I had an ablation last week and I’m here to talk about how I got to this point. I’m going to share quasi-graphic details regarding my menstrual history so if this is not your cup of tea (fair enough!), come back tomorrow for much different fare.
I felt compelled to write this post because, for over 20 years, I’ve been struggling with an issue that impacts so many parts of my day-to-day life and I was always looking for – but rarely finding – real details from real people (not generalized statistics on the side of a tampon box or a case study profile from a doctor).
So, with the hope that this may be of some value to someone (someday), here is my story.
I had my first period at some point between my 11th and 12th birthdays. It started in the late afternoon; I was wearing light blue-jean overalls, ready to head out the door to a baseball game at a weekly youth group.
My periods were heavy from Day One. I wasn’t surprised or upset (I had older sisters and knew what to expect) but, looking back, I can’t believe I dealt with such difficult periods solo.
I had a lot of issues with “leaking” when I was a teenager. Despite using Super Plus/Ultra Flow tampons + overnight pads, I would still leak through almost every night of heavy flow. I eventually started cutting the bottoms out of black garbage bags and would sleep inside these makeshift plastic sacks. Current Me wants to go back and hug Teenager Me. I would wake up drenched in sweat and the whole experience was truly awful, but I hated the thought of leaking through onto my bed and it seemed like a necessary – and bearable – evil. I also always, always slept on top of a giant towel.
I eventually ditched the garbage bag habit (thank goodness), but continued sleeping on top of a thick towel well into my 20s. Eventually, my body learned to compensate. Without trying, I started to wake up prior to leaking and, over time, my whole body would instinctively (subconsciously, in my sleep) go rigid, with my legs locked together. Miserable, but surprisingly effective.
pads, tampons & the diva cup
For years I used a combination of tampons and a pad. Even with that combo, I still felt vulnerable to leaks.
During my final year of university, a friend told me about her Diva Cup and I ordered one that very night (I don’t think you could get them in local stores at the time). This product was life-changing and I’ve used it for over a decade (except when I had an IUD, more on that below). If you’re not familiar with menstrual cups, I would strongly recommend you read the instructions before using one, as I learned several “tricks” for easier insertion and removal that were not necessarily intuitive.
I know some people hate using a menstrual cup but, for me, they made a hugely positive impact on how I managed my periods.
For every day of heavy flow (4-6 depending on my period cycle), I still had to wear a pad (3-4 days this would be an overnight pad) along with the Diva Cup. Only for the last 1-2 days could I safely get away without a pad, and even then I still used a panty liner.
But the Diva Cup has a much better “capacity” for heavy flow versus a tampon and, equally critical for me, allowed me to track blood loss.
And now I’ll cross the line into the she’s-holding-nothing-back level of sharing, but this is the type of information I could never find from “real” people.
The estimated average blood loss for women is 30-40 mL. Anything over 80 mL is considered menorrhagia, which is recognized as a bleeding disorder. At this point, doctors will label a period “heavy”.
While my levels varied from month to month (quite typical), I usually lost between 140 – 160 mL (so, double the volume needed to fall into the “bleeding disorder” category). In addition to the quantity being measured with a Diva Cup, I was also leaking into pads so, conceivably, there could have been months where I lost close to 200 mL.
ANEMIA + Other impacts
One of the most common issues associated with heavy periods is anemia and I was on my first iron supplement by the age of 14.
Heavy periods have also impacted my quality of life. For over two decades, I have had to plan around my period, prioritizing being close to home. We planned our wedding and almost every family vacation since around my cycle. It’s not just an annoyance, it’s disruptive.
I also struggle with PMS – usually for at least a week before my period. Then my actual period is exhausting because of constant vigilance and hands-on responsibilities. Then the week after my period I’m exhausted from the blood loss and all the physical, emotional, and psychological impacts of the situation.
Over the years I have tried various iron supplements (a range of pills; Floradix liquid) but the only supplement that has worked for me – sufficiently raising my levels without causing major stomach issues – was Feramax. It is kept behind the counter at pharmacies (all iron is; it’s toxic in high doses), but does not require a prescription. Compared to other forms of iron it is expensive (~ $1/pill vs the cheaper iron salts formulations like ferrous sulfate). There are cheaper generic forms but I strongly preferred the Feramax brand; my best trick is to ask the pharmacist for coupons, which they almost always have on hand. Family doctors and OB/GYNs also often have full-sized sample boxes of Feramax.
