How My Period Landed Me In Hospital

Photographed by Ruby Woodhouse.
Around this time last year, I was straddling one of the toilets at work as I hurriedly scooped my own excess menstrual blood into the bowl. This had become a bit of a routine after seven solid days of heavy bleeding. Only, this time, the exertion of panic-scooping meant that I fainted.
I came to a moment later, slumped on the toilet with two bloody handprints smeared on my thighs. It was at this point I thought, 'Maybe I should seek medical help'. But I didn’t. I went and bought a steak instead, and ravenously ate it straight out of the frying pan. It had only been a week, after all, and I still had the blind confidence that my beautiful, functioning body would get its shit together by itself.
By the second week, the bleeding had got more intense and I was spending a small fortune on maxi pads and super tampons, even though by this stage a rolled-up beach towel would’ve been more effective. I truly cannot explain the severity of this menstruation – it was like the elevator scene in The Shining. It was the sole prop-blood supplier to Ichi the Killer. It was Carrie at her prom, except with chunkier blood and, like, gross phlegmy bits thrown in. It was the kind of period where you’re worried that not only will dogs come and feverishly smell your crotch in the street, but sharks and bears will wander out of the ocean and woods like, “You aight, B?”

During one office meeting, fidgeting in my seat became a game of jeopardy

It had gotten so life-engulfing that I couldn’t concentrate on work. Instead I’d have daydreams about red meat dinners and started to introduce myself to people by how long I’d been menstruating. During one office meeting, fidgeting in my seat became a game of jeopardy, as I felt a globule of blood bypass both the tampon and pad I was wearing, and slide into the seat of my trousers. Paralysed at the thought of my only contribution to a pitch meeting being a puddle of menses, I shimmied out and tearfully had another blood-scooping session in the toilets.
Going into the third week, I’d stopped freaking out because I was too busy constantly fucking napping. I could no longer muster up the energy to cook more steak dinners, the colour had completely left my face, to the point where my lips were grey, and I was so weak I couldn’t even grip my iPhone properly to send the email saying I wasn't going to make it into work. It was at this point I decided enough was enough and I had to drag myself to a walk-in clinic. An hour and one blood test later, I was shocked and a little embarrassed to be swiftly transferred to A&E.

There I was, sat between cardiac arrests and car accidents, wearing what I can only describe as a menstrual nappy

Even though I’d spent a good chunk of the past month witnessing my growler transform into a tap for cranberry sauce every time I dropped my pants, there’s something about your period landing you in hospital that seems a bit melodramatic. Part of me felt I should just stoically see it through to the end and/or bleed to death. But there I was, sat between cardiac arrests and car accidents, wearing what I can only describe as a menstrual nappy.
A few hours later and having narrowly avoided the need for a blood transfusion, I was sent home with an arsenal of medication to stop the bleeding and pump me full of iron for the sudden state of anaemia I’d perioded myself into.
The eventual diagnosis was an exhilarating combination of "stress" and a dodgy copper IUD (intrauterine device), and then getting more stressed at the constant bleeding. Previous to having my IUD fitted, my periods had been such a non-event; I’d been able to skip out of the house mid-flow with only a panty liner. But during some fun (unrelated) uterus surgery, I thought I’d get a full reproductive health MOT and had been sold on the copper IUD as the lazy girl’s go-to contraceptive. I was warned my periods and cramping may become a little heavier, but I thought it’d mean huddling on the sofa with some ice cream and a hot water bottle, which is what we all do when we’re on the rag amirite laydeez?
Nope – fast-forward a couple of months and I was instead rolling around my floor cramping, considering attempting to fish out my own IUD with just some lube and a prayer. Now, while I realise one woman’s nightmare contraceptive is another’s dream, the whole ordeal got me thinking about how apprehensive the majority of us are to talk about periods, on top of how antiquated contraceptive options are. It's no secret that a lot of women have problems with their contraceptive, giving them life-ruining side-effects.

I was one of those grown women that’d discreetly ask for a “thingy” if I needed to borrow a tampon and then hide it in a cupped hand like I was on my way to shoot up in the toilets

Besides all the bizarre sanitary towel adverts with blue gel instead of blood and women windsurfing, prior to my mega-bleed I was one of those grown women that’d discreetly ask for a “thingy” if I needed to borrow a tampon and then hide it in a cupped hand like I was on my way to shoot up in the toilets. I’d also gladly talk about the occasions where I’d shat or pissed myself (norovirus and a night out in Essex, respectively), but would’ve aggressively steered away from any bleeding-through chat, or “flooding” as we like to call it in the traumatic menses community.
This all changed after being hospitalised. I chose to go back on the pill, which – though by no means perfect – meant that, if I didn’t want to bleed every month, I didn’t have to. So I was kind of pissed off when more than a few of my friends’ reactions were, “Oh, but periods are natural! You should just come off all contraceptives! You should let your body run its natural course!” Maybe my friends are just hippies or maybe, just maybe, it’s 2017 and there should be a foolproof and long-term solution that allows me to opt for better control over my periods.
Does any woman enjoy their period? Does any woman think, 'Ok cool, time for a week of plugging my vag while my crotch smells like pennies – and throw in some bile-spitting mood swings, too?' What I learned from my experience is that our attitude towards our own menstruation shouldn’t be a heady mix of shame and long-suffering acceptance. Instead we should go forth and regale everyone with each other’s gross period stories and realise that, nope, we don't always have to put up with the pain and the shame. Use animations and interpretative dance if needed, but just keep talking about periods.

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