My story dates back to when I was a little girl. Vibrant, young like most girls about my age.
I was 11 years old then, in my primary 6 when I first saw my period.
Quite young I should say. The naive girl in me was actually happy at the time coz you know
I’d heard nearly everywhere that receiving your period was a sign you would be able to have your own children and I wanted to have my own someday. I still want to.
Unknown to me though were the troubles that came with a period. But at the time I didn’t know much of course so it was like slap in the face when I went to secondary school. I was 13 then in my senior 1 and it hit me hard but it was just getting started. Now that I think of it, there had been signs everywhere that I wasn’t going to have it easy.
I’d been having super irregular periods for the rest of my primary and there’d be really heavy sometimes but never lasted more than a week then. And my older sisters and aunt convinced me my cycle was changing and that was why the period was heavy. I believed them. At least it gave my little self some hope then that I’d have a more manageable flow.
Still stuck to my mind like glue are two incidents that nearly destroyed my childhood. About primary 7 then, the president was visiting my district and my school was one of the schools joining the match. Oh the excitement we had! And being a vibrant child as I mentioned, I took part a decision I regretted by the end of that day. I was in my period and it was stupid heavy. I got permission from a female teacher of mine to leave, she even paid a boda to drop me at school.
My skirt was drenched in blood and by the time I got off the boda his cushion literally had my blood flowing all over it. I was sad to leave his cushion that way so I quickly wiped the blood with what was left dry of my skirt. I wanted to run but I couldn’t coz that would mean practically releasing a tap. So I took tiny steps, holding my legs together so I could leave as little traces of blood as possible. By then I could feel the blood flow down my legs to my socks. It was as though I didn’t have a pad on. Well I didn’t give myself time to think and take in what had just happened. I quickly washed up, changed and returned to the grounds where I’d left my colleagues. They were having lunch then and when my school director saw me, she asked why I’d changed coz I was wearing a different uniform from the others. Of course I couldn’t mention what had happened before everyone so I quietly got food and as I walked away she said out loud that I was disturbed by adolescence. Now when you’re a child, some things are really offensive and demeaning so they are not to be said to children. I remember that became my name for nearly the rest of the term. Wherever I passed, children whispered or so they thought coz I heard them calling me “adolescence.”
Maybe I overreacted but I was actually depressed and could not talk to anyone. I nearly cried my eyes out. I remember hating my director at that time though we were family friends.
Well I took out the little courage that had been locked away somewhere in me and threatened two of the boys in my class who’d been calling me by that label I hated and surprisingly, they were terrified and so the name stilled. I’d got a little bit of my esteem back and I was happy again.
The imbalance stayed away for a while and I didn’t even know it had been the imbalance. So I thought everything would be alright. How could I have been so terrible at guessing? But you know with hormonal imbalance it’s not an easy thing to be sure. So like a wolf that had been studying its prey for a while it attacked again. More fiercely this time like a long lost friend that couldn’t wait to be reunited with me. My senior 1 the year that started to raise questions in my head. I wondered what this really was. If it was a cycle transition, why didn’t everyone else, anyone at least have it. But I had to wait to get my answers.
A period so heavy I’d never seen that much blood, I couldn’t sit for an hour without soiling my dress as though I’d sat in a bucket of water. I was lucky my uniform was maroon so the stain pretty much looked like water before it dried up so I’d just have to hold on till the teacher walked out so I could walk slowly to the washroom. I couldn’t run because I didn’t really have the strength I’d lost a lot of blood. Besides, running terribly increased the flow. Well at first I thought it would stop like everyone else’s. Well it did, after nearly two months. My blood levels had deteriorated, I was abnormally pale, I couldn’t engage in much physical activity, I’d lost a lot of blood but of course I didn’t know that was why. I kept it to myself and the few friends who’d given me packets of sanitary towels as I had long run out of mine and used up the money I had buying the ones I had used up.
Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on but you keep going anywayAnonymous
And so the year went by, painfully but I didn’t really mention not even to my mother. I hoped things would change. Well they did. They got worse.
