#OurCrampStory – Nothing Is Normal for Period Cramps & Menstrual Cycle

If you ask many women around, period cramp is that major reason they would rather not be women. Every month like clockwork, it seems like the woman’s body is out to fight. The medical term for period pain is Dysmenorrhea – a painful menstrual period which are said to be caused by uterine contractions. A study published in August 2019 in the journal of women’s health found that, globally, 71% of women experience period cramps. The study concluded that the prevalence of dysmenorrhea was high, irrespective of country, having a significant negative impact on performance.

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Also, contrary to the idea that women grow out of having painful periods, various studies have shown that the result was similar when comparing school-age young women, women in University and working class ladies. Also, some women actually grow into period pain as you will notice from our survey as you continue reading this article

Another study published in June 2012 concluded that period cramps is a very common problem but the need for medication and the inability to function normally occurs less frequently. Menstrual pain was reported by 84.1% of women, with 43.1% reporting that pain occurred during every period and 41% reporting that pain occurred during some periods.

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If I have to insert myself in the above statistics then I would say, “My name is Elsie Godwin and I belong to the 41%.” I have had an interesting relationship with Period cramps for about 17years now. I remember the first time I saw blood, I was not prepared, no one ever is. I was in our large compound, pacing around on the field. I have always loved large spaces and green is always a plus. Now that I am writing about it, it probably has to do with doing a good part of my growing up in a 2000sqm space. I remember sitting under one of the mango trees in the compound when I felt moist in between my legs. I went in to the bathroom to check and there was blood, so I told my mother. She gave me an Always pad, helped me fit it and taught me how to. She had to cut the Always pad in two because at 15, I was very petite and using the large sized Always pad she had at home meant that I would walk around with a bulge. She went ahead to teach me how to create a comfortable fold using toilet paper for when I might not have access to a sanitary pad. Of course I heard the slight, “You are now a woman o. You can get pregnant”, we both laughed.

My cramp was mild for the first few months. Then came this particular month, I was confused, my mother was even more confused. At the time, I had done about 9-12 cycles and this pain, albeit new was also very extreme. I was vomiting, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t walk, I was shivering, I could not lie down for long…Has to be the most painful period cramp I ever experienced In my life. It lasted for about 16hours then it went back to mild. Fast forward to sometime in 2015, I experienced my first ever anal period cramp. Oh boy! I thought something was wrong with me, because how can my anus be aching? I did some research and found out I wasn’t alone and that it was normal. I was mad at everyone who use the word ‘normal’. How can you say that this excruciating tingling pain in my anus is normal? Define normal!

After going through it, I put up a Facebook post which wasn’t welcomed by many, mostly men. They felt I had no right to talk about my experience, publicly. Many men (and women) still do not want us talking about our cramp story (at least not publicly) and I wonder why not. For an experience we live with and through, regularly, suggesting we should not express ourselves feels more like oppression.

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As surprising as this may sound, there are young girls and women who wonder if the excruciating pain they go through every month is normal and the ones who wonder if their lack of it, makes them less of a woman. To help answer the possible questions and to assure every woman that your unique story and experience is normal and doesn’t make you less of a woman, I reached out to upwardly mobile young professional women who were more than willing to help me put together this article by readily providing answers. The survey, asides getting this women to share their story, aimed to find out how we can be better support systems around a woman during her menstruation as a friend, family, boss, romantic partner and a society.

Does every woman experience period cramps?

Period cramps is very common. 69.2% of the ladies who participated in a survey for this article said they experience period cramps while 30.8 said they don’t. Most girls and women have pain frequently or not, of varying intensity. Others might never experience period cramps. Each woman have unique period experience and there is no normal.

Support system for women during menstruation:

How do you comfort a girl during her period?

These tips below will help you comfort a girl during her period as a friend or a romantic partner

Fatimah Bamidele Oyelami who is a communications and political strategist encourages being kind, comforting and helpful.

A Digital content marketer who specializes in Marketing for Nollywood films – Opeyemi Ewumi says, “Oh well, if I had the fortune to be with a sensitive person, I guess I’d need them to rub my lower back in the evenings when I get back from work, because the cramps in the first two days are unbelievably painful.”

Betyana Nwelih says “Just leave me alone and give me food’ while Ewaoluwa Oritu who is a Journalist, concluding her Masters in Dublin, Ireland says, money works the magic and her partner should understand her mood swings and not undermine her pain and feelings. “Just give me money”, she wrote.

