Sitting in a meeting with her boss, Emily* is finding it really hard to concentrate. She has shooting pains in her lower stomach, and she’s doing her very best to concentrate on the important discussion going on around her. Biting her bottom lip she tries to suppress her complete discomfort, and resist the urge to double over in pain.
Why doesn’t she say anything? Because this isn’t a tummy bug or an infection, it’s her period, it happens every month and, like millions of women across the country, she fears admitting how much it affects her will damage her career.
A recent survey found that four out of ten of us find it hard to concentrate at work when we’re suffering from period pain, and 10% have called in sick because of it. Yet, many of us still feel it’s not possible to admit the real reason behind that phonecall for fear they wouldn’t be taken seriously.
And now women are turning to drastic – and potentially harmful – measures to prevent their time of the month from affecting the careers they’ve worked so hard for: by halting their cycle altogether.
“I’m seeing a huge rise in the number of women turning to various contraceptives to stop their periods, some for months or even years at a time,” says Dr Shazia Malik, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital. “Especially those who work long hours in demanding jobs.”
According to Dr Malik any form of hormonal contraception can stop your periods – but the effects are variable in different women. However, the combined oral contraceptive pill (taken without a break), the Depo Progegesterone injection, contraceptive implant and hormone coil can all stop periods in their tracks, including the symptoms that come with them.
And with 17 million sick days a year down to period pains it’s no surprise that women are turning to desperate measures to prevent this. 55% recently surveyed admitted that they would be interested in stopping their period, with 74% saying they felt their time of the month put them at a disadvantage in life.
“I’ve called in sick countless times because of my period,” says Emily, 31, who works in publishing in Oxford. “I don’t think I suffer any more than the average woman but it affects my concentration and I feel I can’t give 100%. I wish I felt able to tell my boss but it feels too personal. I think it would be disregarded as a ‘silly’ excuse and I’d be seen as someone who isn’t hard working or dedicated.”
Kimberly*, a nurse from Glasgow agrees. “Strong cramps mean that three days a month I am just not as ‘on it’ as I should be,” she says. “I don’t take time off but I was recently passed up for a promotion and they mentioned that sometimes I don’t seem committed to the role. It was horrible knowing it was because of something out of my control.”
However, while repeating your pill or changing to the injection and just stopping your period altogether may seem a wise option, experts warn it could have a long-term damage on your health. “The longer you use the hormonal contraceptive injection, in particular, the longer it can take for your periods (and thus fertility) to return,” says Dr Malik. “The injection can also reduce your bone density, which could lead to osteoporosis. The risks vary from women to women, with for some, the risk of cancer being higher.”
But is our only option really to suffer in silence or risk our health to stop them altogether? In South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia women are allowed to take a certain amount of menstrual leave a year but calls for a similar system in the UK were dismissed by many as making periods even more taboo. “I think there just needs to be more discussion surrounding how periods affect different women,” adds Emily. “I have friends for whom it doesn’t affect them at all, and others who have been admitted to hospital after being found passed out in the toilet at work. I don’t think we need extra days off for it, just the ability to be able to be open in the workplace and take time off when we need it without feeling judged.”
“I Work So Much Better Now”
Alanna Allen, 29, own five hair salons in Surrey and stopped her periods eight years ago…
“It’s been so long since I’ve had a period, or any of the common symptoms associated with your period, that I’ve completely forgotten what they are like! All I know now is that my life – especially when it comes to my career – is so much easier.
Eight years ago when I was a hairdressing trainee and I frequently had to take time off because of bad period pain and I was just so fed up of my period affecting my life in this way. Friends of mine at the time had the Depo Progesterone injection, which you have to have every 12 weeks at your GP’s, so I decided to go for it. It doesn’t work for everyone but it completely halted my periods and it was amazing.
I kept going back and my doctor’s began to warn me against the dangers associated with the injection and told me it wasn’t something for the long-term. But I was benefiting so much from it I ignored them for years, until eventually, two years ago I looked into other options and got the contraceptive implant which stops my periods now.
I’m the manager of five hair salons, balancing the books and seeing clients, it’s really hectic. It’s wonderful not having to worry about feeling sluggish, moody or dealing with horrendous cramps. Friends of mine who are also in highly pressured jobs have changed their contraception to stop their periods, and they understand. Some colleagues have also opted to do the same.
The one person that objects to my decision is my mum: she really worried about me. She’s always panicking about my fertility and says not having a period isn’t natural.
But I don’t worry at all about the risks involved – I think her fears are simply down to her being from a different generation. There were the health problems associated with the injection (such as osteoporosis) but now I’ve changed to the implant and no one has said anything. Also, even when I was on the injection, I was still seeing my doctor every 12 weeks who was monitoring me.
I’ve recently got married turning thirty soon so my husband and I have discussed children. I am thinking about get ting the implant taken out within the next twelve months.
However, I am scared for my first period – I think it will hit me like a ton of bricks! I do think more discussion needs to be had around how much your period can affect your career, but having worked with women for years I also see how easy an excuse it is. I don’t have much sympathy for staff members who take time off for it, if you are really suffering then go see your doctor and do something about it.”
By Catrionna Innes
If you are thinking about changing your contraception go talk to your GP or visit www.talkchoice.co.uk