I remember so many things from my boarding days back in high school. But I remember one thing in particular: The common drug “mefanamic”. It was the magic pill that our school nurse had in plenty. All students with dysmenorrhoea(severe menstrual periods) informally believed that they could not do without it.
Looking back I remember how sanitary towels displayed in the shops were just ordinary products sold in the supermarket. I also remember the days I used to admire people using the product. Wrapping of sanitary towels with newspapers and further put in a black plastic bags after purchasing gave me the impression that is was something sacred that was supposed to be used by people with special abilities. Well,you can’t blame me.Google will show you that Romans thought menstruating women were basically dark witches and according to Pliny they could stop hailstorms,whirlwinds,lighting, kill crops,bees,dim mirrors and blunt weapons just by looking at them. That was the innocent me. Little did I know that one day I would be embarrassed to purchase when my time came as a result of taboos that come with menstruation.
At the mention of menstruation what comes to the mind of many people is puberty, Aunt Flo, the well choreographed sanitary towels advertisements, name them. The list is long and depends on the different one's experiences. But as for me, menstruation means pain. Not just pain but severe pain one that involved strong pain killers and injections. In my high schools days, I had to miss class for several days courtesy of the biological process. I was not alone but during such moments you have to stand alone. Sitting and concentrating in class was never and option. I even remember how we used to rehearse what we would tell the teacher on duty what was wrong with us and why we had to skip preps or classes. Skipping lessons because of menstrual pain was a NO. As a result, I had to suffer from all kinds of diseases ranging from Malaria, Amoeba, Typhoid, so that I would be allowed to skip classes and avoid being labelled an attention seeker hence a topic of discussion in the staff room.Luckily my classmates were very understanding. Everyone knew when Aunt Flo had visited me because of the trouble I would go through. Stabbing pains (the kind of pain that seemed like your whole stomach was about to seccide from your body) Vomiting and diarrhoea was the order of the day. While many would pity me I thought I was better. One of my classmates then would literally cut grass with her bare hands as she rolled on the ground because of pain.She used to scream at the top of her voice and looking at her one would mistake her for a case of procession. How I managed to complete high school in a boarding set up with such a condition is still a miracle.
Moving to campus was not a different story. I had to skip classes for some few days during the month and pray to the most high that Aunt Flo does not decide to show up during end of semester exams. I remember one time when one lecturer asked me to bring a letter from the doctor to show that I missed classes because of severe menstrual pain (then I had been diagnosed with acute endometriosis. Being in a gender and development class as well as the lecturer being female, I thought she would understand my situation but I was wrong, she needed evidence of something that had taken my life ransom since puberty kicked in.
My medical journey has not been easy either. I even didn’t think one could seek medical attention because of menstrual pain until one day when I was going through my ‘normal' pain spells when my father suggested that I should visit a gynacologist.That term itself shook me.How could I visit a doctor who is most often visited by pregnant women or people with sexually transmitted diseases. Don’t blame me.Blame stereotypes.This stereotypes are evident every time I go for a gyna’s appointment.My body size often lives many people in the waiting room asking what a small ‘girl' was doing in that place.I guess those who didn’t dare ask me were left in awe of how our society is so spoiled that ‘small’ girls were seeking contraceptive services at a young age.I recall vividly my doctor's experiences but I will name a few. It is quite sad that the people we think will help us dismiss our pain or take it lightly. One doctor decided to tell me to my face that there are other serious issues to deal with such as cure for cancer and food shortages in arid areas rather than speak matters menstruation. Another, had the guts to say that I was exaggerating the pain and taking pain killers in advance could easily work the magic and he didn’t forget to remind me many women have gone through the process and when I give birth the pain will go away, the worst experience was when I visited a general physian after experiencing severe pain in my lower part of my stomach that could not subside.Unfortunately he decided to play cat and mouse games by sending me to the lab to test for UTI and ‘other’ infections to rule out the cases. Deep within me I knew what was wrong with me but he was the doctor.When the results came out it was negative.I walk back to the doctor’s room and he looked at it and shamelessly he says “to be sincere I really don’t understand the concept on endometriosis and I advise you to visit another doctor. But since I have found out you are ‘clean’ I am requesting for your phone number”.The anger that filled me at that point is a story for another day. To cut the story short, I was diagnosed first with ovarian cyst then later it was dismissed and I was diagnosed with endometriosis and during this period I was put on oral contraceptives which later didn't go so well with me and the last normal pill I was prescribed for one year led to severe side effects including menopausal symptoms and like many other people with menstrual disorders have decided to seek a solution from traditional herbs after modern medicine failed me.
I am happy that conversations on menstrual health have started to pop up in media and conversations unlike the past when menstrual talk was a taboo. Events such as Menstrual Hygiene Day have started to shape policies and the major break through has been menstrual hygiene strategy formulated by the ministry of health.
Most times I would get depressed and ask my God why it had to be me.Why I had to suffer immense monthly pain and why menstrual issues have not been widely researched nor intergrated well in health policies despite menstrual issues being a nightmare to a rarely large percentage of girls. As one person once said, sometimes you are going through so much in life all you want is to tell your story to the world without anyone judging you. It is with the same spirit that I decided to form a Community Based Organisation (Reprodrive CBO)back in my home in Uasin Gishu County ,Turbo constituency to address issues on youth/adolescent reproductive health. We go to schools round the county to speak matters reproductive health because we don't want a repeat of history. I have seen girls crying after talks as they narrate their experiences in matters reproductive health, especially the disabled. One case study that touched me is when a group of girls confided in me that they were using oral contraceptives to ease the pain and the drugs was bought in a merry go round because the parents and teachers were not understanding. A couple of disabled girls confided in us of how having menstrual health problems was a major barrier in their lives since they could not communicate or the school facilities were not accomodative.
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Our girls/women should be informed that severe menstrual pain that incapacitated is not normal and should seek medical help to rule out conditions such as endometriosis,fibroids,cysts etc. instead of suffering in pain just because our ancestors did so.They should not suffer in silence or give up on carriers because of an issue that can be helped out all in the context of menstruation being a taboo in most cultures.
Together with my team we hold community forums to talk to parents on how to care for their children and help them through their medical journey as well as to collect data which we hope will turn out to form major research findings.The group has been active in county forums/workshops to make sure that areas that have been previously forgotten is being put into consideration as far as in budget allocations. Our social media pages is a major platform to teach youth on reproductive health and our goal is to customize an app that will be youth friendly and address gaps. Our long term goal is to build a hospital with the help of well-wishers that will cater for reproductive health services for the youth with state of the art technology and which will also serve as a research centre.