices change, we start to see the outline of our hips, the sprouting of our breasts. We are also familiar with the pain that accompany this monthly occurrence. After quite some research, menstrual cramps are scientifically called primary dysmenorrhea or a clinical term for our pain. It’s simply due to the breaking down of our uterus lining, hence making up all the blood that we see. Yet, there’s also another cause that some women suffer for a long time before being diagnosed, or much too late in some cases; called endometriosis.

We’ve come a long way from all the scary thoughts of menstruation and have start embracing it as an old friend that’s just visiting once a month. Still, we can’t divert from the fact that periods hurt… And why not? Imagine the sides of your uterus being scraped down with a fork. But anyway, what I’m trying to evoke here is that some women out there are choosing to hide behind forced smiles while experiencing the most debilitating pain. And I don’t think it’s particularly right.

Ever since high-school, I’ve always had these harrowing pain on the first day of my period every month. Not have I only missed several periods of classes but nowadays I had to routinely excuse myself from a day at the office. I’m not here to comment on company procedures or whatnot because I know that a lot of them do support a woman’s right to take paid or unpaid leave of employment on the first to second day of their period. The problem then comes with the notion that, why do we subconsciously think that the pain doesn’t matter? Or worse, that we should shrug if off?

So, during said high-school years, I missed one month of my period. One day in computer class, my abdomen was throbbing with pain that I have never felt before. I called my mom and we went to the gynaecologist the next day, to find out that I had a cyst on my right ovary. So, the answer at that time simply ended at stress; due to gruelling assignments and pressure of schooling. Have I mentioned that the IB system is quite ruthless? So, I was prescribed some birth control pills to regulate my hormones and let go of the cyst.

Still, month after month, on the exact first day of my period, the rush of pain continues. Now, a lot of the times others would pat you on the back and tell you it’s normal, it’s totally fine. And I believed them. I accepted the pain and thought, a lot of women out there feels the same way. So what? But I have increasingly been questioning it. Mainly, the behavior or opinions of others about period pain. More often than not, the pat in the back is a compensation for what they actually want to say: “you’re just exaggerating.” I actually felt guilty of complaining and I was scared of any snub remarks from my peers, and even my friends. So I could only grimace through the physical agony.

But recently I plucked up the courage in heading over to the gynecologist once again for an ultrasound to which he said that everything looked normal except for one little bump. So an MRI was the second, non-invasive method to uncover just what in the world is going on. Finally, I have a name for it: Adenomyosis. The gynecologist explained it’s a condition where lining of my uterus breaks through the wall of my uterus. In other words, all the blood that’s supposed to flow through the vagina stays behind, which explains the agonizing pain. And I have to say that I’m proud of making a brave choice to seek medical treatment.

I encourage girls and women everywhere to not succumb to the fear of judgement of others and start to really think about their well-being. So, knowledge plays a key role in dodging sexist stereotypes. I believe that if your period pain starts to prevent you from living your day normally — even just for a few hours, you have every right to speak up. Know that you can be referred to an experienced gynaecologist to possibly diagnose underlying conditions for period pains as it could potentially harm your reproductive health. When more of us raise our voice, I’m confident that more research in Indonesia will be done to provide more attention in that area.

Furthermore, most of feminist discourse these days talks about the strength of women, which I’m all about. However, things can still get tricky when ‘complaining’ about our period actually somehow makes us less of a woman, which really gets my blood going (pun intended). So, we may be over of the menstrual taboos thanks to various efforts in advocacy, especially through social media. Heck, we should feel free to walk to the toilet without discreetly stuffing our pad or tampon in our bafflingly small jean pockets. However, we are still prone to the thought of being seen as ‘dramatic’; as if our bodies do not get the respect it deserves to be taken care of. Just because menstrual cramps are pretty much universal to all women, it doesn’t make up for some of us suffering in silence.