Another Journalist with Newscentral Africa, Felicity Ezewuike encourages asking ‘How can I help?’ when you don’t understand or know how to. She says “Be present, make an effort to distract me. Love me a little more at these times”. While the Regional Digital Marketing Lead, Africa at Bolt – Victoria Olaifa says all she needs is empathy as she is a pretty independent woman.

Sharing from her relationship with her husband, Communications strategist and content creator – Oma Ehiri says, “Well, he helps with making my tea, kissing and rubbing my belly and helping me out with anything that could potentially stress me. I am in a long distance marriage. So, when he is not in town, he tries all he can via phone calls including asking that I place my phone on my belly so he can kiss it…. lol. Emotional support is equally bae!”

Recently appointed SDG Finance Geneva & GSIV Ambassador, Dr. Chioma Nwakanma says, “Just be around to help in anyway. With the periods come mood swings. So each period might require a different kind of craving, from appetite changes, to physical touch and massages, assistance with work or house chores. Green teas and Pap help with my cramps.” The medical Doctor & Sexual & Reproductive healthcare advocate  went on to advise – “Generally, being sensitive to immediate needs, helps.”

UI/UX Designer, Oluwakemi Adeleke, says buying her lots of chocolate and sending her money helps. And Mercy Omohoro, who is an entrepreneur says Just being there is enough. “Because sometimes that’s all he can do. And maybe just be readily available in case I need anything.” Nigerian broadcaster and media entrepreneur, Fola Folayan agrees with Mercy as she says, “Just be there. Be extra nice to me. Do chores if they need to be done.”

Online media aficionado, communications strategist, and entrepreneur – Moji Delano says – “Ask about it and show genuine interest, ask what he can do to make me feel better, pamper and cuddle, buy me plenty gifts”.

In summary, women just want to be shown some love during this period and occurrence that is no fault of theirs. Just being around, empathetic,  supportive and maybe some chocolates and body massages can make all the difference.

Menstrual Leave?

We sure do deserve this. Menstrual leave is a paid or unpaid absence from work due to painful menstruation. CNN reports that Japan introduced its period leave policy in 1947 to address labour right concerns while south Korea adopted period leave in 1953. And in China and India, provinces and companies are increasingly adopting menstruation leave policies with a range of entitlements. Other countries that offer period leave include Indonesia, Taiwan and Zambia. Menstrual leave has been a controversial topic for a while as some feminist opines that “it suggests women are uniquely handicapped in the workplace by the fact that they have periods. And it further brands women who menstruate as ill”. Opeyemi Ewumi submitted in our survey that she does not want anyone giving her concessions because she is a woman going through things women go through biologically and It is a different thing if one was Pregnant. However, 50% of the women who responded to our survey suggested and pushed for more advocacy around paid sick leave policies for women who experience very painful, debilitating menstrual pain. While some others advocated for Dispensaries for those unexpected day in work environment

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Another barrier with the menstrual leave is the low use of period leave in countries and companies where it is readily available due to cultural bias and shame. For women who has male bosses, they find it difficult to talk to their boss or even inform them of their period cramps. Period has been viewed as a sensitive subject for years. Fatimah Oyelami says, “Women shouldn’t be ashamed of their menstrual cycle or afraid to ask for help. We didn’t ask for this so there is no reason to feel bad or shy or ashamed.” Moji Delano added, “We need to break down the stigma around periods. This is still the biggest challenge women still face that makes it difficult to talk about our experiences without shame/embarrassment. If this is done and talking about periods without sarcasm or condescension is normalized, employers can them take things a step forward in creating more period conducive environments for women.”

Below are some of Our Cramp Story: (You can share yours on social media with the hashtag #OurCrampStory)

Fatimah Bamidele Oyelami – Communications and Political Strategist

An excruciating pain every month, comes with mood swings, loss of appetite, diarrhea, unnecessary crying/tears and vomiting. I also get to have PMS from like a week or two before the period and that makes me bloated asides the pains. The pain feels like they are grinding my tummy and sometimes like my tummy is on fire from the inside. #OurCrampStory

Opeyemi Ewumi – Digital content marketer with a specialty in Nollywood film

When I was younger, I never used to feel any cramps at all. Periods were something that would just come and go as usual, nothing to see. However since I crossed 28, my body started changing in the craziest ways. I’d fall ill right before the periods came and the pain would be excruciating. I’d always feel pain in my lower back and pelvic area, and sometimes it feels like I need assistance to move from one point of my room to another. Getting up on work days usually involve a lot of mental ‘psyching’ because there’s really no one to help me but myself anyway. Sometimes it feels like someone has their foot on my stomach. It’s been crazy.

