CHENNAI: Women bleed. Yes, literally! Thanks to the uterus that puts them through the much dreaded ‘red days’, which sometimes turn into ‘red week’, most women suffer during menstruation with cramps and excessive bleeding, while there are a lucky few who just have minimal discomfort. “When I have my periods, all I want to do is sleep and eat. But, that’s something that I can only dream of!” says Nandita who works a 12-hour shift in an IT company.
Every month she sits through an uncomforatbale period in office. “Sometimes, I take leave citing health reasons or opt to work from home. But I never share the real reason. I feel it would make me look weak and I don’t want my male colleagues to know about my cycle,” she says.
There are several reasons for the pain, and it is not the same for everyone. For instance, women with endometriosis usually take medication for pain relief during their menstrual cycle. “Women with endometriosis go through such extreme pain that sometimes they just want to die than go through it…that’s terrible,” says Jayarani Kamaraj, MD, Aakash Fertility Centre. “The pain is very minimal for some. They don’t even realise they have periods and go on with their daily routine. So, in such cases how will this menstrual leave work?”
Sruthakeerthi Mohan Ram, founder, Teal Zeal and a yoga practitioner, has been creating awareness on how to tackle Polycysytic Ovarian Disease (PCOD). She says, “Periods are a painful time for most women. So, for women with PCOD, who usually have irregular periods and might not menstruate even for three months, when the time comes, it is excruciating. For such people, an off would be appropriate. Women go through a lot of pain during their menstrual cycle — not just physical but, emotional and mental too.”
Being lactose intolerant is another reason why periods can be painful. Shalini Sinha, a media professional, says her period pain was unbearable and she would also feel depressed. “I used to be depressed prior, during and post my menstrual cycle and my cramps used to be unbearable. That’s when I found out that I was lactose intolerant. Thankfully, I had an understanding boss...and I was never shy to ask for leave during those days when I could hardly get out of bed. I think as we start talking and being more open about periods and the other conditions associated with it, everyone will understand. Otherwise it will always remain a myth,” she shares.
No hierarchy for this
Irrespective of period pain, women have been working through it. But, the paid period leave policy is mindful and supportive of those who need a day to just rest. Each body is different, and the way we choose to respond to pain is also different. But, that said, there are some who feel that this is not a ‘good strategy’ unless all women in an establishment are offered this same privilege, such as blue collar workers and women who are at a different level in the hierarchy. “This should also be extended to trans-men who still menstruate and be offered at all workplaces. Otherwise, it is selective, urban privilege,” avers Kirthi Jayakumar, women’s right activist-cum-advocate.
Supportive but concerned
After Mumbai-based media firm Culture Machine introduced menstrual leave for their women employees recently, another media biggie Mathrubhumi followed suit and offered ‘first day of period leave’. Magzter, a digital newsstand, also brought out an optional paid menstrual leave policy for its women employees.
While many women have welcomed the move, a few are concerned about ostracisation in workplaces, sexist comments by male colleagues, loss of privacy and legitimising arguments that women are ‘weak’. Says Dr Manasa Rao, a homeopath, “There is primary period pain and secondary period pain and everyone falls into any one of this category. But, in a society where paid maternity leave is being frowned upon for being ‘unreasonably advantageous’ for women, I doubt that an off-day during menstruation would be taken positively,” she opines.
Sudha Ramalingam, social activist, says, women need not be embarrassed to ask for leave nor should they be considered ‘weak’. “Taking leave during periods just means the person needs rest and not that the woman is weak. Back then, women in households were made to sit alone in one corner during their periods...didn’t this show they were menstruating? So why should we be embarrassed to ask for leave? It’s high time we came out transparently,” she avers.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) hits before your menstrual cycle. It includes bloating, cramps, mood swings, and headaches.
Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD) is when the ovaries have multiple cysts surrounding it. These cysts are formed when the regular changes of a normal menstrual cycle are disrupted. The symptoms of PCOD vary from irregular periods to obesity. Not all patients will have the same symptoms.
If you are lactose intolerant, it means your body cannot digest lactose, a natural sugar found in dairy products. When lactose moves through the large intestine without being digested, the pain can be excruciating in the stomach.
Endometriosis is a condition where an inner layer of the uterus grows outside it mainly on the ovaries, fallopian tube and on the tissues outside the uterus. Most women who have severe pains during their menstrual period are found to have this condition.