On Bleeding…

My period started overnight, early, so I wasn’t prepared. And who doesn’t love waking up covered in blood, and having the bed look like a murder scene?

This got me thinking about how little learned about my period in school. Sure, I learned the biology of why it happened and some side effects – ex. cramps – but not anything on how to manage my period. No explanation of products, or the levels within each type of product.
I was 15 when I got my period for the first time, I can’t even imagine girls as young as ten or twelve having to deal with periods – physically or psychologically. I was a high-level athlete, so my body fat percentage was relatively low, which meant that my period was terribly irregular until I was into my 20s and started on hormonal birth control (which is a whole separate nightmare).

I am a heavy bleeder, I always have been, so I just assumed it was normal. I always wore a tampon and a pad, I had to or else I would bleed through my clothes in under an hour. At eighteen, I remember a girlfriend talking about how her younger step-sister had just gotten her period for the first time and how she had to go buy pads for her. I was confused; I had to ask if she was getting her step-sister different pads than she used.
My friend looked at me incredulously and said that she hadn’t touched a pad in over two years. Then asked if I used pads. I said I did, my friend said she just assumed everyone used tampons. I said I used tampons too. It was then my friends turn to express surprise, she had never contemplated using both, especially at the same time. Even overnight.
WTF? How messed up was I?

Five years ago I broke down and purchased a DivaCup. The information on the website and in the literature provided in the DivaCup packaging said the cup held one ounce of liquid, and that most women bleed one to two ounces per cycle. Okay, I will be at the higher end of the that. I knew I was a heavy bleeder, but assumed I was being overly dramatic.

A little awkward maneuvering and I got the silicone cup in place. About two hours later I stood up and felt that familiar, terrible, gushing feeling that we all know. I made my way to the bathroom, I must have put it in wrong.
Nope, I pull the cup out and it is full to the brim! The leaking was because it overflowed. So much for one to two ounces per cycle.

Over the first 24 hours of my period I bled almost eight full ounces! Then about six more ounces during the rest of my cycle. That’s fourteen ounces total, significantly more than the one to two ounces that most women experience.
Cue some research and a trip to the doctor. Everything I could find said that menorrhagia was normal and affected approximately ten percent of women. My doctor confirmed this, although he did send me for multiple rounds of bloodwork over the next six weeks to ensure that I didn’t get anemic during my period (I don’t). The doctor suggested that I use hormonal birth control to control my periods, which I declined as it has a terrible effect on my mental health.

The DivaCup has been a game changer for me. I don’t get anywhere near 12 hours of protection, but even on my heaviest days I can go about three hours before needing to empty the cup. Three hours is blissful! Prior to the DivaCup, I would have to alter my daily activities so I could go to the bathroom every half hour to change my tampon and pad. And forget working out, physical activity makes me bleed more, so there was no way I could go for a run before the DivaCup.

Menorrhagia affects ten percent or more of women. It isn’t uncommon. Why are we not teaching young women about this in school? We are leaving so many young women to believe that something is wrong with them.

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