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.

Why RSE Matters

Why RSE Matters

Hey, Qraters!

How many of us learned more about sex from Cosmo than from school? And what would our lives look like if we had comprehensive, reliable, evidence-based sex education?

The reality is that there are very few places for young people to turn to for judgement-free sex education that is rooted in research and fact. Instead, schools and even the Department of Education’s (DOE) guidelines on sex education focus on abstinence, rather than an empowered, well-informed and inclusive learning outcome in which students can grow healthy self-esteem, advocate for themselves, and grow to nurture healthy relationships with themselves and others. 

Kelly Sikkema: Unsplash 

High-quality, clear and comprehensive Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) support young people’s physical and mental well-being as they move toward adulthood. South Africa experiences extraordinary levels of sexual violence, young and unintended pregnancies, and HIV, and was recently listed as the #1 in the world for sexually transmitted infections. Evidence suggests that quality sex education plays a vital role in delaying early sex, preventing transmission of HIV and other STIs, reducing unintended pregnancy, and providing young people with tools to have conversations around consent. It can also support confident disclosure about sexual abuse or exploitation, which is rife in our country.

Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition: Unsplash

Another significant impact of RSE involves a greater understanding of students who may exist outside of the gender binary, or who may feel isolated as they discover their sexuality and have no one to discuss it with. RSE can facilitate inclusive conversations around acceptance and diversity, building a better world for everyone.

It’s also noted that an inclusive approach to RSE can increase body confidence and positivity, strongly combating many of the toxic ideas about body image that are perpetuated in digital spaces. It provides a safe space to ask questions about the many urban myths that exist about sex. Most of all, comprehensive RSE gives us the answer to the question we all ask at some point: am I normal? (The answer is usually yes, yes you are.)

Many parents and schools fear that talking about sex encourages early sexual exploration, but there’s no evidence to support this. Instead, keeping sex a secret and discouraging the conversation forces young people into unsafe spaces online, exposes them to pornography without any critical literacy, and allows misinformation to spread among peers. A survey in the UK found that a third of young people report learning more about sex from pornography than from formal education. This can lead to risky sexual behaviour and unrealistic attitudes towards sex.

Li Weibin: Unsplash

Parents and schools lack the support needed to facilitate these conversations – many of whom were never exposed to evidence-based RSE. Studies show that learners who receive effective relationship and sex education are more likely to disclose sexual abuse, delay sexual debuts, are more likely to have a consensual sexual debut and are more likely to use contraception and condoms, and less likely to have unplanned pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections.

Qrate is dedicated to providing impactful RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) workshops that empower young individuals with comprehensive and evidence-based knowledge on various aspects, including safer sex practices, consent, fostering healthy relationships, and understanding bodily autonomy. Our mission is to cultivate a generation of informed young people who make conscious and responsible choices regarding their sexual well-being throughout their lives. Our workshops are guided by the principles endorsed by the World Health Organization and are facilitated by certified educators committed to creating a safe and supportive learning environment. To discover more about our RSE offerings, we invite you to inquire today and embark on a journey towards knowledge, empowerment, and confident decision-making.

Breaking Barriers: Qrate and Siemens Healthineers STEP-UP to deliver Menstrual Health Workshop at Fons Luminis Secondary School

Breaking Barriers: Qrate and Siemens Healthineers STEP-UP to deliver Menstrual Health Workshop at Fons Luminis Secondary School

Hello, Qraters!

On the 20th of November, our commitment to menstrual health education reached new heights as we joined forces with Siemens Healthineers to conduct an enlightening workshop at Fons Luminis Secondary School in Diepkloof, Soweto. This collaboration marked a significant stride towards empowering young minds with knowledge and dismantling menstrual myths.

Siemens Healthineers South Africa is dedicated to fostering the sustainable progress of our community and its residents. The Healthineers team advocates for a supportive approach rather than a one-time charitable contribution, emphasizing ongoing collaboration in social investments. Teaming up with Siemens Healthineers Step Up initiative allowed the Qrate team to leverage their expertise in health education, creating a dynamic and engaging platform for Fons Luminis Secondary School girls. The collaboration aimed to foster an open dialogue about menstrual health, providing a safe space for 141 young girls to learn, share, and grow.

The workshop was designed to focus on the fundamental basics of menstrual health. The activities were informative but also fun and interactive, ensuring that the girls were not just passive listeners but active participants in their education. From understanding the menstrual cycle to exploring different period products, the workshop covered a comprehensive range of topics.

Dispelling myths surrounding menstruation is crucial for fostering a healthy and informed attitude towards this natural bodily process. Through engaging discussions and myth-busting activities, the girls gained insights that will empower them to navigate their menstrual journeys confidently. After the workshop, the Principal of Fons Luminis Secondary School (Mr.Livhuwani Sundani) expressed his heartfelt gratitude for the Qrate workshop sharing his sentiments about the lived realities of school girls and period poverty.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Siemens Healthineers for their unwavering support and commitment to this cause. Together, we’ve planted seeds of knowledge that will undoubtedly blossom into a future where menstrual health is understood, celebrated, and free from stigma. As we reflect on this successful collaboration, we look forward to more opportunities to create positive change, one workshop at a time. Here’s to breaking barriers, shattering myths, and empowering the leaders of tomorrow.

If you are passionate about menstrual health education and believe in empowering young minds, we welcome collaborations and sponsorships to expand our reach and impact. Let’s work together to make a lasting difference.

Reach out to us at info@qrate.org.za. Together, let’s continue the journey of education, empowerment, and breaking taboos. Period!

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

#PeriodPositiveTour in Brits and Bethanie

#PeriodPositiveTour in Brits and Bethanie

Hello Qraters!

On the 9th and 10th of February, our facilitators Felicia, Mogau, Slu, and Candice kickstarted our Period Positive Tour in Brits and Bethanie to conduct four menstrual health workshops for a whooping four schools!  During our first Period Positive Tour leg, 150 girls were edulifted to see their periods in a positive light.

Day 1: Brits, Gauteng

We started our tour in Brits, holding two eventful workshops in Mohajane and Motlake Primary Schools. The students got to participate in our interactive workshop that informed them about the female reproductive system, various period products, and how to be period positive individuals!

The students were fully immersed in the workshop as they learned a great deal about periods and the female body. There were a lot of light bulb moments were we all debunked period taboos in our true and false educational quiz and when we introduced various period products and their applications.

Our workshops are a two-way street, where the facilitators and students both contribute to creating value in the conversations held in the workshops. During our workshops we aim to create a comfortable space where our participants can freely share their thoughts, ideas and feelings because we all can learn from each other’s experiences.

Day 2: Bethanie, North West

Our next stop was the North West province, where we visited Bethanie Primary School and Dimapo Primary School.

Our facilitators showed the students the different parts of the female reproductive system and their functions. During this session the students got to see how how the menstrual cycle occurs in relation to changes within the female reproductive system.

Team work is the dream work: Our facilitators alongside the students collaboratively demonstrated how to use various period products ranging from pads, tampons to menstrual cups. This was an important session because it allowed the students to practically learn how to use different menstrual products to comfortably manage their menstruation.

All our workshops closed with the students 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. At Qrate, we are all about spreading period positivity with all the students we engage with.

We would like to give a special thank you to the students and teachers of Bethanie, Dimapo, Mohajane and Motlake Primary Schools. We are estatic to have started our Period Positive tour with you! Thank you for being engaging, inquisitive, and open to learning more about your bodies and periods.

Remember that being open about the topic of menstruation is feeling comfortable yourself while breaking social period taboos others in society.

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