Girls, remember cocking your head at your mother when she said, “No beta, you can’t do puja today, you’re on your period.” Remember the look she gave you when you started wondering about tampons versus pads? Or how about the times you yelled and screamed, and then reduced yourself to tears all in a span of two minutes, simply because Anjali and Rahul got separated in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? Trust me, meri jaan…I’ve been there too.
I’m sure you all know how your bodies operate during your period, but why don’t we actually talk about it? Periods often get a bad rap in the South Asian community, because they are regarded as gross, as impure. You feel like crap, and much of the time you get treated like crap, simply because your uterus decided not to prepare your body for a pregnancy. Crazy, isn’t it? Like dude, I should receive a trophy for not getting pregnant this month. Why am I receiving my reward in the form of cramps? Well, here we go girls, take out your granny panties, your pads and/or tampons, and let’s jump into this Red Sea.
[Read More: “The Tale of my Period: How My ‘Ritushuddhi’ Ceremony Affirmed My Indian-American Identity“]
The Menstrual Cycle
I think the first question we all ask when we get our period is, “WHAT, WHY?!” What is this thing? Why am I having to deal with this, why is my body doing this to me, etc. Now, since males haven’t been blessed with the ability and endurance to bear children, apparently God or Hogwarts or whoever you think created life, decided that the responsibility fell to us females.
Menstruation, “getting a period,” is defined as the shedding of the endometrium, which is the inner lining of the uterus (womb). The entire menstrual cycle lasts for around 28 days. In these 28 days, you probably only feel one week of misery.
Our menstrual cycles are comprised of two major phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. A complete cycle isn’t necessarily exactly 28 days – it can very well be 27 days or even 31 days. Everyone’s body is slightly different, and 28 days is only an average.
According to the Center for Young Women’s Health, a menstrual cycle can be as short as 21 days and as long as 35 days. In these approximately 28 days, our body is constantly undergoing change, even though we don’t feel it all month.
Days 1-7: The uterine lining starts to crumble and signifies the beginning of the cycle, as well as our insides bleeding out. Most females have periods that last anywhere from 3-7 days. This is the first part of the follicular phase.
Days 8-11: Our bodies prepare to support an egg. In these three days, the womb thickens its lining, thinking that there’s going to be fertilization at some point that month. Fertilization is basically the fusing of egg and sperm that would eventually result in a zygote, which would then turn into a baby.
Days 12-17: For the next five days, ovulation occurs. Ovulation is the process of the egg maturing and exiting the ovary to make its way through the fallopian tube. As our cycles progress, our estrogen levels continue to rise and build the uterine lining.
Days 18-25: This is when your body tries to figure out what to do with you. If during these days an egg is fertilized by a sperm, it will implant on the well-cushioned wall of the uterus and grow, which would result in pregnancy. But if not fertilized, the egg falls apart, estrogen levels go back down, and then we discard it through the cervix.
Who would’ve thought, right? Our bodies putting this much thought into something as annoying as bleeding?
The Side Effects (aka PMS)
Now we all know those ugly side effects of being on our periods. The most common side effect we probably feel is PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome (which boys constantly accuse us of having, even when we aren’t on our period!). PMS consists of things like body aches and headaches, good ole’ irritability, and abdominal bloating, to name a few. Usually, as our period progresses, these symptoms tend to decrease, and by the end, we’re okay again.
There are some things you should probably stay away from, as they could make PMS much worse. Given the way our lifestyles are these days, it’s difficult to do this, but stress could exacerbate PMS. Try to relax as much as possible, and don’t take on more than you can handle. And no, I don’t necessarily mean sleep all day and eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But try to give your body breaks, and give yourself peace of mind.
Our natural period thoughts usually circle back to, “How do I get myself to feel better?” Luckily, there are many ways to alleviate pain during our periods to a tolerable level. Because let’s face it, we’re all strong women, and life doesn’t stop for us when we get our period. So what can we do to make things better?
One thing you could do is gentle exercise, such as yoga or swimming. Now, I don’t mean you have to turn into a Zen master or Michael Phelps at the Olympics, but these activities help get your blood moving without putting too much stress on the body, and can even help your cramps go away! Who isn’t happy about that?
Another problem I personally deal with is body aches, as well as headaches. Firstly, I like to keep a small bottle of Ibuprofen in my purse or backpack to take. And secondly, I start the day by eating a banana. There’s science behind this one, girls! Bananas are known to contain potassium and vitamin B6. Bloatedness and cramping can occur because either your body is retaining water or you’re just not getting enough potassium. I usually eat a banana and drink a glass of milk to also get some calcium in my system in the mornings or whenever I feel excessively crampy. And I must say…science doesn’t lie!
Your Period “Essentials”
The next things to have in order are your “Period Essentials,” as I like to call them. This is a small kit I keep at all times, whether I’m on my period or not, because sometimes due to stress or whatever else, periods fluctuate and can be late or early. I take an old makeup bag and pack at least two or three pads (or product of your choosing and/or panty liners), a pair of fresh underwear, a small plastic bag, and Ibuprofen. Just in case of any surprises with my period, I’ve got my period essentials, so that I don’t have to worry about anyone seeing red!
Periods are such a stressful part of our lives. Sometimes we feel like collapsing, useless on the ground, in a pile of Karan Johar movies and empty Talenti gelato containers. But we’re all stronger than we realize. If we understand our bodies and how to take care of them, we are able to get past this. You’re a happy woman; don’t have a sad period!
Vaidehi Gajjar is a college student currently studying biology at the University of South Carolina. She is another brown girl dreaming, exploring, and writing her way through life. She doesn’t do it for the fame, but for the freedom. Follow her down this road called life and join the adventure!