Silent Struggle: Navigating Endometriosis & Period Pain

Silent Struggle: Navigating Endometriosis & Period Pain

by Bontle Moka

Hey, Qraters!

Remember the stress you had to deal with at school when they started introducing the alphabet and Greek into mathematics while navigating all the things you were probably experiencing for the first time, like a crush, your first party, or breakouts on your face? Imagine dealing with all that AND the stress of a doctor telling you one day that you might need to fall pregnant as a teenager because you could be faced with a condition that could lead to infertility in the future and that you need to do so before your 21st birthday. It sounds like a Disney princess born with a curse, doesn’t it? 

Well, dealing with the Pythagoras Theory wasn’t exciting at all, but dealing with painful periods as a young girl was a nightmare and did feel like a curse put on me by some evil wicked witch, at least in hindsight, because at the time I thought it was completely normal and that it was everyone else’s experience. It turns out, almost 15 years after my first period, it was the beginning of a journey of dealing with endometriosis. 

Photo by Changbok Ko on Unsplash

As a parent, hearing a doctor tell your teenager that pregnancy might be a cure or solution to painful periods or potential future infertility is not easy. It seems straightforward to simply walk away and dismiss the doctor, but what happens if the doctor is right about the symptoms that eventually could lead to infertility in the future and does? Knowing what to do before it even gets that far can help so many young menstruators, and knowing what to look out for can make a huge difference and hopefully help get an early diagnosis and treatment, or possibly prevent it altogether. 

For those that don’t know, “Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus.” It is a whole-body disease that affects over 190 million people worldwide, and some of the symptoms include painful, heavy periods, severe bloating, nausea, fatigue, back, leg, and knee pain, and painful sex, which can lead to infertility. However, as a young girl, one is still getting to know one’s own body, and when you’re told “period equals pain,” you kind of just go with it. At times, you may tolerate more pain than normal, and although pain is common, it is not normal. 

I remember sharing with friends at times that I dealt with painful periods, but I knew something was quite off because I started my period quite young, and through the years I had seen doctors so frequently, all related to the same thing, something to do with my cycle. It was a painful, tiring, EXPENSIVE experience. Although I found healing through homeopathic remedies, changes in diet and nutrition, various pain medications, and a strengthened walk with God, it is still an uphill battle, and I am still on a healing journey as I still struggle with pain, infertility, and some of the unseen symptoms of this condition. 

Now, while some period pain and discomfort are normal, it’s important to recognize when your body might be signalling something more. Here’s a quick guide on what to look out for: 

  • Chronic Pelvic Pain with consistent pain that extends beyond menstruation and occurs at other times of the month 
  • Severe and prolonged pain that disrupts daily activities 
  • Heavy bleeding that requires frequent changes of sanitary products
  • Gastrointestinal Issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea
  • Fatigue that causes unexplained tiredness that persists throughout the menstrual cycle and beyond
  • Any Dizziness, Nausea, or Vomiting 
  • Family History can also play a role, along with the symptoms 
Signs Your Period Cramps Aren’t Normal by Parents

It might seem obvious to look out for symptoms that you can easily see, such as a painful period or heavy bleeding, because you might be curled up in a ball during that time, and if not, you might seem cranky because you still have to show up for that math class you’ve probably been dreading, but now you’re worried about the pain, or will there be a leak? Will the painkillers help? All that and managing the hormonal imbalances that you’re not even sure how to deal with yet. However, there is so much more to look out for than what’s on the surface, which is why endometriosis is known as one of the most painful ‘invisible illnesses’, which many consider a disability because of how crippling it can be. The impact is more than just physical, it can cause depression, anxiety, brain fog and so much more, which requires patience, a good support system, encouraging open conversations, and advocating for further investigations such as pelvic exams, ultrasounds, or laparoscopic procedures.

Early intervention and medical attention are crucial for managing endometriosis effectively. Remember to always keep a detailed account of symptoms; consult a healthcare professional; but don’t rush with treatment options; always get a second and maybe third opinion if you and normalise conversations about your period with friends, family, at home, and school, in different spaces to reduce stigma and create safe spaces for discussions that could help many young menstruaters get the help they need and avoid a long journey or dealing with chronic pain as adults. 

Written by Bontle Moka.

Bontle Moka is an Endometriosis Advocate and founder of Endometriosis South Africa. Follow her for insights and personal experiences. Explore her journey and gain valuable perspectives.

Unsilencing The Period Talk In Sports

Unsilencing The Period Talk In Sports

Hello Qraters!

