Period pain at work is no longer taboo: "I cried because I didn't know how to tell my boss I couldn't go"

Period pain at work is no longer taboo: "I cried because I didn't know how to tell my boss I couldn't go"

Something that is better kept secret, although half of the population lives with it for about 40 years. Despite the advances, it is the social mandate that continues to weigh on the rule and everything that surrounds it. The idea of ​​the Ministry of Equality to specifically regulate a menstrual loss in the future reform of the abortion law has begun to break the taboo of the severe pain that some women suffer when they have their period. The measure is still being debated within the Governmentbut the idea has already brought to light testimonies that begin to make visible what it means for many to go to work and perform in these conditions.

Punctures, intense pain that spreads through the legs and back, dizziness, vomiting, cold sweats... It is what Henar, a 30-year-old woman who lives in Madrid, experienced almost every month when she had her period. A few years ago she went to the gynecologist, who ruled out that she had polycystic ovaries and diagnosed her with dysmenorrhea, which is characterized by severe pelvic and abdominal pain before and after menstruation. "You start taking an ibuprofen, it does nothing for you, you go on to so many other anti-inflammatories. And nothing... The last thing they prescribed for me was a muscle painkiller that directly makes you groggy," she says.

These "absolutely disabling" conditions conditioned Henar's daily life until the doctor gave him the option of using a hormonal contraceptive to reduce them. "I have been in several places working and when I arrived I warned my bosses that this could happen to me," she says. But he also acknowledges that he came to normalize the pain: "You can't perform the same and it would be better for you to stay home, but you go to work because you wonder how am I going to call now to tell them that I have to stay because of my period?" points out.

It is the question and questioning that many of these women have asked. Experiences of physical conditions related to menstruation are often accompanied by a sense of shame or harm minimization that Maria, who prefers not to give her real name, knows very well. "It's torture, in fact it's a relief that the period touches me on the weekend because of work," says this 32-year-old woman who works in an office and most months suffers several days of "very bad pain." spreading down the back, great tiredness, dizziness and a constant situation of being very cloudy.

For most of those who face this type of menstruation, the pain is compounded by feelings of guilt and excessive self-demand when it comes to working hours. "You think that you are not doing the job as you should, as if you were not efficient or productive. Because we demand of ourselves to continue doing it like the rest of the days," says María. She remembers the day a few years ago – "Now I talk more naturally about it," she says – she cried "because I didn't know how to tell my boss I couldn't go to work." The shame was added to the fear "that she would think she was lazy because there are women who hurt them and they can continue". "In the end I said that I felt bad, in general, without naming it," she recalls.

The psychologist and researcher Laura Medina Perucha is one of the coordinators of the study Equity and Menstrual Health, launched by the Jordi Gol i Gurina University Institute for Research in Primary Care (IDIAPJGol). She assures that these types of emotional effects are no exception, because there is "a normalization" of menstrual pain that "is closely linked to gender issues and how women's experiences of pain are validated," in addition to the invisibility that " historically" has faced menstruation. "It's something that happens in the social context and we ourselves internalize it and it also has to do with the ignorance of the menstrual cycle," he points out.

For the researcher, invisibility and taboo mean that "it is something that is not talked about and finally it is configured as something that must be hidden". Something that is "directly related" to what happens in the workplace: "It ends up assuming that this pain is minimal, that you have to put up with it and that you shouldn't notice it." This same social concealment is what, Medina believes, leads to "the scant scientific research on menstruation" and a tendency "to the medicalization" of painful periods. "On many occasions it is the first and immediate resource, but it is necessary to explore more where that pain comes from," adds the psychologist.

To Tatiana Romero was diagnosed with endometriosis almost two decades ago, during adolescence. At 38, he continues to suffer from intense and disabling pain every time he has his period that literally prevents him from leaving the house many times. Even so, she has suffered long working hours, especially during her more than ten years as a hotel employee, in these conditions. "It is very difficult to explain for those who have not felt it. As if they split you in two. It causes low blood pressure, migraines, dizziness... When I worked at the bar, I was at the bar for a while and went down to the bathroom every so often. to vomit," says this Mexican woman.

For Tatiana, the only option is a cocktail of drugs that alleviates, as much as possible, the disabling discomfort that lasts a few days. "I've always had to go completely drugged to work, having taken painkillers to be able to stand," she tells of her time in the hospitality industry. So, her strategy was to try to change shifts with classmates or get rid of the days that she knew she would have her period, something that she continues to do, although with more ease because she is autonomous and can organize herself.

All the voices consulted for this report agree that it is good news that they are beginning to talk about menstrual health and celebrate the fact that there may be a specific sick leave for women who suffer severe menstrual pain. "I don't know to what extent what we can already ask for will change, but it helps to make it visible and to feel recognized and legitimized," considers María, waiting to see how it ends up drafted and configured in the law, if this point is finally included. The young woman focuses on the resistance that still exists and that she has observed these days mainly on Twitter, with comments that "minimize our experiences and the pain we suffer."

However, for now the measure, included in the draft of the abortion law reform handled by the Ministry of Equality, is up in the air and several socialist ministers have cooled down in recent hours the possibility that it will finally end up reflected in the text.

"You have to treat it with a lot of caution, but it is true that until now many women have been silent and have not obtained the job protection they need. Even so, it is not an overwhelming majority, but rather those who suffer excruciating pain that seriously affects their life those days are the least," says Isabel Serrano, a gynecologist specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and a member of the State Family Planning Federation (FPFE). For the expert, it is key that this type of measure in the workplace be accompanied by others such as training for health professionals or incorporation into classrooms of menstrual education. "There is still a need for much more normalization, more social recognition and for the State to put in place the mechanisms to guarantee it," she concludes.

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