I have always had very painful periods.
And I am just one amongst billion other women who experience this each month.
Yet, we still pull ourselves together, pop those painkillers and go to work (be it at home or the office or school or any other place really)
Most months, I am absolutely fine after taking those painkillers, and I can pull off a calendar packed with back-to-back meetings, workshops, training, etc.
However, there arises a month every couple of quarters when I am in excruciating pain, and I am at my worst.
Here’s my story
When it happened the very first time
I was at the office, and I started crying in extreme pain with tears rolling down my cheeks.
My then manager very unsympathetically started laughing. He ridiculed me for crying for just period pain.
I didn’t care. I was in pain — all I cared for was that the pain went away. My team was very kind and escorted me to the Medical room on the campus.
The campus nurse insisted that I should go home, which is the most logical step in most cases.
But in that excruciating pain, I just wanted to lie down and have immediate access to the washroom — that’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to go home.
I wished I were at home that day, though. But travelling home while experiencing pain is a bad decision. Having done that in the past, I know sitting in the car can feel suffocating and nauseating at the same time.
30 mins ride can feel forever. And god forbid if you are anaemic there is a risk of fainting as well. So I said ‘no’ to travel until the pain subsides.
Usually, it is only a matter of 15–20 mins when the painkiller starts showing effect but if you have taken the painkillers after the pain kicked in then it might be a good 3–4 hours before you get any relief.
The next 3–4 months
Anyway, this continued for a good 3–4 months consecutively and by then even my manager understood I am going to take a sick day if my periods fall on a weekday.
He was fine with that arrangement as I have always been very ethical when it comes to leaves and never had any trust issues with any of my managers. I was wise enough not to attach any embarrassment to it and ride the guilt trip.
Painkillers, Scans, and Remedies
I thought this pain wasn’t the normal period pain and so I thought to understand from a gynaecologist. Like most gynaec’s in the past, she asked me to get scanned to know if I have endometriosis.
I got the scan done and fortunately tested negative for endo which was good but then what is the reason.
She asked me to continue with painkillers and heat bags. But as determined as I was, I tried reading and researching more on the topic.
I came across a video on how organic blackstrap molasses can significantly improve period cramps. So I tried that as well. Not sure if it was the product that worked or just my faith in something organic and natural that worked.
It worked for 2–3 months. But then one day I experienced excruciating pain in the middle of the night, and that took me back to square one. I have cried for hours on end; I have rolled on the floor screaming and screeching; I have vomited from my nose and mouth at the same time. I was exhausted, dehydrated and broken after 2 hours of going through that hell.
Finally, something worked
Fast forward to a few months later, I visited another gynaec, and she suggested the same scans to test for endo as it had been a year by then the last time I got it done. Again I was tested negative. Furious as I was, I cannot solve this mystery. Maybe it is just horrible for some women like me.
She gave me a painkiller that worked. I started taking it, but it makes me extremely emotional and vulnerable. Consider the regular PMS syndromes but a notch higher in its effect. I also got a taste of depression during one such episode, and it impacted my ability to carry everyday tasks.
I regularly face anxiety issues immediately after my periods, and it lasts for a few days. Imagine the stress of running a workshop or giving a presentation when you are already anxious. I have gone through this in the last several months, and I will go through it each month going forward.
I have written about the mental health concerning periods in a previous article. Check it out in the link below. I think it is essential to provide a complete perspective of what women go through physiologically and mentally.
Yes, you read that right and if you are one of my friends and family reading this, don’t be alarmed — read it till the…
While I solve my personal battle, it is important to have laws and policies that provide adequate leaves to help women deal with these issues. And in the next segment, I want to talk about — how it can be done, which countries have these laws already and how are they enforcing it, how the general public has received it and what are some of the counter-arguments against the policy.
What should be done?
Make laws and policies declaring menstrual leave for women
All employed women should have an option to take ‘work from home’ or ‘leave with pay’ for two days every month, by private and public employers. Simple and Straight. However, from history and experience, this isn’t as easy and simple as it sounds.
There are several countries that already have provisions for menstrual leave, including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan and these are hugely flawed.
In Taiwan, an amendment was made to Act of Gender Equality in Employment that guarantees female workers three days of menstrual leave a year, in addition to the 30 days of half-paid sick leave allotted to all workers. Three days for an average 24–36 days of menstrual pain is just ridiculous.
In Indonesia, although Indonesian women are entitled to take two days a month of menstrual leave, many companies simply ignore the law, and others have even been accused of forcing women to drop trousers and “prove” their need for time off which is just as terrible as it sounds.
In South Korea, the policy of menstrual leave became controversial after the Korean “men’s rights activists,” saw it as a form of reverse discrimination, despite Korea’s heavily male-dominated work culture.
So we need strong legislation that justifies the cause and adequate policies to see it through its execution successfully.
Public and Private companies should deploy strategies to make this a reality
Laws and policies can only be effective if there is a strategic decision made at the top that can make two days menstrual leaves a reality.
The struggle is real
For those who counter this whole concept of period leaves and believe women can avail sick leaves if they want to, how is it any different? Here is my view
Had this been a norm in the company, I would not have to explain my situation to all the managers or teams I worked at that time. I could easily apply for a leave, in advance and plan my calendar accordingly. It also helps in being more transparent to my team about my capacity for that week.
Also, there will be more planned leaves than unplanned sick leaves which disrupts the capacity equation in the team and puts the workload unevenly on those who are present on the floor.
It should be viewed in the same light as maternity leaves — it’s part of the same biological process anyway.
Everyone understands why a woman needs to take maternity leave. Unfortunately, not everyone understands why a woman needs a menstrual leave.
- When it’s a norm, it removes all ambiguity, whether you can avail the sick leave or not
- It gives more power to women to avail those leaves to accommodate for that excruciating pain, heavy flows, terrible back pain, and sore breasts. It doesn’t matter what your specific cause is — we all know it hurts and the suffering is real
- It allows for companies to understand that men and women are different and it’s useless to talk about gender equality when in reality we need to embrace the differences
- No women need to feel embarrassed or guilty to avail this leave. No questions asked, and no justification required.
I know a lot of women might disagree to such a policy, as they feel they will be viewed ‘weak’ for taking time off. It would further promote discrimination against women, especially as they are given maternity leaves and also child care leaves anyway. But to them, my simple question is — if we understand maternity and child care, then why don’t we know the first step of the entire biological process — PERIOD.
A woman’s reproductive health is everyone’s responsibility
We cannot care less about periods and show our tough side when internally, we are bleeding and crying in pain.
We are tough when we accept it.
We are tough when we understand that it’s okay for us to not work on a couple of days each month.
Women assume more responsibility than men in general — even if men share the workload these days, women are the primary house-makers, travel planners, grocery shoppers, and festival organizers.
So giving those two days, to let her care for herself is really not a big ask.