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.

Qrate Empowers at Kingsmead College: Tackling Menstrual Health and Period Poverty Head-On!

Qrate Empowers at Kingsmead College: Tackling Menstrual Health and Period Poverty Head-On!

Hello Qraters,

On November 30th, the Qrate team had the privilege of visiting Kingsmead College, a private all-girls school, to conduct a dynamic Menstrual Health and Period Poverty Workshop. With an audience of 320 girls, the two-hour session proved to be a transformative experience.

For two engaging hours, our dedicated Qrate team led a two-part workshop, diving deep into the nuances of menstrual health and addressing the critical issue of period poverty. The sessions were not just informative; they were interactive, creating a safe space for open dialogue and exploration.

Our Menstrual Health sessions for the Kingsmead Girls were designed to be more than just a presentation; it was an experience. Engaging activities kept the energy high and the conversations flowing. From debunking myths to exploring the different facets of menstrual health, the girls actively participated in every aspect of the workshop. As the workshop unfolded, the enthusiasm in the room was palpable. The girls left inspired, not just with knowledge but with a determination to be catalysts for change. The conversation extended beyond the classroom, with many expressing a newfound commitment to end period poverty in South Africa.

At Qrate, our mission goes beyond education; it’s about empowerment. We believe that by arming young minds with critical thinking skills and knowledge, we can create a generation that dismantles stigmas and advocates for change. The Kingsmead College workshop was a significant step in that direction.

A heartfelt thank you to Kingsmead College for the warm welcome and to the 320 incredible girls who made this workshop a success. Your enthusiasm and commitment to making a difference are truly inspiring. As we reflect on this impactful session, we look forward to more opportunities to collaborate with schools, communities, and organizations.

Together, we can create a future where menstrual health is a right, not a privilege. Period!

Empowering Tomorrow: Qrate’s Collaborative Initiative with the Embassy of Argentina at Lowe Primary School

Empowering Tomorrow: Qrate’s Collaborative Initiative with the Embassy of Argentina at Lowe Primary School

Hello, Qraters!

Step into the heart of community development, where Qrate and the Embassy of Argentina in South Africa joined forces for a transformative and empowering day at Lowe Primary School. This collaborative effort marked a significant expansion of the longstanding partnership, moving beyond sports development to address a critical issue: period poverty.

On the day, we had 140 young girls engage in our fun Menstrual Health Workshop. Facilitated by our Qrate facilitator Lebo Kotane, this session aimed not only to impart knowledge but also to foster a sense of empowerment among the participants. From debunking myths to delivering accurate information, the workshop became a safe space of enlightenment, equipping these young individuals with essential insights into menstrual health.

The day unfolded into an Art Prizegiving ceremony, acknowledging and celebrating the artistic prowess of Lowe Primary’s students. This multi-dimensional approach, combining education with creativity, exemplifies Qrate’s commitment to fostering holistic development within communities.

A commendable extension of commitment by the Embassy of Argentina was witnessed on this occasion. Known for their contributions to sports development at Lowe Primary School, the Embassy has now taken a holistic approach by addressing period poverty. Beyond the distribution of menstrual products, this collaboration underscores a commitment to ensuring that no student’s education is hindered by the lack of access to essential hygiene resources. In light of the success achieved through this collaboration, Qrate extends a formal call to action to organizations across sectors. The issue at hand—period poverty—is a shared challenge that demands collective attention. Organizations, regardless of scale, are invited to align their efforts with Qrate to contribute substantively to the eradication of period poverty.

Corporations, non-profit entities, and individuals with a vested interest in societal well-being are encouraged to explore engagement opportunities. Collaborative initiatives, sponsorships, and volunteer endeavours are pathways through which collective efforts can make a tangible impact on the lives of those affected by period poverty.

Qrate’s collaborative initiative at Lowe Primary School serves as a testament to the power of strategic partnerships in effecting positive change. From menstrual health education to artistic appreciation, the day encapsulated a vision for an empowered future.

Ready to make a difference? Contact Qrate to express interest in collaborating on Menstrual Health Workshops at info@qrate.org.za.

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