Menstrual Health Should Not be a Privilege

Navigating the healthcare industry is not fun. Navigating the healthcare industry as a woman is especially not fun. Navigating the healthcare industry as a woman suffering from “woman” issues is straight up terrible. Trust me, I know.

When I was about sixteen, I saw a gynecologist for the first time because I was going 6 months to a year without getting a period, despite the fact they used to be regular. When they did come, they came with a vengeance. Cramps brought me to the point that I was nearly vomiting. I bled heavily for weeks at a time, but then not at all for a year. However, the first doctor I met with, a 60-something woman with short hair and cold hands, told me there was absolutely nothing wrong with me and that this was completely normal. Despite my concern, and emphasizing that something was simply not right, she blew me off. She told me that my body would figure it out eventually, and that there was no medical necessity to try and resolve the situation.

She was wrong. 

Over the next few months, I sprained my ankle three times and had a stress fracture in my leg, leading my orthopedist to question my hormonal health. When I revealed what was going on, she was horrified. She informed me that lack of periods was a huge indicator of poor bone health, and that my original doctor definitely should have been concerned. She immediately sent me back to the gynecologist, this time to a new one.

This gynecologist still didn’t take me seriously, despite the increasing concerns about my actual bone health. My bones were literally cracking for no reason, and yet she didn’t think it was a big deal. She did an exam, and reluctantly took blood work, only to discover my progesterone levels were low. Really, really low. This isn’t necessarily concerning, and in fact seemed like an easy fix. A lot of women, though usually much older, go through this. She was just going to put me on birth control and that would be that. 

It worked for a while, I think at least. She had gone down the list of hormonal birth control options as if she was reading me the specials for a fancy restaurant. She didn’t seem to know which ones would be best for me, which would regulate bleeding, or which would cause me to gain 300 pounds and be a moody nightmare. I felt like a human guinea pig, with my doctor giving me the “here just try it out” speech, but with hormones. My first experimental was the pill. 

Even though this was the first attempt to regulate my menstrual health, I cite this as the beginning of the end for me. This is not to say that hormonal birth control isn’t wonderful, in fact I am a huge proponent. However, it seems like it is the tendency of gynecologists to just shove whatever random birth control, whether the patch, pill, or IUD, at all your symptoms without actually knowing what the long-term outcomes are.

For me, the long-term outcomes resulted in living the past four or so years in a constant state of “breakthrough bleeding”. For a while, I was able to blame the bleeding on my own inability to take my pills at the same time. It got to the point that if I didn’t take my pill within the same 10-minute period every morning, I would expect to bleed for the next four weeks straight. My doctor told me this was normal, just a cause of breakthrough bleeding, and it would stop eventually. She didn’t listen when I told her how tired I was, and how much of a toll this was taking on me. I told my doctor I knew my body, and something wasn’t right. I waited a year. It never became regular.

When I tried switching to the patch because the breakthrough bleeding was happening too frequently, I had high hopes. But then, the same thing started happening. If I didn’t change the patch at the same time every week, I would start bleeding. I brought this concern to my doctor, who just said, again, that it was no big deal, and all a part of the process. She wasn’t concerned about the fact that I had had three stress fractures during that time, that my bleeding remained constant or that my weight was dropping and rising like crazy even though my blood work now showed normal progesterone levels.

The scary moments began when I had sex for the first time when I was 18. In the days after, I started bleeding and had some of the worst cramps of my entire life. I convinced myself it was normal. Everyone bleeds after the first time they have sex, right? At least that’s what the nurse said when I called. 

I ignored the fact that my bleeding didn’t start for over 24 hours after I had sex, and that the bleeding was heavier than anything I’d ever experienced. I started bleeding through a super plus tampons and pad within 20 minutes. My brain felt fuzzy, my legs felt weak. And yet, when I called my doctor, panicked about having to go into the emergency room, she told me it was normal. Let me reiterate that. She told me, an underweight teenage girl, that it was normal to be bleeding through super plus tampons in minutes for days straight. I knew it wasn’t right. I told her something was wrong. She ignored me.

It took three months for the bleeding to stop that time. I lived with painful cramps, heavy bleeding, and more for three months. My doctor moved to trial and error. She gave me pills, patches, supplements, and then tried to take me off everything, and nothing worked. I was a human lab rat, a victim of a medical field that invests nothing into women except pills to prevent pregnancy.

I got it under control for a few months. I would have intermittent bleeding, but only for short periods, and then it would go back to normal. Eight months ago, however, the bleeding started again. Worse than ever, and to the point I had to go to the emergency room. Yet, despite this, the only reason I have had any change in my plan has been because I have pushed for it. Since then, I’ve had my birth control changed 4 times, a brain MRI, visited the ER twice, been poked, prodded and ultra-sounded, and nothing has shown up. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on hygiene products, not been able to have normal sexual relationships, and lost 20 pounds. 

Still, every time I walk into the doctor’s office, my body rejecting the new hormones my doctor has decided to pump me full of, I sense the annoyance in her voice. I’m treated like a whiny teenager, as if not bleeding 24/7 is a privilege. How dare I take up her time to complain about my period? I always think, if I had been bleeding out of my ears for the past 8 months straight, would I have been treated differently? Of course. But I guess that’s me just being a moody girl on her period.