My hemoglobin numbers were always okay, but if we drilled deeper, my ferritin levels were well below normal. Several times I got my ferritin back up to reasonable levels with Feramax, but in the summer of 2021 I ended up having a series of iron infusions. These were ordered by my doctor and are covered by Medicare in Canada, but infusions are very expensive if paid out of pocket (I was told ~$2,000-4,000/infusion). While these did help my iron/ferritin levels, they didn’t end up boosting my energy levels and, over time, my heavy periods were slowly going to counteract the positive impacts of any infusions.
hormonal birth control
This is the most frustrating part of my story. So many women respond successfully to hormonal birth control as a management tool for heavy periods.
I am not one of them.
In my first or second year of university, I started passing enormous blood clots. I was worried about the extreme blood loss and a campus nurse encouraged me to seek medical help immediately. I was put on a birth control pill (Alesse) and proceeded to bleed non-stop for 28 days. At the time, I had no desire to wait it out (I didn’t realize breakthrough bleeding was very common) and went off the pill.
Before getting married I went back on the pill for birth control. Within 6 months, I was a wreck. My mood plummeted, I was exhausted all the time, I started getting migraines, my lower back was killing me (I started sleeping with a giant book under my lower back for lumbar support). I was in and out of doctors’ offices constantly. One day, almost in tears, I happened to be reading a magazine in the waiting room and saw an ad for a birth control pill. When I got to the fine print with side effects, my jaw nearly hit the floor – every single one of my symptoms, including lower back pain, was listed. Could it really be the birth control pills making me feel so lousy? It had never crossed my mind.
The doctor I spoke with suggested I try a different type of birth control (this would have been my third or fourth brand of birth control, each one with a unique combination of hormones). I remember going home, hopping into the shower, and sobbing to John: I just can’t do it. I cannot try another pill.
Somehow or other, I ended up on the NuvaRing. This was the birth control that worked best for me. My moods weren’t impacted dramatically and it helped lessen blood loss. Still, I didn’t like how I felt, went off it and…9 months later Abby was born!
When I had my 6-week checkup after delivery, the attending OB/GYN recommended an IUD. I knew we wanted to have another baby at some point, so opting for a quasi-permanent 5-year birth control method didn’t seem wise. I went back on the Nuva Ring and things leveled out.
My periods between Abby and Levi were the best of my life. Still heavy, but completely manageable and so much lighter and shorter than at any other point. Eventually, I went off the NuvaRing to try for another baby, Levi came along…and then things nosedived.
My periods post-Levi were even worse.
I decided to try an IUD. I was told it wouldn’t hurt. It was excruciating. I was told to wait it out for at least 6 months and the breakthrough bleeding would stop. It didn’t. I waited for 1.5 years and almost every day was horrible.
By the end, I was bleeding non-stop for at least 3 out of every 4 weeks. I felt horrible physically and mentally. While my blood loss was light (heavy spotting), now I was bleeding almost constantly and had to wear a pantyliner every single day. It was hellish. I had an ultrasound to make sure the IUD was still placed correctly – IUDs can migrate, requiring surgery – but everything looked perfect.
About a month after that ultrasound, I woke up one day with excruciating abdominal pain and proceeded to lose 100 mL of blood in about an hour. I was, as one might imagine, quite worried. I got in for an emergency appointment with a doctor who checked for my IUD strings. I wanted it OUT. They couldn’t find it. I got sent in for an emergency consult with an OB/GYN. She spent 20 minutes desperately poking at my cervix trying to find those strings only to conclude they weren’t there. (In addition to the stress of the situation, it was one of the most painful experiences of my life!) I ended up having an X-ray which revealed that my IUD was missing; eventually, it was determined my body must have expelled the wretched thing. Both my family doctor and my OB/GYN said I was the first patient they knew of that had spontaneously expelled an IUD.
Since that experience, every single doctor I’ve talked with has tried to convince me to try another IUD.
NO THANK YOU!
I have tried several other forms of hormonal birth control (Lolo and…something else) in the last two years – both were a disaster, with mood changes and regular breakthrough bleeding. Finally, I wound up back on the NuvaRing, this time encouraged to leave it in for consecutive months to try to stop my periods completely to allow my body a chance to recuperate. After 2 months on the NuvaRing I started having major spotting. I kept on with it for another 4 months but, eventually, on January 9th 2022, I was standing in the shower crying one night (deja vu) and decided I was done. I got out, told John my decision, and wrote in my One Line A Day Journal: Going to call Dr. X about hyster[ectomy]. It’s time.
Over the years, doctors have been relatively hesitant to talk about surgery because:
- I’m young.
- I might still want to have more children (though once you have at least 2 and are over 35, they don’t fixate on this as much).
Then they were hesitant because I had 2 C-sections, a thin uterine lining, and a lot of scar tissue, including significant bladder adhesion (making it more complicated for a laparoscopic hysterectomy).
