In society, we like to acknowledge periods as the grammatical mark that ends a sentence. We ignore their double meaning because talking about periods out loud means acknowledging something uncomfortable: Women who are assigned female at birth menstruate once a month.
It’s unknown to me why this is such a taboo subject, but what I do know is that making this topic something that’s not to be spoken about benefits no one. For girls, periods are mentioned as we transition into puberty. They’re talked about briefly at doctors appointments. And they’re complained about frequently with friends.
Aside from these instances, the only major conversation I’ve really ever had about periods was when I was ten years old, when I first learned what they were in my fourth grade health class, when all of the secrets of womanhood and puberty were disclosed.
I cried for about an hour after I found out what would happen to me as I grew up, and therein lies the issue. Through silence and secrecy, society implicitly teaches young girls to fear the onset of their periods. We make learning about menstruation a huge deal instead of teaching it as something it is: Normal.
By refusing to normalize periods as a topic of conversation in society, we undermine their existence, making only one thing more difficult to talk about than periods themselves: Abnormalities with periods.
Secondary amenorrhea, or the loss of a period a woman once had, affects about 3 to 4% of women. While it’s a rare disorder in terms of the general female population, it becomes increasingly common in the community of female athletes.
And this is in a society that doesn’t talk about periods outside of the occasional joke from a man that a woman is moody because it’s “her time of the month.” Imagine if we did talk about periods. Imagine if more women were willing to speak to their general practitioners about abnormalities in their cycles. (That’s if they have access to healthcare, of course. Other women might not have a general practitioner and therefore might have secondary amenorrhea go undiagnosed or unreported anyway, but that’s a different topic of conversation entirely.)
Millennial women, additionally, grew up in a society where Kate Moss once told women and adolescents everywhere that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” The 90s and early 2000s gave way to a culture that told women being skeletal was fashionable. We learned that neglecting our health was cool, that not eating until 3 p.m. was something to brag about.
Disordered eating is ingrained in our culture, and it’s the leading cause of secondary amenorrhea.
If we don’t talk about periods, we don’t have an open conversation to talk about the benefits of having a regular menstrual cycle, let alone the risks of not having one.
Regular menstrual cycles are essential for bone growth, hormone regulation and more. If risk factors are not immediately exposed at the onset of secondary amenorrhea, they occur down the road, increasing in severity the longer this disorder is active.
I know this first hand. During the five years in which my eating disorder was active, I went without a regular period, or a period at all, for months and even years at a time. Not only did I see this as a marker of the perceived success of my anorexia since I knew it meant I was unhealthy, but, more simply, I saw it as convenient.
It was convenient to not have to buy pads or tampons (which are insanely expensive, by the way). It was convenient to not have to deal with my own emotions or cramps or headaches or any other common symptoms of menstruation. It was convenient to not have to put up with the difficulties of being a woman who has a period, and it was convenient to not care.
What I didn’t know then was that convenience would certainly be a high price to pay. The future that secondary amenorrhea ushered in for me is anything but convenient.
Only now, two and a half years after entering the phase of active recovery for my eating disorder, can I see the damage not having a period can cause. I didn’t see it prospectively, but I see it retrospectively. And I hope that can prevent someone else from being in the position I’m in now.
At the seemingly healthiest point in my life, October of 2019, I was diagnosed with a rare pelvic stress fracture in my right hip. Now, a year and a half later, an MRI revealed not one, but two stress fractures on the same bone, in my left hip this time, as well as abnormalities suggesting the past existence and healing of a stress fracture on my sacrum.
A lot of people will tell me that I’m a petite female distance runner with a history of anorexia. These same people will say these things were bound to happen to me, that my series of stress fractures was inevitable. And maybe they’re right.
But in response, all I have to say is that nothing is normal about getting four stress fractures in eighteen months, especially when in the majority of those eighteen months, I was running low mileage or no mileage at all as I dedicated time to healing my body from other injuries.
So, maybe my stress fractures were inevitable. But maybe they didn’t have to be.
Had I known the dangers of secondary amenorrhea prior to my eating disorder, I don’t know if my decisions would have changed; eating disorders are a complex beast to treat and cure. So, I don’t know if my decisions would have changed, but I know if more people had talked about their periods, I might have too.
I might not have felt compelled to keep my convenience a secret, because it didn’t end up being convenient. Maybe if someone had told me that, I would have known. But that wasn’t a discussion I was ever exposed to growing up. Throughout middle school and high school when it came to discussions about puberty in health class, all I learned was that men would get certain urges and that it was up to women to keep both men and women abstinent. (Again, I could go off on a tangent here. But I’ll stick to the point.)
The point is, I didn’t learn about periods. I learned that they happened. I learned that they, for lack of a better word, sucked. But what I didn’t learn was that they’re essential for regular functioning of the female body. I didn’t learn that I’d have to face things like osteopenia and osteoporosis in the future. I learned that periods were important for helping my body make a baby in the future. But what I didn’t learn is that they’re also important for keeping me healthy in the present.
So, I thought not having one was convenient, and I thought that because of all the things I didn’t know. Now, though, I know that what would have been convenient was having a healthy, regular period throughout my adolescence so I wouldn’t have to be in this position in the present.
To women, to girls: A whole lot of things taste better than skinny feels, and just a few of those things are included on the long list of foods you crave on your period. Having a period is more convenient than not having one could ever be.
A period is more than just the end to a sentence, but the lack of a period is the end to a normal life if it’s not prevented and treated effectively.