The next term, I was in Senior 2 then. I bled like a slaughtered cow. I was only alive because of an unseen power above. This time I decided I’d seek help. So I went to the sick bay, my nurses told me I was stressed coz we were writing our end of term exam. They told me to drink water and exercise as though I had the strength. I was practically being given ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and I didn’t see how it would help my situation. Besides the nurses had told me to rest much, yet I couldn’t even sleep well without literally pouring out blood on my bed. I’d pad 3 sanitary towels at ago instead of the usual 1 so at least I’d need to change after about an hour.
I bled till slightly colored water started flowing instead of the usual red blood. I remember soiling my Sunday white uniform and people thought I’d sat on water. But of course I knew what had happened. My used pads would be full but barely any color to show it was a period. I was extremely weak, my pace had been greatly reduced to tiny slow steps. I had to start my journey early if I was to make it in time for my exam.
I was living on borrowed time. I could feel it when I woke up that particular morning, everyone was reading for the paper we had at around 9 am but I could barely raise my head. It took me all the strength I had to get up. I needed to bathe to clean up. And as I walked to the bathroom I whispered prayers to God to please not let me fall in the bathroom. He held me because as I scooped water from the bucket and poured it over my head I don’t know if any water actually reached my back. My hands were lifeless and quickly swung back to my sides. Walking out of that bathroom felt like my feet were walking on air and the minute I stepped out of the door, I blacked out. The rest of the day constituted me regaining consciousness and fainting again.
My condition alarmed my school nurses and I was rushed out of school to a referral hospital where I was just given iron medication as we waited for my dad to come pick me up. When he came he pretty much didn’t understand what was wrong with me, we went home. And the next day went to hospital, my hemoglobin Level had dropped from 4 out of the normal which is about 12 to around 3.7. I was transfused immediately but I was put in gyn ward with women who had suffered miscarriages or given birth. I was the center of attention since I was the youngest and most of them were under the impression that I’d aborted. It was a difficult time not having my mother around at first but I pulled through. That’s when I first learned of hormonal imbalance and I was told it was normal for people about my age. The doctors said the imbalance would stop when I made 20 years of age. And so I anxiously awaited my 20th birthday hoped it would be the last year I had a heavy period. I bled heavily again that year and the year after that with each becoming worse.
Iron medication and medicine to stop bleeding became my reality… My nurses required me to show them before I was let into school. I had visited so many gynecologists and some referred me to those I’d already seen. I tried several treatments, some worked for a few days then didn’t work anymore. I took suggestions from people from what had worked for someone they knew and my situation got worse. I had several scans done and they all said my system was fine. It was just the hormonal imbalance. Tried even those contraceptives and I bled like never before. I took herbal concoctions, bitter, fowl smelling, weird colors but nothing changed. I hated my life. Looked at my classmates and asked God why I wasn’t like them. Why it was me who had to go through that. Of course I didn’t understand that we all have our individual battles. I lost count of the times I asked God to let me die. The thought of the pain my mother and sister would suffer kept me going.
The one that actually hit my dad hard was the one in Senior 4 when he picked me from school and I actually seemed stronger than usual except for my extremely sick orange color. I smiled through that ordeal to date. I was fed up of fighting my body and resolved a “whatever will be will be” attitude. We stopped by a Mary Stopes clinic where we did some tests and I sat outside waiting for my results, two doctors came out and kept looking at me. They called me inside and my heart sunk when I saw my dad with his hands on his head, trying to take in the shock. Never seen him as helpless as that day. My blood levels were lower than before and the when the doctors said I may not make it home alive, my heart bled for my mother but I smiled still. I was rushed to the referral hospital there that good doctor, God bless him struggled to secure a unit of blood for me to enable me reach home and get more units. I was transfused cold blood because they said there wasn’t time to warm it. I sat through the experience as the hospital was extremely crowed. My father eventually secured a bed for me. My heart melted when I woke up in the night and found him seated on chair struggling to stay up. My father from that day treated me more gently like an egg or milk that shouldn’t spill.