After years – literally years – of debating pros and cons and everyone trying to get some form of hormonal birth control to regulate things properly, I decided surgery was the only option. I was originally scheduled for a hysterectomy in October 2022 but tested positive for COVID the day of surgery. Over the last few months, and in consult with another OB/GYN, I opted to go ahead with an ablation. I had that last Wednesday at a local hospital. I am so thankful I made this decision and feel at peace with having tried this much less invasive procedure first. Time will tell; I have a family member who had an ablation and then two years later ended up with a hysterectomy. But the risks – especially given my scar tissue – were significantly lower and the recovery time much, much faster with an ablation.
takeaways if you’re struggling
If you’re reading this today and have a similar gynecological history – I’m so, so sorry. It is a huge burden that you are bearing. It is isolating and exhausting and messy – emotionally, physically, and practically. I have been there and I wish I could wave a magic wand and take it all away.
Every situation is unique and I am not a doctor and am not trying to make any direct suggestions about how to manage your symptoms. That said, if you think you would benefit from some form of intervention, I encourage you to seek out a caring, informed medical team!
I also recommend:
- Measuring your flow. If you’re comfortable using tampons, a DivaCup isn’t dramatically different and allows for concrete measurements of blood loss. This is so helpful when discussing treatment plans with any medical professional.
- Recording relevant dates. Keep track of period start and end dates. Doctors care about the duration of cycles. Also, practically speaking, it’s much easier to plan fun life events if you know when your period is going to strike.
- Advocate based on your experience. I have literally spent dozens of hours talking about menstruation and birth control with doctors. And every single time I’d hear statistics about how well IUDs work or how most women don’t have any problem with X, Y, or Z. If it works for someone else, this is great. But if it doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to throw in the towel. It took me a long time to reach the point of saying: Enough! I couldn’t listen to what worked for other people, I had to listen to what my body was telling me. In my case it was saying: We hate hormonal birth control.
- Ask to have your FERRITIN levels checked. Ferritin is not always included in routine blood screening. My hemoglobin levels were fine when my ferritin levels were well below normal. Ferritin is far more sensitive and indicative of anemia. If you are anemic, I’d encourage you to speak with your doctor about Feramax or some other highly tolerable form of iron.
- Acknowledge that it sucks. Heavy periods suck. Clenching your legs together so you don’t leak all over your sheets sucks. Changing a Diva Cup in a public bathroom while vacationing sucks. Regulating things with hormone replacement can really suck. Enduring the status quo sucks. It’s okay to name your hard.
Maybe (hopefully) no one reading here today can relate to this health complication. But if you can, I sincerely hope you find relief and I hope this makes you feel a little less alone in your suffering. I also realize that a number of readers have struggled – or continue to struggle – with very complicated chronic conditions. I’m sorry, friends. It’s hard and yet you show up to work and life and fun, often bearing invisible burdens. I hope whatever physical or emotional challenges you’re facing today, you find some relief.
Header photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash
44 thoughts on “I Just Had An Endometrial Ablation. Now, Let’s Talk Periods.”
Elisabeth, thank you for your honest and open sharing. And I’m so sorry it has been so hard. If there was more focus on this in the past, I think there would be more accounts of struggles with the different birth control methods, side effects, and pain, etc associated with periods. There would be more stories for everyone to relate to, and not feel so alone in this journey. My story is different, but we have some overlapping issues, mine being anemia. I had a blood transfusion in the late 80″s., iron shots, and agree that feramax is really the only pill that is bearable. When I was getting tested out of the ying yang before donating my kidney, I had a doctor comment on my history of being anemic (since my teens). He had a concern about that, that no other doctor really blinked an eye at. It can be so frustrating.
Thanks, Shelly. I want to be careful to acknowledge my “hard” (which has been hard!) while understanding that so many other women struggle with far more serious and life-limiting challenges.
Feramax did help manage my symptoms effectively for quite a while and while it was never going to solve the root problem (menorrhagia), it allowed me to maintain some level of normalcy.
I am so glad that you are so open about this, as I do think that there are so many things that are difficult to talk about but we need to hear other people’s stories so that we can learn from each other! I can only imagine how glad you must be now to have gotten this procedure over with and I really hope that it provides you with some relief! My grandmother and aunt both had hysterectomies and I asked my OBGYN if this was something that I need to be worried about and she said not necessarily because apparently it was often common back in the day to default to hysterectomy even if there could have been other things that would have helped instead. It sounds like this may still be the case in some situations. I am glad that you found the doctor who suggested ablation instead.
I have to admit it wasn’t at all hard to click publish on this; maybe I’m just an over-sharer? But to me… menstruation is just a fundamental reality for a huge portion of the world’s population. It’s not (or shouldn’t be) shameful at all?! But yet culturally, it’s generally a closed-door topic. Why?!
