I met Sandra (name changed), a Nigerian YouTube content creator, through a mutual friend, and we had conversations about several topics in the short time we spoke. Our conversation moved to our personal experiences. Sandra told me about her struggles with painful periods and their effect on her life and career.
14-year-old Sandra did not think she would be experiencing horrible period pains (menstrual cramps), possibly for the rest of her reproductive life, when the first few drops of blood ran down her thighs in Junior Secondary School. For the first two years, she had no symptoms or pains. At 21, Sandra was diagnosed with Endometriosis after years of debilitating pain and false diagnoses. Now 23 years old, Sandra dreads her next menstrual cycle.
@thefemalelead @thesheertruth Sasheer Zamata: “Doctors are saying that the pain of #periodcramps is equivalent to the pain of a heart attack” #comedian #feminist ♬ original sound – The Female Lead
With the growth in science, people find better ways to deal with pain. However, treatment for menstrual disorders comes at a cost that many women cannot pay. Menstruation is regarded as a sign of fertility in biological women, and they pay a high price for it.
Culture and menstruation
It was a general belief that menstruation was a rite of passage to womanhood. Young girls looked forward to this transition into womanhood. For years, people have tiptoed around the subject. Many women have had to learn about their bodies through their own experiences.
Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton and Emily Toth, in their book “The Curse; A Cultural History of Menstruation”, say that “the blood that flowed from menstruation did not bring death and was a mystery in the beginning. Early men made the womb a goddess, and it was believed that she would ensure safety from destruction. When this safety was no longer needed because hunting was replaced by farming, the man isolated the menstruating woman”.
Also known as a period, it occurs naturally every month. In the simplest term, it is the woman’s telling her that she can get pregnant, but she is not pregnant. Often, menstruation comes with symptoms like abdominal cramps, tender breasts, fatigue, bloating, bowel issues,m headaches, lower back pain, trouble sleeping, etc.
During menstruation, many women experience pains. Period pains are scientifically known as dysmenorrhea. Primary Dysmenorrhea is considered normal, while secondary dysmenorrhea often points to underlying health conditions. Some underlying health issues are Endometriosis, Fibroid and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
Every month when Sandra lays curled up like a fetus in tears, she remembers the time before she received the “Period Curse”. “The pain gets so intense. I cannot function,” She says that the pain has gotten so intense that she does not believe simple painkillers work.
“The energy I get from Doctors is discouraging”,. she said. “One time, I went to the medical centre at my university, and the doctor told me my muscles were squeezing”. She said the doctor prescribed a painkiller called Buscopan and sent her home. “I felt like I was not listened to”. Sandra added that another doctor advised her to get married and have children before it became too late.
Endometriosis is a disorder that affects many women like Sandra. It is a disorder in which similar tissues to those lining the uterus grow outside the cavity. It is one of the causes of secondary dysmenorrhea.
Dr Emmanuel Ofuasia, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Croydon University Centre, in Seminar titled “Endometriosis and Infertility”, said that Endometriosis affects 1 in 4 women in the reproductive age group. Sandra is one of these 1 in 4 women worldwide. He also noted that the current theory is that endometriosis is hereditary, as he had seen mothers and their daughters have a laparoscopy. He stresses that excision of Ovarian Endometrioma is a controversial procedure because of the risk of damage to ovarian reserves.
Endometriosis could cause infertility
According to Dr Ofuasia, Ovarian Endometriosis is found in 40% of women with endometriosis and 50% of infertile women. He advised that women of the reproductive age with endometriosis freeze their eggs. He also said that oral contraceptives would impede fertility and shut down the ovaries to reduce symptoms. Surgery is, therefore, usually the last resort.
Over-the-Counter Pain relievers like Ibuprofen can help to control the pain from cramps. However, it is advised to seek the opinion of a gynaecologist.
In an Instagram video, famous Nigerian actor and content creator Zainab Balogun opened up about her tumultuous battle with endometriosis. She considered it her fault that she was suffering during her period. She spoke about how she felt she was not living her best life due to her health condition. She also said she had to have surgery because her “endo” cells were aggressive.
In an article with Vogue, Lena Dunham, Girl’s (2012-2017) creator, talked about her decision to get a hysterectomy at 31. The hysterectomy surgery is done in extreme cases.
When Sandra was asked if she was aware of the long term effect of taking strong painkillers, she said, “All the best to everybody. The way it is, I am dying already.” Taking painkillers for a long while can be detrimental to the kidney.
In some rural communities, women with secondary dysmenorrhea cannot afford the luxury of medicine and surgery. They, therefore, have to live with the hand they are dealt for the rest of their reproductive lives.