The consensus? Periods sucked until they didn’t.
The average girl in Nigeria starts her period at 13 and will experience her cycle until she’s 48. Over 44% of these girls bear the consequences of little information on the impact of their cycle on their well-being or access to the right sanitary products due.
Understanding your cycle is a personal and intimate journey and, for some, a painstaking one.
Step into the intimate world of these four women as they share their unique and personal experiences with their periods.
“I have dizzy spells when I stand up. There are also migraines, and I feel intense tiredness. Typically I’m weak during the week and in the weeks after my period as well.”
Timileyin was 13 when she got her first period. Her initial education on her cycle came through her bunkmate, who taught her how to wear sanitary pads, her peers, who made her understand that heavy and painful periods were a “flex”, and her school principal, who taught a walk around the sports field would ease the pain.
“By the time I entered senior secondary school, I had such intense bloating that I couldn’t zip up my school skirt…I used to sneak to the infirmary so that it could give me a painkiller injection to numb the pain.”
In her early 20’s. Timileyin was confident she hated her period. She experienced allergic reactions to sanitary pads, which, coupled with the pain, only made her miserable.
“I used to hate my period because I used to itch a lot. It was a very uncomfortable period for me.”
The combination of research and a wedding outfit later, she found tampons and says, “I never ever went back to sanitary pads.”
Timileyin’s journey has been a mix of triumphs and challenges, navigating hormonal acne and mood swings. She delved into research in her quest for understanding and empowerment, building a deeper connection with her body. She embraced the idea of getting to know herself on a profound level.
“I sat down with my body and said, ‘Let’s get to know each other’.”
Presently, Timileyin is consciously developing a relationship with her body at 26. She tracks her cycle with an app, eats iron-intense foods in her menstrual phase for the boost she needs, books a facial date to prevent hormonal acne a week before her menstrual phase, and takes a sick period leave to take care of her body from work.
“I’d always thought that if I don’t see my period, It means that I’m not fertile…”
When she started her period at 13, Violet had never had the “talk” and was grateful to have been in a safe space at home when it began. As a teenager, she had the dream life with a regular cycle, no puberty, acne or cramps. In her 20s, her cycle changed.
“I started experiencing severe acne, intense fatigue, hefty flows, and my period became irregular, so I couldn’t track it as you normally would. The irregularities made me start seeking specialist help at a very early age.”
When Violet turned 23, she sought help from her first gynaecologist, who suggested a diet change. Still, unfortunately, her condition didn’t improve over the years. She endured excruciating pain, making sitting or lying down challenging. After switching to a different specialist and undergoing several tests, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – a health condition that disrupts reproductive hormones.
“It’s just been a roller coaster. The medications they put me on to help stabilise the cycle added to the stress that my body experienced. Some of the meds they put me on would mimic the symptoms of a pregnant woman in her first trimester. I’d have vaginal cramps coupled with lower abdominal pain.”
Her body and mind were also affected, from the changes from her boobs swelling and drastic weight changes to being put on antidepressants. She changed specialists and, for the first time, saw a female gynaecologist. She felt comfort in her relationship with her cycle for the first time in years.
“I always thought that not having my period meant I was not fertile or couldn’t have kids. So there’s been mental stress and workload, thinking my body couldn’t produce a child.”
Now 30, Violet focuses on getting enough sleep, eating well, and doing yoga. She now understands that every woman’s body is unique and serves multiple purposes beyond reproduction.
Inspired to learn more, she experiments with her diet and skincare to find what works best for her. Having faced challenges due to a lack of information, including needing counselling for the effects of PCOS medications, she feels more empowered and motivated by the knowledge she gained.
“I feel like many people that go through the same should also take time to do private research. Seeing a specialist is great, but you must do the work yourself.”
“First, I removed animal produce and scrapped sugar from my diet. I was making a lot of tea and making more of my own food.”
Achalugo is proudly 30+ and recalls her first period at age 12 with a range of emotions, from the excitement of starting her period to the disappointment of its disappearance for three months and the heavy comeback.
She describes her 20s as filled with research for painkillers to manage the pain and hopping from one painkiller to the other. She had some respite when the pain level reduced after the birth of each child. In her late 20s and four years after the birth of her last child, the painful period came back, and it was back to square one.
Two years ago, she met a friend who also had painful periods and spoke to her about diet modifications and exercise. Despite being sceptical, Achalugo decided to give it a try.
“I’d begun doing a lot of research on how the body works. I was watching documentaries on Netflix and YouTube and wanted to try it. I removed animal produce and scrapped sugar from my diet. I was making a lot of tea and making more of my own food.”
These lifestyle choices significantly impacted Achalugo, and she says she’s doing well for someone with an IUD with no cramps and bleeds lighter than in her pre-IUD period.
Proud of their relationship, Acha is conscious of exercising and paying attention to her body. She has developed a routine to help her physical symptoms like sugar cravings and emotional symptoms like extreme sadness.
“My body needs sugar, but it is not specifying the type of sugar it wants. So, I give it healthier sugar.”
As a writer for TV, Achalugo schedules her little wins towards that time of the month to boost her confidence.
“I basically create little highs for myself, as well as a lot of meditation because I realised that when I’m grounded, it’s harder for those thoughts to take footing.”
“I’m maintaining and respecting my vagina a bit more than I used to when I was much younger.”
Amanda remembers her confusion at 11 when she woke up to play video games on a Saturday morning and realised her boxer shorts were wet from her first period. She recalls not having a great relationship with her mother then and going through her first period with a tissue provided by a lady with whom she had formed a sisterly bond.
“One thing I remember about my periods growing up was that it was excruciating. I used to have very painful periods where I’d vomit, my legs would be paralysed, and I’d have terrible stomach aches.”
Amanda recalls her teenage years as survival of menstruation, understanding it, ensuring she wasn’t stained, and managing the pain. By her 20s, Amanda hated her period and was very vocal about this on her social media.
“I’d have cramps before my period, and because of that, I wouldn’t be able to have sex sometimes ten days before my period or six days before my period. Because if I do, I’ll have cramps that try to kill me.”
In her late 20s, Amanda decided to figure out how to work with her body instead of against it. She describes every month as different: “Some months, my period just comes and goes like nothing happened. So months, I’ll be physically unable to do anything because of how incredibly weak my body is.”
By mapping, exercising, and consciously trying to eat right, Amanda has figured out her cycle phases and how to work with her body in those periods.
“I’ve noticed that during this specific (follicular) phase of the cycle, I experience a surge in energy immediately after my period. I have a lot of energy around the ovulation phase. My energy slowly decreases in my (luteal) until my period. I’ve learned what kind of exercise works for me at different times. I’m lifting the first two weeks after my period. In the third week of my period, I’m running because I can run, no matter how weak my body is.”
At 30, Amanda says acceptance doesn’t mean agreement with her feelings about her periods. However, she feels a sense of responsibility towards her. She says, “I’m maintaining and respecting my vagina a bit more than I used to when I was much younger.”
Her awareness and knowledge make her feel more confident and in control of her body.
“I know what’s happening, and I’m never just confused or lost. Nothing is catching me by surprise. I’m aware of what we’re going through. So, if anything is not happening as it should be, I know to be cautious and pay attention to it.”