I got so sick of hiding my period symptoms at work, so I just told it like it was
I was on my period and passing a blood clot…
I never thought that as a professional I would have to explain the physical symptoms of my period. Until I did.
Last year during what would be one of the top five worst periods of my life, I was also flying across the country to attend a work conference.
If you have never had to sit on a 6-hour flight whilst on day 2 of your period, consider yourself lucky.
After landing, instead of being able to retire to my hotel and nurse my excruciating cramps and body pains, I was expected to attend a 5-hour meeting. Trying to mask my physical and emotional period symptoms proved unsuccessful. Which I would later learn in the form of “feedback” about my less than friendly demeanor and questions about leaving the room multiple times.
I thought that explaining the other reasons why I was not feeling well would suffice: one of my best friends was recently diagnosed with stage three cancer, and I was missing my little sister’s birthday. Instead, I was met with less than sympathetic reactions. After being berated for ten minutes about my behavior and lack of friendliness, I broke.
“I was on day two of my period and passing blood clots. I didn’t want to bleed on the chair.”
Maybe I could’ve said this more eloquently. But frankly, I didn’t care.
Surprisingly, my declaration of period cramps and blood clots was accepted with little to no commentary. I assume because one of the people on the call was a man, but also because it was the first time someone openly described their period symptoms and how it affected their work.
This plays into a larger narrative that as a woman, I’m expected to be everything to everyone. Friendly. Accommodating. Assertive, but not aggressive. Vocal but not too loud. Confident but not cocky.
And even though I bleed consecutively 3-5 days each month, I should pretend it’s not happening and work through whatever physical reactions I have.
I’m sick of it.
Having a period should not be taboo.
It should not be a surprise to anyone if I show up with a heating pad at my desk. Or that I make frequent trips to the bathroom to change my tampon.
When it comes to my reproductive health and how I handle it, it shouldn’t be a conversation. It should just, be.
From that point on, I’ve refused to shy away from talking about my period at work, when it’s relevant.
When I’m feeling lethargic and like I can’t get out of bed in the morning, I’ll email my manager that I’ll be starting later than usual. If later they ask how I’m feeling, I have no problem explaining that it was just really bad cramps and I needed to lie in the fetal position for an hour before I could start my day.
Like most new initiatives, it hasn’t been completely accepted. There are still awkward pauses and blank stares when I bring up my period, or that my cramps were the reason I had to miss happy hour.
My thought process is that change is never easy, and if I have to deal with the uncomfortableness to get this point across, I’ll do so.
As with my previous stands against sexist workplace practices regarding dress codes and unfair work expectations across race and gender, there was some initial pushback. People weren’t psyched to be talking about such things as sexism, even though we preach practicing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Women’s issues seem to take a back seat when an organization is focusing on diversity, not recognizing that it can do both.
I am a black woman. I care about women of color, people of color, and women’s issues equally.
This is why intersectionality is important. Focusing on one issue at a time isn’t efficient, and it isn’t realistic. We can be working to make a workplace better for poc, lgbtq+, and women simultaneously. Without making any of these marginalized groups feel like their issues are any less important than the other.
We are all complex beings and should be able to express ourselves as we see fit.
It may be a bit uncomfortable or awkward at first, but my hope is to destigmatize periods and their symptoms as taboo.