Another year went by and each time I suffered from the bleeding I asked my parents not to take me to a gynecologist. First of all most of them started by asking if I had aborted or if I was pregnant. Plus they always said the same thing that it was hormonal imbalance and it would stabilize when I reached 20. Then they’d give me medication that I had already taken and didn’t work. I told my parents it was a waste of money and time but of course they couldn’t just sit there and watch the space. So we visited another gynecologist and got the same response.
Form 5 is the year I like to think of as my free year. I had my normal period about 4 days, regular flow and I believed the imbalance was no more. We had entertained the idea that it could have been an environment issue, so I went to a different school for my A’level (high school) and it seemed we we’re right. Until form 6 (final year of high school in Ug) came, like the imbalance had been reenergized after the break. I suffered a lot of irregular heavy periods through the year but managed to survive it. However as I anxiously waited for my vacation hoping it would be the best I could make of it, my period had other plans for me. Plans that turned into my reality. Plans I didn’t like. It was the first time I had a hormonal imbalance at home. The bleeding was out of this world. I had never wanted to let my mother see me in such a state. It broke my heart to see the pain in her eyes so I asked God for strength. To take care of the people I love and comfort them in case I died. I hadn’t prayed much about my situation in a while. You know I had long given up. Resigned myself to whatever came of it. It was about the time I took the decision to get baptized. The peace I felt that day was something I still can’t explain. Blood kept rushing down my legs like an overflowing tank. Yet as I went down and came out of that water, I had a smile on my lips.
Shortly after that day I almost died in the house. My mother had stepped out of the house for I while and left me wrapped up in my towel ready to take a bath. When she returned I was in the same place struggling to get up. I practically wrestled with my body to move. I managed to reach the wall and use it as my support. My heart was pounding in my eyes. A heart beat so strong, my body shook. My mother, with hands trembling and tears in her eyes held me and bathed me. Like a little girl. I was still bleeding even still. When my dad arrived, I was taken to hospital where my blood level greatly alarmed the doctors. I just smiled. My mom was terrified when we were told my heart almost stopped. I was at the door of heart failure. I prayed I wouldn’t be put in the gyn ward, I didn’t want to see inquisitive, judgmental eyes around me.
With each unit of blood I was given, I bleed out nearly two. I was losing more blood than I was being given and I wondered where the blood came from. Clots so big, that they hurt as they came out, poured out of me. I still can’t explain the pain I felt. Telling this incident feels like relieving the agony. My head hurt and heart ached in inexplicable ways. The doctors kept changing medication to try stop the bleeding. I told my sister and parents not to worry because in heaven I wouldn’t suffer any sickness. I smiled all through that ordeal and I can’t even explain why. The bleeding gradually reduced then stopped. I had another heavy period about a month after. Got anemic again but it was controlled. After that I pretty much had a “next to normal” period for the rest of the year.
The year that followed was something else. As I mentioned, the hormonal imbalance got worse each year instead of tending towards normal as the doctors had told me it would. It was sad that the year I turned 20, the year I’d waited anxiously for, the bleeding worsened. I had serious bleeding that lasted nearly 2 months right before my 20th birthday…………..
That story continues in the second half of my story. Thank you for reading.
Happy Eid al-Aha to all my Muslim sisters and brothers.
On this fifth part of our Brave Women, Unique Tales series we host an amazing lady, Lina. I honestly feel she’s so young and went through quite a lot but her strength and Faith in God did not let her give up. Period shaming, doctors lies and misdiagnosis, painful, heavy and uncomfortable menstrual cycle not forgetting the costs incurred to acquire sanitary towels (when you do the math it’s quite a lot of money) and hospital bills. Everyone in that family went through it with her and i appreciate the effort they put in. Dealing with invisible pain or illnesses is not for the weak.
I’m eager to read part 2 and can’t wait to share it with you. May God continue to work through me to create awareness, start conversations that will reach the gynecologists (we are tired of the half baked stories) and come up with enjoyable lifestyle options for us to live with our conditions. We deserve it!!