Reasons why I CANNOT work day 1 or 2 of my period:
- Heavy bleeding
For me, wearing maxi pads or 2 regular pads stacked on top of each other is normal on days 1 & 2 of my period. I have worked jobs where I can easily go to the bathroom and change my pad every 2 hours or so. And then, there have been jobs I worked where I had to find someone to watch my students (working as a teacher) while I ran to the bathroom to change my pad before blood leaked onto my pants. Unfortunately, not every menstruator who works has the luxury of making frequent trips (without notifying someone of their brief absence) to the bathroom to change their pad/tampon/period panty/menstrual cup/ etc.
2. Pelvic pain
The pain is unbearable to the point where it disables me from accomplishing daily tasks, such as driving or cooking. Sometimes over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication helps, and other times, it doesn’t. It’s frustrating going to work and telling someone you’re in pain, only for them to say “oh no, take some Tylenol.” Even if I do take OTC pain medication, it never alleviates the pain right away. It usually takes about 1 hour. That’s another hour of sitting at my desk in the office crunched over waiting, praying, wishing, hoping the pain will subside. As a Black woman, it’s even more irritating when people disregard my pain and assume I’m exaggerating. Unfortunately, this is an experience far too many other Black women are familiar with.
3. Upset stomach / diarrhea / vomiting
In addition to changing my pad, frequent trips to the bathroom are also the result of the diarrhea and occasional vomiting I experience. Luckily, in most places where I have worked, there are multiple bathroom facilities where I could poop in peace and not have to worry about someone knocking on the door waiting to use the bathroom. However, squatting over a public toilet while being in intense pain is not ideal. I would most definitely prefer sitting on the toilet at home in the comfort of my own bathroom.
Even if I did not experience heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, or diarrhea, I still would opt-in for menstrual leave on day 1 of my period due to the unfathomable fatigue. The fatigue is so bad that there are random moments in the day where my body yearns for a nap. There have been times where I’m sitting at my desk at work and suddenly begin dozing off. While you may think fatigue is not a real excuse to stay home, I am here to tell you that it is a valid excuse. One day, I left work early because the pain and fatigue was unbearable. As I was driving home, I got into a minor car accident. In that moment, the combination of pain and fatigue hindered my ability to think clearly. This lack of mental and physical energy I was experiencing greatly impacted my driving.
And then, there are times where I’m just not in the mood. Imagine being in intense pain and frustrated because taking OTC pills, using a heating pad, drinking hot tea, or hunching over weeping and praying are not working to alleviate the pain, you would be annoyed too.
Just to be clear, I did not share my personal story for you to conclude that everyone who is on their period shouldn’t work or drive. My vulnerability and openness exemplifies someone who is fed up with having to show up to work and give 100% when I experience a natural bodily function every month that makes me feel like giving 0%.
Menstruation matters to all. If you are someone who doesn’t have a period, I implore you to talk to and listen to the stories of those who do. Ask yourself, “If I woke up with heaving bleeding, stomach pains, diarrhea and fatigue, would I be able to and want to go to work?” Probably not.
Women and people who menstruate deserve to work and receive equal pay. We ALSO deserve to take paid time off to tend to our reproductive health needs. Having a period does not make someone weak or less capable of performing a job. In fact, if you are someone who has had a period and showed up to work whether in person or remotely, you’re a badass. May you continue flowing through life, unapologetically.
My challenge for CEOs, HR personnel, legislators, and other decision makers is to use a menstrual equity lens and assess your current work policies. Do you offer menstrual leave (or paid personal days) for employees who experience period symptoms that inhibit their ability to show up to work and be productive? Are your bathrooms stocked with free menstrual products? Do you provide employees with the option of working from home, especially those who experience chronic conditions, such as dysmenorrhea? If you answered “no” to any of those questions, it’s time to make a change. I understand the establishment of your company may have been built from the patriarchy, but times have changed and your policies are outdated and inequitable.
Adding more sick leave or personal days is an okay solution- a great first step, but it does not address period stigma. Menstruation is not a disease nor illness. It’s a natural bodily function that may or may not cause unpleasant physical and mental symptoms. Unfortunately, menstruation is still viewed as taboo, especially in the Black community, and many are uncomfortable even saying the word “period.” I recognize some people may not feel comfortable telling their employer they’re on their period, and that’s okay. No one has to know you are on your period, unless YOU choose to tell them. However, I do believe employers should step out their own comfort zone and create a period friendly workplace. The first step could be encouraging people in the workplace to learn about menstruation and have open & honest discussions.
In the words of my friends at Women’s Voices For The Earth, “the more we can help get the conversation into the mainstream, the more we can move the mainstream.”
Can I count on you to help shift the paradigm?
To those who are reading and think I should stop complaining and see a doctor about my period pain and discomfort, I would give you a history lesson on Dr. J. Marion Sims and implicit bias and health care, but I’m currently on day 4 of my period and do not have the time nor energy.
Interested in learning more about menstrual equity? Check out some awesome organizations I am affiliated with:
Love Your Menses: https://www.loveyourmenses.com/
Mass Now: http://www.massnow.org/
MA Menstrual Equity Coalition: https://www.mmecoalition.com/