When I first saw the pictures of Kiran Gandhi celebrating at the end of the London Marathon, I admit I was a little taken aback. It’s blatant, it’s out there, you can’t miss her personal business. Because for me that’s what it is. Personal. But reading the article and hearing her words as to why she chose to make this statement I began to think about my experiences with my period. Just because it is personal doesn’t mean it should be hidden away. I don’t know much about the treatment of women and their periods in other countries [read Ms Gandhi’s article to learn more about it] but I do know how we treat them here in Ireland. Every second minute there’s an advert on TV for how to have a happier period. My girlfriends and I often discuss the highs and mainly lows of Aunt Flo coming to town. And aside from a very embarrassing incident in Paris when I was 22 I haven’t really had to deal with it in public. So it would appear we are very open about it all. But are we really? Call in sick with ‘women issues’ to your male boss and see how quickly he gets off the phone. Had that incident occurred in Ireland, would I still be living here? Or would I be hiding under a rock somewhere deep in a nest of shame?
I collapsed on a bus once because of my period. I was 22, living in Paris and on my friends couch. So the stress levels were at an all time high. I unexpectedly got it while waiting for the bus home. I’ll never forget the feeling of nausea coursing through my body, how quickly it came on. I was on the bus now and just needed to get home. A fellow passenger noticed my peaky exterior and suggested I move to the seat behind where there was a small window. The bus was packed and while I tried to drink the water they gave me and breath in some of the air, I could only concentrate on not collapsing. Sweat bucketed down my face. The nausea and cramps overtaking me. I felt as though I had been drugged. I could barely talk to explain my predicament. Fearing the worst, they eventually alerted the bus driver who had to call an ambulance. Several passengers had to help me to the back of the bus as my legs were like jelly. I lay down on the backseat, the paramedics trying to assess me. All I remember, through the moritification that my period had spilled on to my jeans, and the overwhelming desire to sleep, was one paramedic clicking his fingers at me and yelling ‘Ouvrez les yeux, ouvrez les yeux’. I won’t go into detail of what happened next but suffice to say that we shared an intimacy I’ll never forget.
After being sure I hadn’t had a miscarriage (yes, though I didn’t realise this until YEARS later), they brought me to the hospital. The doctor gave me a few tablets and sent me home. Maybe had I been in Ireland he might have advised me to have tests or at least go on the pill to help regulate the ‘terror’. Because what happened on that bus was not normal. But it took one of my girlfriends to convince me of that. No one talked to me. I felt quite depressed and dejected afterwards. None of my colleagues understood what I had been through. I honestly felt as though I was being dismissed with ‘Oh it’s just your period.’ Okay it wasn’t life threatening, but it was emotionally draining and frankly quite scary. And even when I came back to Ireland, it wasn’t much better. So while we’re busy talking about happy periods and ways to not let these silly things interrupt our lives, we are brushing aside the hard truth some women have to deal with. And I’m lucky. I went on the pill and everything settled down. But I’ve some friends who have struggled with a lot more. And yet, we’re lucky that we live in developed countries where we can talk about it and push for answers, should we need them.
So yes, the sight of blood on Gandhi’s trousers was a little disconcerting, but I think she is really brave. Gandhi was making a statement not to be ignored. Periods are a fact of life. Let’s not be shamed by them. Let’s not shame each other by falling into a societal embarrassment at the sight of blood. And let’s open men up to them a little more. I’ve a friend who goes weak at the knees, quite literally, at the mention of menstruation, in particular menstrual blood. It’s a fact of life, I tell him. Your future girlfriend will have one. So too will your daughters. He’s on the floor right now, pale as a lily, rocking in the fetal position, which I remind him is how he stayed before coming out of his mother’s vagina.
Ha, maybe! But the shock factor seems to be the only way to catch some people’s attention.
P.S. Many thanks to Kiran Gandhi for allowing me to post her image on my blog.