PS: The cramps seemed to get worse after I found that I had fibroids growing in parts of my womb.

#OurCrampStory

Betyana Nwelih

I hardly ever have cramps. They come once or twice a year and it’s hell on earth. Other months I just get easily irritated and cranky.

#OurCrampStory

Ewaoluwa Oritu Michelle – Journalist

I started my period on a nice note… I mean no cramps or pimples or any type of changes, it’s just blood flow and that’s it. Untill after 3 years I think, it got really bad , that i usually feel really sick during my period.

#OurCrampStory

Felicity Ezewuike – Journalist

I would say upfront that I do not have period cramps but something does happen. At some point, I had slight heaviness on my lower abdomen but that has long stopped. I do however have mood swings at these times consistently; sometimes so bad that I have damaged relationships over the years. It took me a while to trace and note the association but by then I had taken decisions that hurt. I was able to rebuild some, the ones I could trace; others I lost completely. These days, my defense mechanism is to alert my friends or simply say upfront my mood is awry and then thread cautiously. Shout out to my ladies who have severe pains, I saw a friend writhe in pain every month as a teenager and I could only imagine the agony. I cried in solidarity tears while I held her hands.

#OurCrampStory

Victoria Olaifa – Digital Marketer

My period cramps usually start 2 days after my period has started. I experience backache, bloating, and overall discomfort. Lest i forget, i get pain and numbness in my lower abdomen. It ranges on a scale of 6-10, depending on the month. I have to drink a lot of water just in case that helps me feel not as uncomfortable.

#OurCrampStory

Oma Ehiri – Communications Strategist and Content Creator

When I was much younger, my cramps were intense. They were so bad that I needed to take pills to feel better. I would throw up and sometimes just spit repeatedly as though I were pregnant. This made me very afraid of getting pregnant in the future as I wondered how terrible that experience would be if period cramps were this intense. By the time I got into the university, I started to hear some stories which spurred me to do some research. That was when I decided to ditch the pills and see how I could deal with the pain. I didn’t want my body to get so accustomed to taking the pills that when I needed pain killers for something more intense like child birth, they may need to find something a lot stronger. At least, that was my thinking. So, I ditched the drugs. It was crazy and meant missing classes on some days but eventually, I let go of the pills. Of course, in recent times, having an almost healthy lifestyle like working out and watching some of the things I consume has also helped.

#OurCrampStory
Dr. Chioma Nwakanma – Medical Doctor. Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Advocate.

My period cramps are usually erratic. They are present in some cycles and absent in the rest. The severity is also mild. Cramps start few days to my period, and is usually more uncomfortable on the first day. I have only experienced very painful cramps few times, during my early menstruation days.

#OurCrampStory
Oluwakemi Adeleke – UI/UX Designer

I really do not experience period cramps. I’m a weird person. Lol

#OurCrampStory
Mercy Omohoro – Entrepreneur

Personally I used to suffer from PCOS so for me it’s irregular cycles, painful period and urge to shoot anyone in sight 🤣. I first saw my period when I was 13 and it has been a crazy ride. I remember one day in my senior secondary school, I had cramps so bad that I came back home and I was rolling on the floor. The pain was so severe all I could do was roll and cry and my dad just watched and tried comforting me cause there was really nothing he could do. I was restless. I got introduced to boscopan, then felvin, then ordinary hot Lipton tea, then dry gin, then hot towel bath. See, e no get wetyn I never try. Sometime I’d go months without soft drink or anything sugary still. I think I just got to a point where I accepted this was my fate. A sad one. Let me also say period cramps are crazy. Now every month I get a new symptoms Lool. Sometimes I purge for 2 days straight when on my period. The day e vex, vomiting follows the purge. Sometimes it’s just the stomach cramps. Some weird times it’s my legs I feel the cramps in instead of my tummy. Other times I get so so angry , everything around me becomes irritating. Like even your breathing sef I go want chuk you biro. Sometimes my nipples will be on fire. Like even a singlet would cause pain, cold would cause pain. I avoid body contact that period cause nipples will be so so painful, i avoid bra. Other times, man go dey enter my eye 😭. I go dey crave oko like say I get belle. Choi! The whole period thing is crazy and what’s crazier is everybody has different symptoms.

