One of the girls in my class goes around asking all the other girls whether they’ve had their “TOM” yet. We all say, “Yes.” I only got mine 3 months ago, so I’m relieved that I’m now able to say “yes” (and not be the odd one out). If the boys overhear us we hope they won’t know what we’re talking about (hopefully they’ll think we’re just complaining about some poor guy called “Tom”). TOM stands for Time of the Month. Time of the Month is a vague way of saying “Period,” and “Period” is a more polite way of saying “Menstruation” (which itself comes from the word ‘mens’ meaning ‘month’). So TOM is sort of like a euphemism of a euphemism of a euphemism.
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I am staying at my grand parents’ house for the weekend. I get my period on Sunday morning. I take a shower, and part way through my shower my cramps suddenly get worse. I get out of the shower & get dressed as quickly as possible, while doubling over. When I walk into the lounge my grandmother gets me a hot water bottle and some paracetamol (acetaminophen), which never helps me with my periods, but might act a placebo. She says, “I used to get bad periods like you do.” When she says that, it makes me feel like my painful cramps are less abnormal. I lie down on the couch, watching cricket on TV with my grandfather to distract myself from the pain until it is over. The pain completely disappears within the next 30 minutes.
I am at a campsite with my family. I go to use the shower, and I discover that I’ve got my period. The cramps get really bad. I have to struggle to get myself dry, dressed, and out of the shower block. I wait at the table outside the shower block because I am in too much pain to walk back to my cabin. A few women come out of the shower block & are concerned about me, but then my Mum arrives and she stays with me.
I am having a shower at home, and my period cramps get so painful that I have to end the shower quickly. I vomit in the bathtub. Once I am dressed, I stumble down to the lounge and curl up on the couch. I am in too much pain to get myself paracetemol or a hot water bottle (I am afraid that I will burn myself when trying to pour the hot water into the bottle because I am unable to concentrate). My mother comes in, and brings me paracetemol and a hottie. She tells me, “I didn’t used to get periods as painful as yours when I was at school.” This is the first conversation I remember having with her about periods since I got my first period two years ago. In about half an hour the pain subsides and I get ready to go to school.
My mother takes me to my male doctor to get my blood tested to see if I am anemic. She does this because she gets anemic when she has her period. My doctor asks me, “How heavy are your periods?” I’m not sure how to answer. Periods are treated as very private, personal matters (how do I know how heavy my periods are when I can’t compare them those of with other girls?) I look at my Mum. She says, “I think you have light periods, don’t you?” I say, “Yes.” The doctor jots this down, then he takes my blood. A week later the blood test results come back. I am not anemic.
I am in Maths class. I got my period earlier that morning, and I have had cramps all day. During the Maths lesson the intensity of the pain builds up rapidly, and I suddenly find myself in too much pain to go to the sick bay – I don’t think that I can stand up. My stomach feels like it is tying itself into knots, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It is 10 minutes to the end of the lesson. I am worried that when the bell rings I won’t be able to stand up – or, if I can stand up, that I won’t be able to walk. I worry that I will have to be carried out of class. I pray that I will be able to walk out that door when the class is over. The bell goes, and I find that I am able to stand up & walk. My friend walks with me to the sick bay. Half way there, I tell my friend that I need to sit down for a moment, but she encourages me to keep going. I make it to the sick bay. The first thing the nurse says when she sees me is, “Do you have your period?” This question surprises me. Does she get girls coming in like this often? I thought that I was an anomaly, I had no idea that this amount of period pain was so common. The nurse pointed to a spare room, “You can use that room, it is empty.” My friend leaves, and I lie down on one of the beds in the sickbay. I keep changing positions every few minutes, hoping to get some relief. I sit on the floor, I pull my knees into my stomach, I rock. The nurse comes in to give me some paracetemol. A boy comes into the sickbay and lies on the bed next to mine (I have to stop contorting my body into weird shapes, because he would think I was strange). Thankfully, the pain is subsiding quickly now, and soon it has disappeared altogether, leaving me in peace. My body is exhausted. I sleep for two hours, then I return to class.
I woke up this morning with my period. I am walking to school now despite the pain. The pain is so severe that I feel nauseous, and I think that I will vomit. I keep wondering, will I vomit before I reach the next corner? No. Will I vomit before I reach the next corner? I do this all the way to school (a 30 minute walk). I make it to school without vomiting, and feel completely better about an hour or so later.
My cramps are really painful this morning. The last time that I walked to school with cramps this painful it was really difficult & I almost vomited on the way – so I decide that I will not go to school today unless my parents can give me a lift. I tell my parents this (I don’t tell them why I am sick because I don’t talk about periods in front of my Dad). My Dad grumbles (I don’t look sick to him) but he reluctantly gives me a lift.
I have very painful cramps this morning, I can barely take a shower & I vomit after my shower. I have had enough of this. I decide that I am not going to school when I am in this much pain. No one should go to school when they are in this much pain. This is the first time I’ve had a day off school because of my period.