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Periods in a Pandemic

By Holly Miller

There is nothing irregular experienced during March’s menstruation for me: midway through my break from the pill, it comes, it causes a bit of a commotion and it leaves again for another three weeks. But there is nothing normal about this period in comparison to every other one I’ve had. The whole thing just feels wrong.

In the name of destigmatising female menstruation, I think it’s an important topic that isn’t front-page news at the moment. Understandably, with the accumulation of crises that the world is experiencing at the moment, you won’t see headlines outlining a shortage of contraceptives like the pill plastered at the top of the news. Therefore it is essential, as this topic is continually forced into the corner of conversation, that we shed light onto the discussion.

Part of what people stockpiled was sanitary products in the US, according to Global Citizen. Dana Marlowe, the founder of women’s health organisation to end period poverty ‘I Support the Girls’, rightly stated that “Periods don't stop for pandemics.” Those who are already adversely affected by period poverty will now be at an even greater disadvantage because of limited access to products in shops. In the UK period poverty charities such as HeyGirl (which operates on a ‘buy one: give one’ policy for their shop for reusable period products, such as menstrual cups and period underwear), Freedom4Girls and periodpovertyuk now have a greater battle in helping those who already are affected by period poverty through these tough months to come. During the peak of stockpiling, a few days before lockdown was announced, my housemate went to buy her sister (who lives in London) period products because there were none in the shops there. All that was left were the expensive, branded items, she told me, which again disadvantages those who cannot afford it. This pandemic will create a greater disparity between those who can and cannot afford period products during this extended time in lockdown.

As periods are such an individual, ever changing experience in a woman’s life, the fact that the intensity of emotions, migraines, pain - that sometimes feels like someone is ringing your organs tighter and tighter around themselves until they are unleashed in a bloom of cramping nightmares - all still goes on whilst we’re in lockdown, seems incredibly unbalanced. I wanted to address my uterus directly, stare it down and say, ‘Really? We’re doing this now? With a global pandemic!?’ But I was lucky enough that I could lay down for a day, had access to painkillers and could watch Tiger King from start to finish. Others, with different circumstances and more pressing situations, won’t have this luxury.

As the BBC reported in 2018, “both anecdotes and academic research point to a disturbing trend: in the medical industry, there’s a long history of dismissing women’s pain.” It has taken repeated doctor’s appointments, countless same conversations that hit the same, dead-end walls through my life before I was sent for an ultrasound scan of my ovaries. I was told that intense menstrual pain is normal, that almost passing out from the intense shooting pains raking through my body were to be expected. A ‘normal’ period, from anecdotes from most of my female friends is that the bleeding and the pain becomes so intense that it transcends painkillers. It disturbs your sleep, it has caused some of the most guttural lows I’ve ever experienced and ruined my life for a week each month, for years on end. It makes me worry what will be ignored during the next few months, with limited access to painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol that have been stockpiled by panicked shoppers and leaves only the branded items if you’re lucky. Despite the NHS website now saying that there is no strong evidence that links the worsening of coronavirus symptoms to ibuprofen consumption, they still recommend that if you’re displaying coronavirus symptoms to take paracetamol to alleviate pain. This will lead to some avoiding ibuprofen as a double precaution and therefore not treating the pain caused by their periods, despite there being little evidence to do so at the minute. The virus attacks in ways that are not yet fully known and to what extent yet, resulting in other still demanding, but what can often be viewed as ‘normal’, pains becoming secondary.

This shock, the crisis, will have an untold effect on our bodies and for women, hugely impacting how we operate daily. Cortisol, the stress hormone, released in excess (due to stress) can “suppress normal levels of reproductive hormone, which could potentially lead to abnormal ovulation, therefore disrupting your cycle” according to Dr Sarah Toler speaking to Insider. It is unclear how the mass underlying stress of the coronavirus pandemic will affect our periods down the line, but it is important to be kind to ourselves and our bodies during this unprecedented, frightening time. My friend can no longer get the coil fitted, others who have just come off the pill will be experiencing up to six months of irregularity before their period settles down again. What may seem as small inconveniences compared to the scale of the trauma lockdown and coronavirus, actually have wider implications that can make the next few months more difficult than we could anticipate. So, if your hormones make you cry more, or kick you in the back with pain, take each day as it comes and adopt the mantra of ‘each day at a time.’ With no foreseeable end to lockdown, it is important to respect your body’s limits and give yourself time to recover day by day.

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