#OurCrampStory
Moji Delano – Online media aficionado, communications strategist, and entrepreneur

My cramps don’t come every month. However in the early days when I started my period as a teenager, I had an unforgettable cramp experience and interestingly, hasn’t happened again since then. One midnight, I suddenly woke up to excruciating pain in my legs: from my waist to my toes. The pain came from deep within my bones and I had NEVER experienced such before. I could barely move my legs and I was so afraid. I had no serious stomach cramps and the slight pain I felt in my stomach wasn’t strong enough to suggest the pain in my legs was tied to my period. I also didn’t have enough menstrual experience at the time so I couldn’t easily differentiate what menstrual pain looked like. It wasn’t until when I managed to go wake my mum that she asked me if I was about to see my period and suggested it could be tied to it because she had experienced same. I didn’t keep record of dates (still don’t seriously do it 🥴) so I told I I wasn’t sure. By morning though, my period came and gradually the pain subsided. After that day I never felt that intensity of pain in my legs again. Now a days, period cramps come once in a while. Ranges from mild to serious but not over the top or excruciating. I honestly cannot say what triggers it because there are months I hardly feel any pain at all and my sugar and junk consumption was inhibited prior. Other months I try to be careful with what I eat yet still feel some level of pain. The best periods I’ve had however was when I was doing intermittent fasting. I did not feel any changes in my stomach area at ALL, and had no pain whatsoever. Overall I’d say I’ve been one of the lucky ones. Aside being very heavy, my period cramps are not unbearable.

#OurCrampStory
Stèpha Abdul

My cramps aren’t as often as most people have theirs, but one thing about my cramps is that, when I have the symptoms, it’s very painful. I didn’t use to take painkillers for it cos I always advocated against it, but omo x1,000,000 as I got older the cramps got worse and I just had to. It usually happens during the first 2 days of the period, that’s all. Nonetheless, I’m still finding ways to manage it.

#OurCrampStory
Fola Folayan – Nigerian broadcaster and media entrepreneur

The first time I experienced period cramps, I freaked out. It started in the middle of the night. It was horrible. I couldn’t sleep, I was miserable throughout the 5 days of my period. With time, I learned how to take painkillers. I still do now because I still have very painful cramps and it still makes me miserable.

#OurCrampStory

Dear Ladies, i hope this article helps you feel unique and special in your own normal.

I will end this post with an additional submission from Ewaoluwa Oritu – “Sanitary pad should be free, if Scotland can do it , the whole world can”

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8 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing our voices. I hope that young women find consolation knowing they are not alone. I hope that policies can be formed in organisations and countries recognising the pain that women go through during PMS, pregnancy and other women health journies that many never speak about or address. This was a good read. Well done Elsie
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  2. This is really interesting……I never used to have period pain and God knows I was so glad that I didn’t have to go through what my sisters went through….until I experience it the first time. God…..I almost died and wished I never feel that again,but its like my prayer wasn’t heard….lol. when the pain starts,you don’t want to be close to me cause everyone and everything will get me angry like they are the cause of my pain.its not a blessing nor is it a curse. However you feel just know that’s what makes you a woman.

  3. Very nice article, I actually usually feel moody when I’m on my period but I distract myself with work and when it comes to pain, I think I only feel the pain when I’m idle. But when I’m busy, even when I’m in pain I don’t feel it because my mind is occupied that moment.

  4. Thank you so much Elsie for using your platform to talk about it , pain is not a normal way of life, women should have this type of conversation often and openly with feeling shame !!!

  5. Wow, interesting and eye opening read. I won’t even lie, it was a major pain in the ass…a four day visit compulsory monthly visit that I always dreaded. But one thing that always helped me out is staying from sugary stuffs around the time of the visit and oh I always went on compulsory hunger strike those periods to minimise the pain. I guess it is a cross for women. Thankfully ever since I had my first child it has become a thing of the past.
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  6. I thought I was part of the lucky few with no cramps while growing up unlike my sisters till I had a baby, the first proper period I had came with my salary being slashed for the 3days I stayed at home, the pain was equivalent to your intestine being squeezed(IBS pain) when it started, first off I was scared, thinking there was something wrong as it was just 9months after baby, I ran to the hospital and I was told nothing was wrong, I had to learn how to deal with and then it sometimes clashes with IBS series 🥺
    It’s been off and on, sometimes it’s 3days before, sometimes it’s 3days during and sometimes it’s a no show and it comes with different kinds of moods.
    Weldone Elsie, hopefully the younger generations talk about it and learn.

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