Have you ever missed physical education lessons at school or any other sporting commitments because you were on your period?

The fact is that menstruators across the world are missing out on sports because of their periods due to the inaccessibility of period products, while others have felt self-conscious and embarrassed to participate during their period due to societal stigmas.

By working to break down harmful period stigma, we can ensure no one has to miss or avoid participating in sports while on their period because having your period should not get in the way of you participating in sports,

In June, Qrate and Football Without Borders SA collaborated to take a step toward flipping the narrative on menstruation for young South African athletes. The workshop left the young athletes empowered, knowing that they can, too, thrive in the sporting world as menstruators.

Period Poverty in South African Schools

Millions of menstruators in South Africa are not able to afford or cannot access period products. This is known as period poverty.

Respective research conducted in South African Schools by the Menstrual Hygiene Management and The Borgen Project found that:

  • 83% of menstruating learners do not have regular access to menstrual hygiene products both at school and at home;
  • 1 in 4 learners (who menstruate) miss school monthly because they lack access to menstrual hygiene products and support during their menstrual periods;
  • An estimated 30% of South African menstruators do not attend school while they are on their period because they do not have sanitary products.

How Does Period Poverty Affect Sports Participation?

The statistics above in South African schools reflect the realities that menstruators face across society. Menstruators play on an uneven playing field due to existing period stigmas, period product inequality, and inaccessibility. This translates to missed training, missed competitions, and increased dropouts of menstruators in sports. In summary, these are MISSED OPPORTUNITIES and LOST POTENTIAL for millions of girls, and women.

What Can We Learn From Football Without Borders SA?

Our workshop with Football Without Borders SA was a special one because it was telling that there are sports clubs and organisations that are making efforts to provide and integrate menstrual health education for their athletes to ensure that menstruators have a safe and comfortable environment. Not only is menstrual education important for the athletes but also for the coaches and staff members to understand how to support menstruators.

The more we can start normalising menstrual conversations and education in sports, the easier it will be to spread support. If we start talking more openly about periods – a menstruator who might be struggling with their period would be more open to seek support from their parents, coaches, or staff members to get help and advice.

Sparking conversations about menstruation health enables us to celebrate what women on their periods have achieved, and helps to break taboos while opening the door for an important mindset shift in sports regarding periods. The more conversations we can have about periods in sports, the easier it can become to set setting higher standards for girls and women in sports to be protected and supported.

Did You Know That Qrate Is On A Nationwide Period Positive Tour? 🩸

Qrate is on a period tour all across South Africa. If any schools or youth organisations would like to get involved or be a part of the period positive tour, please email info@qrate.co.za

An Ode to EmPOWERment: An Open Letter To My Period

An Ode to EmPOWERment: An Open Letter To My Period

To Nadine (and any girl child reading this),

You are extraordinary. Periods and all.

Your period is symbolic of your power, your womanhood, and your sisterhood. But sometimes, you forget the magic behind it. Sometimes we see our periods as something we want to hide, ashamed of, and something we are self-conscious about. Some people scrutinise your period and minimise your experience as if it’s up for debate, but I am here to tell and empower you to embrace it.

It’s time you embrace it wholly, dear period; you are something to be celebrated and marveled at. You are no longer silenced in rooms because I am slowly beginning to speak about you loudly and openly. The more I speak about you, the more I realise I am not alone. I now have a community of humans who acknowledge and support my experiences with you. I am constantly learning how we can co-exist every month, and to be honest, it is still freaking hard because sometimes you come in with all the punches (cramps, nausea, moods etc.), but at least I am trying. I am unlearning all the misconceptions and breaking the stigma within myself and the world so that a period-positive world will be a reality for my younger sister and all the younger girls behind me.

A Reminder for Menstrual Hygiene Day 2023:

Girl child, it’s time you stand with pride and walk in conviction about your period,
Do it for yourself, your sisters, your brothers, and the millions of girls around the world,
It starts with loving yourself and your body a little bit more,
It starts with being kinder to yourself when it is hard and painful,
A little bit of love and kindness to yourself goes a long way,
Because it is the foundation for creating period positive change in the world.

Again. You are extraordinary. Periods and all.

Remember that.