I am SO, SO thankful to have had the ablation. I’m recovering well (definitely much easier than a C-section recovery, and a hysterectomy recovery would have been along the same lines). Even if the ablation doesn’t work well, it appears to be a tiny blip on my health radar and I think mentally it will be much easier to accept a hysterectomy if it comes to that.
Re. the ablation vs. a hysterectomy: I have been followed by three OB/GYNs over the last 5 years and each had different risk tolerances. The first was 100% pro-hysterectomy. Because of my scar tissue and thinned uterine lining, she was 100% against an ablation. I got on a wait-list for a hysterectomy with this OB/GYN, but then she moved to a different province and my new (2nd) OB/GYN did mention an ablation, but because of my young age, realized that it might not be a long-term solution and I could still wind up needing a hysterectomy. The final OB/GYN was very positive about the ablation and my family doctor has always been an advocate of trying the least invasive procedure possible, so I decided to try this route.
The hope, in my case, is that it never gets back to my pre-ablation levels. But…this ablation is unlikely to “see me through” to menopause.
Elisabeth, this is TERRIBLE! What a completely awful situation. I also want to go back and give your teenage self a hug. Well, and your present self. I’m incredibly lucky that I never had to deal with anything like this. My periods were always manageable. But I’ll bet there’s someone out there struggling with this who will get some relief from this post. And I hope the ablation helps! We’ll all be waiting to hear, and hoping you get some relief.
I want to be sure to balance this topic with sensitivity and recognition that SO many women are struggling with far more serious, complicated, and life-limiting challenges. My challenge just happens to be something that tends to not be openly discussed (or at least I always felt like I was struggling to find someone I could talk to/relate with on this topic), so I certainly hope someone at some point can benefit from my experience and get interventions that provide relief!
This sounds awful and I’m sorry you had to deal with this for so much of your life. It’s also kind of shocking to me how often doctors default to the norm, and then seem shocked or don’t even believe you when something doesn’t work. I have a 35-day cycle, and the doctor always did calculations on a 28-day cycle; in the end I just started lying about my last period dates. With half the world having menstrual cycles, you’d think things would be more advanced. I hope the surgery worked for you!
I want to make clear that I think extremely highly of all the medical professionals I interacted with over the years on this issue. They were patient and understanding and working from a position of risk-management and based on their own experience treating women with similar issues. That said, eventually I had to accept that I simply didn’t fit the traditional mold in how I responded to hormone treatments.
And mentrual issues are especially tricky during child-bearing years. They were very mindful of treating me with non-invasive techniques until I was finished having children!
Wow, you have been through so much! I want to hug young Elisabeth, too. I feel like there is a lot of shame around periods or at least there was when I was younger? I don’t think it was intentional on my mom’s part. But I was kind of embarrassed to tell her I got my period for the first time. She was always matter-of-fact about body stuff since she was a nurse but I still felt some shame around periods for some reason? I am trying to be more open about my cycle with my boys. I will tell them that I need to change my tampon, etc.
I had heavy cycles but nothing like you experienced! I tried using the diva cup but loathed them. I had to change them more than the packaging/marketing material said I would and obviously changing one of them at work is not really an option! So I gave them a try for a good 6 months and then went back to tampons. Before having kids my periods were incredibly irregular. I would go 12 weeks without getting a period! They never really knew why. I eventually went on birth control to regulate them. I assumed I would have a very hard time getting pregnant but got pregnant the first month of trying after getting married! I can’t use hormone-based bc due to a genetic mutation I have that makes blood clots more likely if I am on hormonal bc (discovered when I had a massive blood clot during pregnancy!). So I tried the copper IUD between pregnancies and it was so God awful. It makes your periods even heavier. I think I lasted about 6 months on it before having it pulled. Now I don’t have to worry about it since Phil had a vesectomy the spring after Will was born. We were COMPLETELY SURE we are done having kids so that was the best option for us since I couldn’t bear to go back on the copper IUD.
My mom and sister both had hysterectomies but I don’t appear to be on the path towards that. I am glad you had an alternative to try before going the hysterectomy route. I know getting that surgery was life-changing for my mom and sister! My mom’s was harder than my sisters as they’ve made them way less invasive of the last 20 years. But it’s still a major surgery, especially if it can’t be done laparoscopically!
My mom was very open about this topic – I don’t remember feeling shame, per se, but I just think I believed this was the norm? Like everyone my age was cutting open plastic bags and sleeping inside them?! I didn’t know any different and felt like I was mature enough to handle it on my own.
