There is an important conversation around menstrual equity that needs to be had. Menstrual equity conversations lack the very necessary and important voices: Black women. Historically, Black women haven’t had the privilege some women hold of celebrating their bodies. The shame we often carry from how we are perceived and treated has played a role in how we’ve projected those stigmas with the things that oftentimes come with our bodies, such as our periods. Sharing these stories, we hope to normalize Black women telling their stories about their periods.
I got my first period at the age of 10. Most of the girls in my class and friends at the time were still period free and the thought of “peeing out blood” was disgusting to them. Oftentimes, the pain was, and is, unbearable and hard to manage.
Before I got my period, the experience was depicted as the most magical thing a girl can have; it was the moment I would become a woman. At first, my periods were pretty regular, never accompanied by cramps. I was blessed. A year later, that all changed. The gift that was promised was no longer anticipated with open arms.
I woke up one day to the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt in my life. I was a prisoner to my bed, writhing in pain. For the most part, I have a pretty high pain tolerance; so for me to be bawling and rolling around in my sheets were sure signals of my unbearable discomfort.
I suffered in silence. I’m not one to showcase pain or tears to anyone, so the idea of becoming vulnerable and being seen at my weakest was not an option. That was until my mom came to check on me. Immediately concerned, she asked what was going on, I explained what was happening and she understood because she too had experienced horrible cramps before childbirth. My mom quickly grabbed a heating pad, some pain relievers, and tea, then began sharing her story of dealing with cramps.
My mom’s cramps were so bad during her period that she would have to take the entire week off from school to cope with them. She eventually was prescribed birth control, to which she had negative side effects, and later came off of. My mom had never really shared her birth control experience with me outside of her warning me, rather heavily discouraging me from ever taking it.
“If you are blessed with women in your life who speak openly and shamelessly about their periods, then the burden of these experiences may have been lessened.”
I’ve considered birth control; not necessarily for its contraceptive purposes, but because of its ability to ease the pain that comes from cramps. Still a defense mechanism, but in another context.
For some, a girl’s first period marks the day that she “becomes a woman.” It can be a “beautiful” thing, but many women go through painful and horrible experiences every month as a result of this bloody gift.
PMS, bloating, and mood swings are all associated with periods and none of these are things to jump for joy over. For me, I used to rarely experience bloating, although as I get older it seems to increasingly become a factor. When I was younger, PMS and mood swings were never really a thing for me, but during my university years and onward, I experienced very low lows and very high highs.
I’m thankful that when I got my period, my mother was able to open up and talk a bit about her own experiences. If you are blessed with women in your life who speak openly and shamelessly about their periods, then the burden of these experiences may have been lessened. Sadly far too many Black women share a similar experience of being left to learn and discover their bodies with little guidance from their elders, if any at all.
Speaking openly about menstruation, using affirming language along with educating our girls on this inevitable occurrence many will face, needs to become normalized within Black communities. We can help prepare young Black girls as they begin to venture into their own experience, and hopefully, one day eliminate the stigma that is attached to a woman’s period. I think that if we come together and begin to make “period-talk” more common, over time we can dismantle the stigmatization of our bodies, a byproduct of the patriarchal society in which we exist.
Let’s start the conversation and make periods a bit more bearable, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.