Love,

Nadine

🎶 This letter was written while listening to Woman by Nao feat. Lianne La Havas

I am a women
Gender Justice

So What Can You Do To Change The System?✊🏾✊🏼✊💥

Learn: 📚

Get informed about your menstrual health and the challenges faced by girls by signing up for these courses:

Read:📚

Listen: 🎧

Did You Know That Qrate Is On A Nationwide Period Positive Tour? 🩸

Menstrual Education in South Africa
Menstrual Empowerment in South Africa

Qrate is on a period tour all across South Africa. If any schools or youth organisations would like to get involved or be a part of the period positive tour, please email info@qrate.co.za

Qrate Team Rocks a New Period Inspired Merch Thanks to Levi Strauss & Co

Qrate Team Rocks a New Period Inspired Merch Thanks to Levi Strauss & Co

Hello Qraters!

We are excited to share our team’s new menstrual drip that has been proudly sponsored by Levi Strauss & Co. Our new fit includes a new period positive shirt accompanied with a classic Levi blue jean for each team member.

To celebrate the official launch of our new team look, our team had a energy and laughter-filled photoshoot to showcase Qrate’s newest team merch. Read more to check out our team photoshoot and the meaning behind our period positive team shirt.

Qrate team South Africa
Qrate Team Merch Shirt

The eye-catching yet meaningful print design on our shirt is the Qrate trademark and here is why. Period positivity is a central focus of our work and therefore our shirt reflects of our mission to empower young girls on periods. We want our shirt design to spark conversations around menstrual topics typically considered taboo such as period stigma and period poverty.

Power to the period” means shifting back the power to women over our bodies, periods, and rights. We can no longer fail to engage and remain silent on those who menstruate. Throughout history, periods have been hidden from the public as they have been seen as a taboo and/or embarrassing but we are flipping the coin in shifting this narrative to one that is empowering and positive.

Menstrual education in South Africa
Menstrual Education Qrate Team

We are proud to be rocking these new shirts because they colourfully, boldly and loudly represent what we work towards. A big thank you to Levi Strauss & Co for supporting and supplying the Qrate team with our newest team merch.

Did you know that Qrate is on a nation-wide period positive tour? 

Qrate is on a period tour all across South Africa. If any schools or youth organisations would like to get involved or be a part in the period positive tour, please email info@qrate.co.za

Join the movement to break period stigma and let’s start having real conversations about menstrual health. Qrate is committed to providing Menstrual Education in ending period poverty in South Africa. Check out our recent #Periodpositivetour video highlight below.

Qrate LEAPS together in bringing Period Positivity to the Leap Maths & Science School girls!

Qrate LEAPS together in bringing Period Positivity to the Leap Maths & Science School girls!

Hello, Qraters!

Menstruation is a natural biological process experienced by half of the world’s population, yet it remains a topic shrouded in stigma and shame. Educating young girls about menstruation is essential so they can understand their bodies and manage their menstrual cycles confidently.

On the 19th and 20th of April, Qrate hosted a menstruation workshop for the 120 girl learners from Leap Sciences and Maths School in Diepsloot and Linbro Park. In collaboration with the Leap Institute’s Learning and Living Labs Leader, Neliswa Nyandeni, our facilitators Candice, Felicia, and Selo hosted an impactful two-day workshop that covered a wide range of topics, including the biology of menstruation, menstrual health practices, menstrual products, and the emotional and mental aspects of menstruation.

Qrate facilitated an interactive workshop that engaged the participants in empowering activities to learn more about their bodies and periods while leading critical discussions on the impact of period stigma in society. The workshop held a safe space for our participants to express themselves freely through dance, singing, sharing their experiences, and asking questions about all things periods.

The two-day workshop was packed with fun activities that promote the engagement and participation of the students. The #KnowYourFlo session kickstarted with energizing icebreakers to encourage the students to feel encouraged to participate.

Our workshop also used visual learning as a way in which participants could learn more about periods. During our workshop, we showed an animated short video introducing periods and a short movie called “First Period”. The “First Period” was a powerful visual experience because it showed the participants a period-positive world that contrasts the lived realities of the period stigma millions of menstruators continue to face today. This video highlighted to the participants that creating a period-positive world is possible if we break the period stigma within ourselves, communities, and governance structures.

At Qrate, we aim to transfer period experiences and knowledge through our true and false quizzes, period myths game, and our what would you do game. 

  • True and False Game: Our participants took part in a quick-fire True or False quiz that questioned participants about the quick facts about periods and period statistics. The true or false quiz highlighted the sheer magnitude of the menstrual inequality world concerning mainstreaming access to period products, menstrual health, and menstrual education. 
  • Alien Game: The Alien game was not just about learning about the applications of the various menstrual products but also a research activity where the students got to dig deep to understand what type of materials are used to manufacture the different menstrual products. This menstrual product research got the participants thinking about the impact of certain period products on our environment and planet.

