Dear Jane Fam,
I want to tell you about a woman I met named Fela. Fela was 11 when her period started. She remembers that year being characterized by very heavy periods. One night she woke up in terror, drenched in her own blood. She had bled so much her parents had to throw away the mattress. Her stepmother chalked it up to a freak accident and Fela strategized on how to make sure it never happened again. She began to wear both super tampons and “super diaper pads” to bed.
It wasn’t until she turned 12 that the pain started. The first days of each period were accompanied by pain that rendered her bed-ridden. She missed days at school and planned activities. When she did push through the pain to make it to class, she would inevitably bleed through her clothes. One afternoon stands out in her mind. Fela was sitting on a wooden stool in class and felt something dripping down her leg. As soon as she got up blood rushed down her thighs. She wrapped a sweater around her waist as she stood. She was horrified to see her blood covering the seat and knew it would stain the wood. After this she began to hate going to school.
Through conversations with her mother, Fela learned that her Mom also had heavy, painful periods. This was her first datapoint that made her think that maybe this was normal. Fela, now 25 years old, recounts these stories to me in a calm voice. She pauses to reflect when I ask her why these things didn’t alarm her or send her to the doctor. “I did go to the OBGYN”, she clarifies, “four of them. They all said what I was experiencing was normal.” “You described the bleeding through a mattress, the pain, all of it?” I asked in disbelief. I wanted to make sure they heard what I was hearing. “I told them exactly what I am telling you.”