She was aware I had heavy periods, but there wasn’t much to be done about it at the time AND I mostly just handled it privately. My mom has been a huge advocate and supporter as I’ve tried different management techniques. But I think more generally it’s a topic that doesn’t get discussed openly. Which I understand on one hand – menstruation (especially heavy periods) – are not a very pleasant topic. BUT, 50% of the world will/is/has menstruated, so this is a topic that affects so many people.
I know a few people who have HATED the Diva Cup. Honestly, regardless of what I try there was a mess involved and the Diva Cup was the best of the worst options? But it’s definitely a reason why I really needed to be home as much as possible over my cycle.
I had a doctor recommend a copper IUD to me at one point and I looked at him like he had two heads. You KNOW these things make periods heavier, right?! They don’t come with the side effects of hormonal BC, but I never considered a copper IUD because of the increased flow (and I think they also increase cramping issues, too?).
And yes, I know several women who say hysterectomies were the best medical decision they ever made. My biggest hesitations:
1) I am still so young. While that will help my recovery, if I had any complications, I have a LONG life to live with the fall out.
2) I’m at much higher risk because of my C-sections. I had wanted to try for a VBAC with Levi but ended up opting for a C-section for other reasons. The OB/GYN who delivered Levi said it is so good you didn’t try for a VBAC because your uterine lining is very thin! That, coupled with all the scar tissue adhesion meant I was at elevated risk for issues with/damage to my bladder and bowel. There was also a much bigger chance I would need to be opened up vs. laproscopic. The women I know that had hysterectomies had all had vaginal deliveries and very low risk. If I knew then what I know now…I would have had a hysterectomy at the same time I had my C-section with Levi. Oh well. Woulda, shoulda, coulda…
Yes, I definitely think it makes sense to go this route and try to avoid a hysterectomy if you can! There are complications involved, especially with the hormonal aspect! I know there’s been a bit of a bumpy road for my sister. My mom had no other option with the issues she was having. Turns out carrying 3 9#+ babies really did a number on her.
The shame thing is odd because my mom is incredibly matter-of-fact about things with her nursing background. So I must have absorbed the broader shame around bleeding/menstruation? Like others have said, it’s so “hush hush” in general despite the fact that MANY people deal with it on a monthly basis. I think/hope this is changing, though.
I can’t imagine a doctor SUGGESTING the copper iud for you. What in the world!!!
Yes! I was also worried about long-term hormonal challenges from a hysterectomy. Because I have had such a difficult experience with hormonal birth control, I did wonder how it would impact my mood and all sorts of other hormonally-influenced physical and mental functions.
Elisabeth, thanks for sharing this. I feel like all too often doctors will say “you have problem X so Y is the solution” and then when Y doesn’t help there’s no answer. Yes it’s all complicated and yes there’s no one answer for everyone SO IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO TALK ABOUT IT.
I wish you speedy healing and hope that the ablation is the answer.
The doctors all did their very best (and I hold them all in the highest regard), but patient care is highly individual and at a certain point I had to start advocating for what was/wasn’t working. Thankfully, they were highly responsive to that input and I am truly grateful to have the ablation behind me. I’m hoping it works, but even if it doesn’t, it feels really good to have confidence in trying this as a first step!
I really hope you have good results from the procedure! I am a doctor and I wish all my patients could explain their symptoms as clearly as you do. Knowing how many tampons/pads you bleed through in a day/night is really helpful. Prayers for your continued recovery!
Thanks, Sarah. I hope my days of tracking periods and blood loss are over, but perhaps at some point my experience might help someone in a similar situation?
Every doctor who helped me over the last few years (as the symptoms intensified and I was ready to take longer-term action) has been wonderful. I’m forever grateful – especially to my family doctor who has had so much patience and care.
It’s so empathetic of you to put this out there to be a resource you may have needed. What a road you’ve been on! As a mom of a young girl, I try incredibly hard to normalize talking about periods and products and options and menopause and all of it (vs. the secrecy and shame that was so commonplace in my youth), so that if she is challenged in any way with her cycle, she can advocate for herself from a place of knowledge (much like you’ve done all these years). Here’s to an easy recover from your procedure and hopefully some relief!
Thanks, Lindsay. The recovery so far has been great. A little achy and I’m still not back to exercising, but so smooth overall!