The workshop closed with the participants taking their period pledge, vowing to talk openly about periods so they are part of the change in breaking the chain of stigma towards periods. The students each received period products from our period partners: The Pad Princess and Komani Pads.

We’d like to thank the Leap Institute for inviting Qrate to host the #KnowYourFlo Period Workshops! We’re excited for delivering our workshops to the other Leap Schools in South Africa as part of our ongoing #PeriodPositiveTour.

To invite Qrate to your school or organisation, reach out to the Qrate team on: info@qrate.org.za.

Qrate Teams up with GGA and Africa Tikkun in the #BreaktheSilence Workshop

Qrate Teams up with GGA and Africa Tikkun in the #BreaktheSilence Workshop

Hello Qraters!

On the 31st March 2023, Qrate collaborated with Good Governance Africa and Africa Tikkun to facilitate the #BreakTheSilenceWorkshop. Our facilitator Candice Chirwa hosted a 3-hour impactful workshop that shed light on the significance of dismantling taboos surrounding menstruation. The workshop engaged 25 incredible young women from the Young Women Movement initiative by Afrikka Tikkun, who learned about being agents of change in breaking the stigma around menstruation in their personal lives and their communities.

Qrate facilitated an interactive workshop that engaged the participants in empowering activities to learn more about their bodies and periods, while leading critical discussions on the impact of period stigma in society. The workshop held a safe space for our participants to express themselves freely through dance, singing, sharing their experiences, and asking questions about all things periods.

Our workshop started with an ice-breaker to get everyone comfortable with the space and each other. The participants played an introductory game called “My Name is,” where they introduced themselves through joint singing and dance. Next, Candice led the participants through a vagina mediation, where the participants could relax and stretch while learning about all the different parts of the female reproductive system. Then, our participants were introduced to periods through a short animated video on periods and our famous vagina song activity. After the fun introduction session, our participants were ready and energised to engage with the many activities prepared for them in the workshop.

The 3-hour workshop was packed with exciting activities built around experiential learning through practical activities, internal reflections, and group discussions.  Read on further to see what went down during the #BreaktheSilence workshop.

The practical elements of the workshop included the participants partaking in the period product alien game, where they learned about the available menstrual products and their applications. The period product alien game was not just about learning about the applications of the various menstrual products but also a research activity where the participants got to dig deep to understand what type of materials are used to manufacture the different menstrual products. This menstrual product research got the participants thinking about the impact of certain period products on our environment and planet. Furthermore, this activity allowed the participants to ask Candice where to access certain products as they are not readily available in all pharmacies and grocery stores.

Our workshop also used visual learning as a way in which participants could learn more about periods. During our workshop, we showed an animated short video introducing periods and a short movie called “First Period”. The “First Period” was a powerful visual experience because it showed the participants a period-positive world that contrasts the lived realities of the period stigma millions of menstruators continue to face today. This video highlighted to the participants that creating a period-positive world is possible if we break the period stigma within ourselves, communities, and governance structures.

At Qrate, we aim to transfer period experiences and knowledge through our true and false quizzes, period myths game, and our what would you do game. 

  • True and False Game: Our participants took part in a quick-fire True or False quiz that questioned participants about the quick facts about periods and period statistics. The true or false quiz highlighted the sheer magnitude of the menstrual inequality world concerning mainstreaming access to period products, menstrual health, and menstrual education. 
  • What would you do?: Our participants reflected on the question, “What would you do?” in relation to various multiple scenarios. This activity was powerful because it got the participants thinking emphatically about the different experiences that menstruators face. 
  • The Period Myth Game: This game was centred on the participants sharing all the period myths they have come across on a whiteboard. Then through a guided discussion with Candice, the participants collaboratively debunked each myth on the whiteboard before them. 
Teaching about menstruation
Candice Chirwa facilitating a menstrual workshop

The workshop closed with the participants taking their period pledge, vowing to talk openly about periods so they are part of the change in breaking the chain of stigma towards periods. 

The responsibility of making a positive impact is one that must be shared; therefore, let us collaborate in order to make a difference in the lives of children and young people” – Africa Tikkun

Thank you to Good Governance Africa and Africa Tikkun for sharing the space with us to empower young girls on periods. To the participants, Qrate thank you for entering the space with enthusiasm, open hearts, and energy. Thank you for leading critical discussions in the workshop, as we pledged, remember to be the vehicles of change for yourselves, your families, and your communities. 

South African girls at a menstrual workshop

This year Qrate is going on a period tour all across South Africa. If any schools or youth organisations would like to get involved or be a part in the period positive tour, please email info@qrate.co.za