Navigating through Menstruation: Myths, Ignorance, Taboos, Cramps, and the Shame behind It

Sinyuy Geraldine
Posted May 8, 2017 from Cameroon

When I was growing up, menstruation was some sort of a taboo word among parents and children in my community. The first time I heard about menstruation was when the wife of our relative discussed behind the house with my sister about menstruation. The conversation was not meant for me and I neither wanted to eavesdrop since I didn’t know what they were talking about. The words which forcefully entered my ears were: “Now henceforth, if you stand with a boy you will become pregnant”. I ignored them and went ahead to ease myself.  After this incident, I heard nothing about menstruation again, and I had never heard it before. I was too young and even though I eavesdropped the warning that was being given to my sister, I didn’t know what they were talking about. A few years later, another mature female relation of ours, this time much older than my elder sister fell down on the floor and was rolling from one end to another. Her belly was on the floor and she was screaming like a wild bull. Again, I heard this same woman who had given warning and some basic menstruation lessons to my sister saying to an elderly boy: “Run as fast as you can to Papa Semo and tell him that Sever is in a crisis”. That was all about the scene. The man later on came with a pot of some soft vegetable leaves prepared with egusi and gave to Sever. It came to my mind that I had seen Sever eating this dish occasionally and would not share with anyone. I wondered what sort of food it was as well for even though it appeared to be delicious, I had seen this man harvesting the young leaves from the forest around our house. I knew the plant as a forest plant but little did I know that it was medicinal. Sever never went into a crisis anymore and that was all about her story. It was when I grew up to be a mature girl that by instinct I guessed that Sever must have had severe menstrual cramps. When I had my first menstrual flow, I kept it as a secret from everyone in the house. I managed it alone for over four months. That was the beginning of a catastrophe. I tore my worn out dresses and used as pad and disposed of them carelessly at every corner of the yard, especially at the back yard where there were stores, firewood kitchens, and untended gardens.  Months later, I decided to drop the bombshell. We were all females and I was the youngest. I couldn’t approach my elder sister or our foster mother with the problem. I was friendlier with my cousin and I didn’t have the courage to go to her and tell her verbally about what I was experiencing. One night we were studying at the table which served at the same time as a dining table. I tore a piece of paper from my exercise book and wrote: “How do you know when you see your time?” and gave her. “You will see blood on your pant”, she replied. This was done without my sister’s knowledge even though she was with us on the study table. Later on, my cousin secretly gave me two or three pieces of clothe to use as sanitary pads. They were washable, but she didn’t tell me that I could wash and reuse. I used the pieces of cloth and threw them away as I have been doing. Dress after dress disappeared as menstrual periods came and went. Most of my dresses were spoiled by blood stains coupled with the fact that I didn’t know that fresh blood stains, as I later read from a book, could easily be removed from clothes.  When I think of the horrible pieces of cloth I had used, I get goose pimples instantly. I could have been infected by those pieces of cloth but God saved me. One day my foster mother talked about menstruation. She said that when it comes I will see blood in my pant and if that should happen, I shouldn’t panic. She said that when that happens I should tell her. I sat guiltily in front of her and could not tell her that I have been managing my menses for two good years under her roof. It was dramatic and I had to be as wise as a tortoise. One month later, when my period came I went to my foster mother and told her that I had seen blood on my pant. Before I went to her, I procrastinated more than twenty times. Sometimes I reached at her bedroom door and tiptoed back. When I at last told her, my foster mother gave me some reusable sanitary towels and explained to me how I was supposed to us them. The myth was broken this day. I felt relieved and that gave me some self-confidence. I never heard about menstruation while I was studying in the secondary school during the first three years. During the fourth year, I was offering a science subject—Human Biology. There was a topic on the reproductive system, the teacher talked about safe and fertile periods but I got nothing. I was completely in a daze. There’s a myth in my community that menstrual cramps disappear with childbirth but this is not true. I continued to experience spasms of pain during my periods even after giving birth to two children. I thought that diet might have to contribute to menstrual pains and so I placed myself on fruits. I made sure that I ate fruits every day for a period of six months. The cramps disappeared during this period and when I failed to eat fruits, the cramps settled in during the menstrual flow. I concluded that enough consumption of assorted fruits can check menstrual cramps to an extent. I then started coaching a few ladies who had the same problem to increase their fruit intake so as to reduce the degree of menstrual pains.

How to Get Involved

We need to make campaigns against taboos related to periods. We need to meet the target populations and give talks related to periods, menstrual hygiene, menstrual problems and break barriers that hinder young women and girls from talking publicly about their periods.

This story was submitted in response to Period Talk.

Comments 3

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Jill Langhus
May 08, 2017
May 08, 2017

Hi Sinyuy. Thanks for sharing your troubling story on menstruation. It's so sad that half the population is being given next to no training on menstruation and that there is so much shame surrounding it. And, I can relate to the menstrual cramping. A doctor once told me that usually when you have children that the cramping goes away, too. That helps if it isn't true and/or you aren't planning on having a family. Acupuncture helps and so does deep breathing/relaxation, but I think diet probably will help, too. Apparently there is a herb that can eliminate them forever but I was never able to find it after doing quite a bit of online research. If such a herb exists, surely women worldwide should know about it??

Sinyuy Geraldine
May 21, 2017
May 21, 2017

Hi Jlanghus, thank you so much for appreciating my story. I had kept it as a secret but I thought it wise to share here. C

Certainly thousands of girls have suffered, are suffering, and yet to suffer this terrible experience of nature's gift. We need to do something to help this situation.

Jill Langhus
May 22, 2017
May 22, 2017

You're welcome:) I'm glad that you did. I think just having more women open up about it worldwide is a big step in the right direction, and once it's more mainstream I think more remedies will become mainstream. I read an email the other day about cannabis and cbd oil helping with cramping and PMS. Check out this article:https://www.hellomd.com/health-wellness/marijuana-brings-relief-to-women...