I really hope the next generation of girls feels better empowered to discuss these issues. While I didn’t feel shame, it was definitely isolating…
Elisabeth, thank you for posting this. Oh, how I wish that there were resources like THIS POST when I was growing up. Talk about periods is so taboo, or hush hush, or secret, or whatever that the whole thing felt mysterious and almost shameful when I was growing up — even though I feel like I lived in a household that was pretty matter-of-fact about bodily functions. I had extremely heavy periods when I was a teen (although nothing like you experienced — leaking overnight was common, for instance, but not daily), and it would have been so nice to know that I wasn’t alone and that it wasn’t “normal.” But I was embarrassed about it and never really shared how much it bothered me. I wonder if things would have been different if I had told my mom specifically how heavy the periods were? Birth control wasn’t an option (for me) when I was a teen, so I dealt with the leaking and excess bleeding and horrible PMS until I was a college sophomore and I decided that I NEEDED to try something to fix it. Fortunately, for me, hormonal birth control has helped tremendously. (Although it has taken a long time to find the “right” birth control.)
I hope that the ablation is successful and that you can say goodbye to ALL of it.
(Your IUD experience gives me the shivers. I have never met a person who liked her IUD. And the whole thing terrifies me.)
My daughter is nearing the age where she’ll go through puberty, and I really really hope things are different and better for her. She seems pretty open to talking about things with me — like she recently saw an ad for period underwear and said, “Mom! That looks like an awesome idea for when I’m old enough!” — and I try to be open with her, although I haven’t really touched on the possible negatives yet with her. And I’m so old that I have never tried a Diva Cup or period underwear or any of the wonderful sounding innovations that have arisen in the past decade or so, but I want to make sure she has all the options available to her.
I remember my mom empathizing with me when I had PMS in high school. She said that when she was in her first job out of school, she used to take a day off work every month to deal with her awful menstrual symptoms… until someone told her that you just didn’t DO that. I think it was meant to be a pep talk for me, that it’s. normal to experience pain and mood swings, but that you just learn to deal with it. But when I think back on it now, it’s just sad. Why aren’t there REAL SOLUTIONS for this monthly pain and emotional stress??? I hope that a) my daughter skips this lovely tradition I seem to have inherited from my mom or b) that if not, I can help her advocate for better.
You have been through so much and I am so hopeful that your procedure is finally the answer you have been looking for.
Oh, Suzanne. I am so sorry you’ve experienced similar issues (I’m glad to hear you’ve found the “right” hormonal treatment – it really is trial-and-error, which is why I tried for YEARS to find something that worked).
I am fortunate in that I don’t remember ever feeling shame about my heavy periods, but I did feel isolated. I think I assumed this was what everyone went through, so I suffered in silence but mostly thought it was normal?
For working women, especially, it is such a pertinent topic because in a male-dominated corporate culture where women’s inherent “weaknesses” are regularly being discussed, menstrual cycles can be a point of contention. I am encouraged that more female leaders are taking time off after delivery and, in some cultures, there are more allowances for medical leave to deal with complicated monthly cycles. Still…it is a huge burden that women bear.
I agree. Though doctor’s seem to sing the praises of IUDs, I literally don’t know anyone who has had a wholly positive experience, and know several women where it migrated and had to be surgially removed!
I have also heard about period underwear and bathing suits which sound genius. I had many of my own “hacks” for this sort of thing over the years, but I am thrilled there are mainstream, afforable solutions. I realize that menstrual cups tend to be a love/hate thing for many women, but for me they really helped manage leaking issues.
Like you, I hope my daughter does not struggle with something similar, but I am so glad that I can help advocate and inform as challenges arise. And, hopefully by being open about it, encourage others that might feel ashamed or isolated to realize they’re not alone!
Oh Elisabeth. This is just dreadful. What a terrible thing to have to go through EVERY SINGLE MONTH for basically your whole life. How awful. I have never had many issues with my cycle: it’s never been terribly heavy, I went on the pill for years and had no or positive side effects (clearer skin, less PMS), and now that I’m in perimenopause my periods are frequent but very, very light. Like, I don’t even need a tampon or anything more than a pantyliner. I have a girlfriend who is like you with super heavy periods and is always having to deal with leaking, and it sounds terrible.
I know one person who likes her IUD but she doesn’t have and never wants children, so maybe that’s part of it. My MIL showed me her old IUD from the Sixties, which she had kept this whole time. She told me that the end part was sticking out through her cervix and it was uncomfortable, but she just thought oh well. Then my FIL (can’t believe I’m writing this) experienced, um, discomfort while intimate (trying to be delicate here) and then she went to the doctor. The doctor was like oh! Yeah, that’s not supposed to do that. Based on that story, and also because I never had a problem with the pill, I never wanted to try an IUD. I MEAN REALLY.
I hope you recover quickly and that this is the answer to your horrible, horrible cycle! CYCLE BEGONE.
I’m so glad for your light periods, Nicole! I think it’s wonderful when we celebrate things that work well and I’m genuinely thrilled BC pills were such a net positive experience for you (and for so many other women!!).
