How much pain is too much when you have your periods?

Period pain is not an excuse. Once, I tried to get out of a school soccer game because of period cramps. I wasn’t “faking it”. I love playing soccer. I was in pain. I felt nauseous. All I wanted was to curl up and let the little lawn mower move across my insides without any threat of a soccer ball helping it along. My coach just laughed. He told me to take a Panadol and play on. That’s what I did.

I learned, like all women have learned, that the pain of your uterus wall shedding itself is not a valid excuse for not doing everyday things. You can’t call your boss and tell her your period is stopping you from coming to work. You can’t tell friends you’re not going to be able to make it to the birthday party on Saturday night with alllll the girls because your stomach is deciding to fold on in on itself.

We are told about periods and ovulation cycles and our mums quietly, anxiously hover outside the door as we try putting in a tampon for the first time. But we don’t talk about the pain.

Hot water bottles, curled up on the couch, a little sip of brandy. The pain isn’t that bad. It will pass. It’s just a “woman’s thing”.

But what if it is that bad?

What happens if it doesn’t pass easily. What happens if it’s 12 days of heavy bleeding and doubled over cramps and curling up in the foetal position?

Almost 176 million women around the world suffer from endometriosis. It’s a condition where the lining of the uterus – the sheath of cells that is shed during a period – grows outside of the uterus. It grows on abdominal and pelvic organs, often the ovaries, and all this lining is detached come the “time of the month”.

The pain of endometriosis can be excruciating. It can lead to discomfort during sex, heavy bleeding with blood clots, diarrhoea, constipation. Blood in urine. Exhaustion. And, I’d imagine, sheer terror at the fact your insides are falling out all at once.

On average, it takes women 10 years to be diagnosed by endometriosis.



Because we don’t talk about the pain.

“Menstrual pain is wrapped up in a natural female phenomenon,” Dr Beth Darnall, clinical associate professor in the division of pain medicine at Stanford University and a pain psychologist at the Stanford Pain Management Center told The Guardian. “We may be more likely to minimise it until it’s a really big problem.”

Even when women do seek help for period paid, Dr Darnall explains they’re often not taken seriously by medical providers. “[They’ve] seen multiple providers, they’ve been through primary care for their pain, they’ve probably seen another specialist, and then they come to us,” she said.

We talk about women’s sexuality. Women’s power. Women’s professionalism. But we still have trouble talking about women’s pain. Childbirth is “amazing” and a “blessing” (I’m sure it’s also very very painful). Periods are “just part of being a woman”. They also hurt, especially if you have endometriosis or fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease or other medical conditions that can present with painful periods.

Why are we suffering in silence? Why are we stomaching period pain as an “inevitable” part of being a women? Some period pain is not ‘normal’ and might be the sign of an underlying condition.

Symptoms of endometriosis, according to the Mayo Clinic include;

  • Painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Pelvic pain and cramping may begin before your period and extend several days into your period. You may also have lower back and abdominal pain.
  • Pain with intercourse. Pain during or after sex is common with endometriosis.
  • Pain with bowel movements or urination. You’re most likely to experience these symptoms during your period.
  • Excessive bleeding. You may experience occasional heavy periods (menorrhagia) or bleeding between periods (menometrorrhagia).
  • Infertility. Endometriosis is first diagnosed in some women who are seeking treatment for infertility.
  • Other symptoms. You may also experience fatigue, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating or nausea, especially during menstrual periods.

Some periods, even without endometriosis, are also painful enough to warrant a sick day, or a game of soccer on the side lines. Regular period pain should be reason enough to spend half a morning curled up in bed with a hot water bottle and no questions asked.

By talking about period pain, we might be able to help ourselves. To diagnose endometriosis sooner than 10 years. To help workplaces and bosses and partners to better understand. To put a stop to the habit – and expectation – of women to suffer in silence….  After all, have you not heard of the man flu?