As a woman, and particularly as a Mum to two girls, I refuse to adhere to the unwritten rules of society that discussing periods should remain a taboo. Particularly amongst the older generation, periods are not something to be shared, still referred to in whispered voices as “Time of the month”, discreetly dealt with but never discussed. In this day and age that shouldn’t be the case, and I refuse to raise my girls in the same way.
And because of these taboos, 1 in 5 women suffer from heavy periods with the majority of women unaware that this is a medical condition which can be treated. NHS England defines a heavy period as passing more the 60ml of menstrual blood, whereas the average amount of blood lost is 30-40ml. Heavy periods (Menorrhagia) can lead to many side effects including fatigue and anaemia, reduced immunity and severe pain. They can also have a psychological impact such as depression, anxiety and lack of confidence.
I found it interesting to learn that although many women experience heavy periods from a young age, many only experience it after the ages of 30 or 40, such as when they stop taking the contraceptive pill or after having children, and this is exactly as it was for me.
Prior to having children I was one of those really annoying women who had very light periods, lasting just a couple of days each month, and whilst my friends were creased over with hot water bottles and pain relief, my periods didn’t impact on my life whatsoever.
After having my fifth baby, with the return of my periods, I instantly knew that something was different. My periods were suddenly very heavy, way more painful and I was left feeling absolutely drained each month. For the first year I put it down to hormones, assuming that it was normal, that my body was taking a little time to regulate post-birth.
By the second year, when routine bloods showed I was anaemic, I told the doctor that my periods were heavier than normal and was told this was completely normal after having a baby. I was simply sent home with a prescription for iron tablets and told to eat more leafy green vegetables.
As time went on and my periods worsened, I felt foolish for going back to the GP when he had been so dismissive, so I made the mistake of not going, and spent that entire year feeling wiped out for ten days out of every month, something which hugely impacted on my day to day life.
By Harry’s third birthday my periods had worsened so not only was I bleeding heavily each month, but now I was bleeding in-between periods. Somewhat reluctantly I had returned to the doctor who again was quite dismissive. He told me that it sounded like “one of those things” and suggested it may be the start of the menopause. At 37 this was not impossible, but I certainly felt that it was unlikely. I returned home feeling as though this was something I would simply have to live with.
Months later, having discussed the bleeding with friends, they encouraged me to go back to the doctor who remained dismissive. He offered me the solution of going back on the contraceptive pill to regulate my periods and help with the irregular bleeding. Given that Gaz had a vasectomy, I was reluctant to agree, but in my desperation I agreed to trial it for three months, during which time the bleeding continued and my periods did not improve.
After the third trip to the doctor I was finally sent for blood tests, including the CA12 test to determine the possibility of ovarian cancer. When that result came back far higher than expected, I was rushed in for an ultrasound scan, and my anxiety was through the roof. The scan showed no obvious cysts or abnormalities, and yet I was referred to gynaecology who conducted a series of tests of their own including a hysteroscopy and biopsies. By this point I was bleeding every single day and not only did I find the whole process hugely worrying and upsetting, but it was starting to have a real impact on my mental health.
In a recent survey 74% of women said that they experienced anxiety, and 69% depression caused by heavy periods, and this came as no surprise to me. Excessive, and extended bleeding really does put a huge strain on your life, and with 72% of women saying it affected their sex life, I can absolutely relate to this too. Although, as parents to young children, Gaz and I are not jumping on each other every opportunity we get, I think a marriage does need that level of intimacy and for us we found that without it, our marriage hit a rocky patch at that time.
With my mental health suffering, my marriage under strain and still bleeding excessively, it was an entire 12 months before I was finally diagnosed with heavy periods, offered medication (Tranexamic acid) and put on the waiting list for an endometrial ablation. I felt relieved that something was finally being done, but disappointed that it had taken so long.
With hindsight, had I known that heavy periods is an actual medical condition, I would have been more forceful with my GP when he dismissed my concerns. This is why it is so important to raise awareness, which is where the Am I Number 5 campaign comes in. Wear White Again have united with Endometriosis UK and Wellbeing of Women to raise awareness of heavy periods.
To join in all you need to do is paint one finger nail on each hand a different colour, to symbolise the 1 in 5 women, and share a photo of your nails on social media using the hashtag #aminumber5 with a link to www.wearwhiteagain.co.uk. For every photo shared publicly, Wear White Again will donate £1 to their charity partners Endometriosis UK (www.endometriosis-uk.org) and Wellbeing of Women (www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk).
** This is a collaborative post **