It happened very suddenly and before I knew it was a problem, my period decided to find long term lodging in my uterus for a 60 sabbatical. A history major, my degree focused on piracy and I was working on my thesis dedicated to the lives of female pirates. Home for the summer from college, I had a long to-do list. Like every month, I had my period, but this time it was like tar instead of blood, and my period symptoms had begun earlier than normal, this was all in mid June. It was a little strange, heavier and darker than usual, but nothing alarming. My doctor told me “well, you're twenty, that stuff just kind of happens.” So for the first week, I didn't panic. I knew nothing about periods except that they changed sometimes and did some strange things.
By the second week, I began to panic. It occurred to me that I had been bleeding much longer than I normal; heavy, black and painful. It was the 9-day mark that it hit me, I shouldn't have my period anymore. I started to sob. Laying on my boyfriend’s bed, he hugged me and assured me it would go away soon. I was not prepared for the journey I was going to have for an additional 51 days.
The continued search for answers, I began to see doctors, from a general practitioner to the painstaking search for gynecologists. My first appointment was on my 15th consecutive day of bleeding; really heavy bleeding. I cried as soon as the doctor asked me what was happening, and was met by a jaded coldness. What was terrible and emotional for me clearly did not strike the same chord with my doctor. I asked her why this was happening and she said she didn't know, that sort of stuff just happens. Unfortunately, she told me that there was nothing she could do. She ended up changing my birth control to Sprintec, and a constant hormone level instead of a gradually increasing one. Defeated, the appointment ended on a bad note with still no answers. It did not take long for me to reach the bargaining stage, I was only on day 12 and willing to do anything to make it stop.
Now week 3, I was working in Manhattan at the time and still bleeding heavy. I remember having to change in several train bathrooms on my commute. I spent so much money on pads and tampons, I was going through five packs a week at least, 20 or more in a month. It wasn't just the bleeding, I had cramps, nausea and emotional pain to go with it. Worse than the physical pain was my mental state, I was constantly plagued by the thought it would never end. With no end in sight I had nothing to count down to and nothing to hope for. I tried to convince myself it would end constantly, just for the disappointment of seeing I was still bleeding. My boyfriend didn't know how to help me and though he tried to comfort me he was starting to get annoyed when I brought it up. That same situation began to happen with my friends and family, all of whom began to say the same things: “you need to stop thinking about it” and “please stop talking about it.” Eventually I turned to the only community I wasn't afraid of being rejected from; the online community.
Trying to find helpful information on the internet has always been difficult, and when it comes to women’s health it is practically impossible. I was deep in the vast endlessness of the internet, searching for answers that doctors won't tell me. I suddenly was bombarded with terms I had never heard like Menorrhagia and Endometrial ablation, trying to diagnose myself. I was reading articles on WebMD and mayo clinic about women who bled for years (again, crazy), girls who ended up in the hospital, all sorts of stories about periods that never ended. My search history was full of articles like “how to forcefully stop your period”, “how to tell your period is ending by the color” and “when to go to the hospital for the period.” It was well after day 25 of consecutive bleeding and I was feeling hopeless.
In the first days of my fourth week, I saw another doctor, who at this point told me the same sad story that I already knew “there is nothing I can do for you, you just have to wait it out.” I was leaving in the next couple of days for Disney World; my mom was certain that the magic there would solve all my problems. Turns out the anxiety, hopeless, and constant crying that comes with bleeding for 30 days can actually put a damper on the happiest place on earth. I remember ducking into the bathroom every 30 mins, praying that if I would take off my pants and see no blood. Inevitably I would feel my heart fall when I saw blood all over myself. I cried in every bathroom in the Magic Kingdom
By the fifth week I was tired, upset and still panicked. No end in sight, I decided it was time to take matters into my hands. I started ordering different serums like chaste berry and shepherds purse; some that purge your uterus and some that blocked the blood. I was drinking cups of molasses a day mixed with raspberry tea and chaste berry serum. I had to drink it with my eyes closed and quickly because it looked disgusting and I had to drink it quick because it tasted worse. It was thick like mucus down my throat. I was drinking it at least 5 times a day. I went to acupuncture for the first time, which my mother swore would cure me, and had needles put in the top of my skull and my ear lobes to name a few. I tried to relax but I couldn't let go of the mental stress, and when I had left I saw I had bled through onto the acupuncture table. I even began to eat strange herbal mixtures that the local apothecary made for me; so desperate for a cure I ate the mix with no questions. I saw another gynecologist and got the same response. I was irritated from having to wear tampons and pads all day, the constant headaches, and the cramps that limited my mobility.
In my worst moment during the sixth week, I looked for a permanent solution. I had decided if this reached week 10 that I would beg a doctor for the surgical solution, an ablation. It’s one step before a hysterectomy, where they laser off the inside of the uterine lining. Turns out, if you have a problem with your uterus you have 2 options: change your birth control or get dangerous surgery. It would have made it impossible for me to ever have kids. I was angry that there was no in between, yet I would not have suffered past 10 weeks.
The last week of my period I went back to school. What had started June was finally going to come to an end in August. The day it stopped was the best day of my life. After my second day of classes, I just stopped bleeding. Ironically, the day after my last appointment with the gynecologist. I felt like I had my life back again and I could breathe after being suffocated. Almost a full year later I had spotting between my periods and I had an anxiety attack that lasted from 9pm to 4 am, with no sleep. I am still haunted by the thought that it might come back and not a period passes that does not trigger panic in me now.
Looking back on those 60 days I found no solution, no magic cure, no herbal tea that could me and was told just to wait. Knowing that I had no control over my body caused issues that still arise. What I wish I could have found was a community that was more tangible to find. I knew there were women out there who could help me that I had just never met. I decided that it was important to create a space for women to talk about all sorts of problems, so that I could do more than read about far distant women who had the same issue as me.
So taking matters into my own hands, I created my own Facebook group called the Period Support Group! A public group for anyone to join and get questions answered and people who will never stop giving support. Everyone and anyone who feels like they need a little love about periods or any other women's health problems can reach out, it is searchable right on Facebook. We are small but growing fast, posting resources, jokes, and creating a community surrounding women’s health! Already our followers have reached out saying the piece of mind they get from knowing there are women out there who want to help!
While trying to write my thesis my mind connected my period to my pirates. I imagined that Anne Bonney, feared pirate in the Caribbean, also would stain her clothes daily. That Cheng Shih, the most successful pirate in history, had terrible gut-wrenching cramps. And I thought that maybe, just maybe, Granuaile O’Malley, Pirate Queen of Ireland, had also had her period for 60 days. At least I had a hot water bottle and no Barbary pirates during my period. Those were the moments I felt better, I felt connected to a community and to a strong history of badass women. My heroes had periods and most certainly period problems, we were kin. Just like my heroes did better for me, I hope by making a group for this community, that I can do better by the next confused scared girl who was only on day 9 of 60.
Naomi Hanson has had her period since the first day of seventh grade. She has a bachelor's degree in history with a concentration in women's history and female pirates. Naomi has spoken at over 20 professional engagements, including being a panelist at San Diego Comic Con. Though her professional focus is pirates, Naomi has far wide ranging interests, including founding and growing a Facebook support group for periods and women's health issues called "Period Support Group".
You can find them at https://www.facebook.com/groups/742900889503552/