The premise of the IUD is lovely – not having to think about it for YEARS. I was so, so optimistic going into it, but it was a bad experience for me.
I cannot believe your MIL has her 1960’s IUD. That’s wild! Also, the story – which you told very “delicately” – did make me laugh. “Yeah, that’s not supposed to do that.” Haha!
Oh, Elisabeth. How hard to read how much you’ve suffered. My own experiences with period pain basically eased once I was no longer a teen and I’ve found a hormonal birth control option that has kept everything stable. BUT! It’s so important to talk about this and I’m really impressed with your openness and honesty. I keep thinking about how your body spontaneously ejected your IUD and how terrible it must have been for you on a regular basis if it didn’t even cross your threshold of extra discomfort! You poor thing.
Fingers crossed this ablation helps and soon you’ll be able to write a whole post on its process and recovery!
Thanks so much, Engie <3
I'm so glad that hormonal BC has worked so well for you. It is such a wonderful resource when it works and I know many women have had life-changing positive results from steady use of BC pills etc.
I didn't even realize the IUD had come out. I do wonder if it came out with all the blood? Whatever happened, my body was so ready to get rid of it. I'm kinda proud, in an odd way, that my body did something that is supposedly highly irregular to get free of the wretched (for me!) thing.
So far the recovery has been very smooth. I'm still a bit achey, but it's 100% manageable. Now I'm just waiting to see how my cycles pan out...
I have terrible PMS and hormone-related anxiety, and I get another mini bout when I ovulate, meaning half my month can be dominated by my period. My periods have always been pretty normal, besides terrible cramps (and I say this as some one who had 3 unmedicated births– my cramps are labor-level awful), but they’ve gotten worse/heavier in my 40s and really unpredictable, which increases my anxiety, etc etc etc. My doctor had bad periods before menopause, so she is really proactive about checking ferritin. Hormonal birth control has not been great for me in terms of moods post-kids, so I completely empathize with that struggle. I also did a bunch of research on failed IUDs of the 1970s/1980s for my dissertation, so LARC is not for me either. Solidarity, sister. I hope the ablation makes your periods easier to manage, and I love that you shared this honest account.
Oh Sarah, I’m so, so sorry. I have a friend that was diagnosed with PMDD. It completely dominated her life during that time of the month and was terrifying for her/her family.
While I get cramping, it is very minor compared to what you’re describing. I can’t imagine labour-level cramping each month. I have no insights into debilitating cramping (I think some women get relief from BC for that, too, but of course I can 100% relate to the fact that doesn’t work well for you). It is overwhelming to have it dominate so much of your life, and then that trickles down into more anxiety not knowing how bad it will be next time.
Sending you virtual hugs, Sarah. And truly hoping you find some relief.
ERMERGERD– I included a story about my doc recommending the diva cup for yucky (IMO) reasons, and my comment got caught in your spam filter several times before I realized what happened LOLOLOL and sorry.
Gah! I found them – they all went straight to “trash”. Right after I started this website I had a flood of Spam and so I set up a few keywords that kept showing up repeatedly that would trigger a comment to go right to “Trash” so it doesn’t even cross my radar. One of those words, for likely obvious reasons, was sex. Sorry it filtered out your comment. At least I know it’s working?!
And that is the first time I’ve heard the Diva Cup recommended for this particular reasoning!
I was just telling her about my period dramZ and she was like oh what you need is to be able to have s*x during your terrible period,. WHAT.
What indeed? Nothing puts a gal in the mood quite like cramps and blood loss…!
Oh Elizabeth – your honesty and wisdom on this site continues to be a wonderful thing. And the forum you provide for everyone to share their experience.
I’m sorry that it’s been such a long, hard journey.
Why is having a period so fraught and inconvenient and complicated? I’ve definitely thought that if women ran the world there would be better solutions for something that happens *every month* to half the world’s population.
Thanks for such a kind comment, Diane.
It IS fraught and inconvenient and complicated. I’m so glad I have a partner who is so supportive and live in a culture where there is access to sanitary products, medical interventions and freedom to discuss these sorts of things. I know there would be SO many women in similar situations in cultures where menstruation is taboo and the monthly experience can involve abuse and/or segregation.
Oh goodness, I am so sorry. I am hopeful that the surgery does what it was supposed to do, and you never have to deal with this again. I had a friend who used to hemorrhage quite often, including the day before her wedding (and miraculously not ON her wedding day) and then again the day after, to the point that they had to cancel their honeymoon to Hawaii and instead go get 3 units of blood. Horrific. I don’t remember what she had done, or what the issue was other than huge fibroids. My daughter has heavy periods perhaps 2 (sometimes 3) times a month, but thankfully for her, hormonal birth control has gotten it under control.
Being a woman is FUN!
Thanks so much for the well-wishes.
Your friend’s story is so horrific. Three pints of blood instead of a honeymoon? That poor soul. I do hope she was able to find relief and get to Hawaii for a belated honeymoon celebration.
I’m so glad your daughter has found relief with hormonal birth control. It is so effective for many women and I’m delighted the pharmacutical options exist. They just didn’t work for me.
And yes…it is quite a wild ride being a woman. And we handle so many of our physical challenges behind closed doors (periods, labour and delivery).
Oh Elisabeth…. I knew you had issues and I knew they weren’t easy ones but the full scope of your story is truly scary, devastating and hurtful just reading. I am sorry you had to endure this for all of your life basically. How terrible that there is no real education on the topic. That we as women do not now what is normal and what is considered a medical anomaly.
As I have mentioned before here and there I had similar issues. Luckily for me it developed later in life. But I ended up not being able to leave the house on certain days. I feared I wouldn’t make it to an appointment, a friends house etc. I had the husband drive me to a birthday party because I didn’t want to be in public transport. I called my friend to clear the path to the bathroom when I arrived… So I can somewhat relate.
It’s been 9 month since I had my hysterectomy. I am one of the 3-6% of women who continue to have monthly bleedings. I guess that tells you something about how heavy they have been before.
I very much appreciate you sharing your story. I have looked on the internet and have not found much information. I have not yet managed to really talk about it (besides in your comments). I need a bit more time I think. But it is a topic we need to be more open about. And we need the rest of society know that being a women is not always rainbow and cakes but is really physical and mentally exhausting.
Tobia, I am so sorry to hear about your similar (but even more intensive!) battle with these issues. While I tried to stay close to home, it sounds like your bleeding was far more disruptive than mine and I am so, so, so sorry that the bleeding has continued. I honestly had no idea that was even possible and I hope you get complete and lasting relief so very soon, my friend. It is exhausting and isolating and yet also very hard to discuss and plan around for everyday life events.
I am just heartbroken the hysterectomy was not a final solution and, again, sincerely pray, your medical team is able to find ways to support and move you toward a place of healing and a relief.
I am just so, so sorry! I understand what you’re going through, in part, and wish I could know of some way to take it all away!
You’ve really been through the gauntlet with your period, Elisabeth! This sounds terrible, and I am so very glad you were able to get this ablation procedure and I really hope it eases your issues. I have the opposite experience as my periods are very light and I can go 40+ days between cycles. I likely have PCOS but haven’t gone through the diagnosis process because it won’t affect my life that much since I don’t intend to have kids. Right now, I’m on a hormonal birth control to regulate my cycles.
I’m also ASTONISHED that your body EXPELLED your IUD. Dang! Your body really didn’t want you to have that in your body, haha.
My doctors were astonished too; there are reports of it happening, but I was the first person in their practice to have this happen. But I hated that thing so much, I’m actually kinda proud of my body for getting rid of it. It was like my uterus said: either you get this out or I will. And it beat me to it!
Gosh, I am so sorry for what you’ve been through, Elisabeth. I’ve heard some crazy menstruation stories over the years but yours take the cake. This is truly excruciating to read (and imagine).
I really do hope that the ablation will have the desired effect!
I had iron-deficiency anemia in the past and the first question was if I had a heavy period. I didn’t… but yes to getting your iron levels checked as a woman!
Yes, and not only generally for hemoglobin, but also ferritin!!! That nuance can make a big difference in getting a diagnosis of anemia.
Oh. Oh, Elisabeth. This is horrible. All of this is horrible. I cannot believe how much you suffered, and for how long. I cannot believe that no one listened to you. That no one thought outside the box. That no one thought, maybe, just maybe, the person who is *experiencing* this hideousness might be the *expert* on what’s going on. I am so angry, honestly, that you did not get the care that you needed. I am so sorry that you waited this long to find someone who will help you manage this in a way that has the potential to give you a semblance of a life back. (I hope beyond hope that it helps… not just that it has the *potential* to help). I really, really hate that women’s health, and in particular, women’s menstrual health, is so misunderstood, neglected, and ignored. I am hoping for only good things for you after your ablation… <3
Thanks, Anne. To be fair, treatment was complicated by my age and the fact I did want to have children. But it has been a long road! Hoping things are smooth sailing moving forward with the ablation and I am glad that I can help other women in similar situations advocate for themselves and/or get a first-hand perspective on exactly what I went through. Having nebulous/case-study stories just never felt like enough for me. I wanted to hear from a “real” person, though obviously everyone’s body and response to various treatments will vary significantly!