A day in the life of an academic with heavy periods
Based on survey data with approximately 600 academics living and working in the UK, I have presented a short day in the life of an academic who is experiencing heavy periods. This is not one person’s story, rather it is a fictionalised account of Susie’s first day of her period. It represents the feelings and experiences of a number of survey respondents. Susie is a casualised academic, who identifies as a cisgender woman. She is on a low income, and is experiencing period poverty.
‘My job is pretty full on. I often work until 10pm at night and do about 8 hours of work at the weekend on top of 9 to 5 hours during the week. And, that’s just to keep up my head above water. Most of the time I can cope with it, but not when I’ve got my period.
Sometimes I wake up with a familiar dragging feeling in my belly, and am exhausted. Not just tired like we all are, but I can barely get out of bed. But I have to because I’m teaching and I can’t miss that. The pain starts, and I’m doubled over, but I only take half of pain medication because I can’t afford to get my prescription filled every month. It’s enough to get me to work and to my first lecture. I get there and see that there’s no chair for me in the lecture hall, and I’ve got to give a two hour lecture standing up. Although I get through it, I’m scared the whole time. What if I bleed through my tampon and students see the blood? How will I keep any semblance of a professional status with the students if they see I’m bleeding? By the end of the lecture I’m exhausted, in pain and just want to go home. I go to the nearest women’s bathroom but it doesn’t have any disposal bins. None do in our building. So I have to wrap my tampon up in toilet paper and carry it around with me. Sometimes I run out of tampons or towels at work, and there’s nowhere for me to get any so I make a pad out of toilet roll. I’ll have to borrow money from my Mum to get some more tampons later.
Other days I have to call in sick. I just can’t focus and I’m in too much pain. I tell my boss that I’ve got a migraine or the flu. There’s just no way I can talk to him about my periods. I’ve had to change my job so that I don’t do field work anymore. My boss kept organising field trips for the students, but he’d never book a coach with an on-board bathroom or stop for comfort breaks. I just can’t go that long without access to a bathroom to change my tampon or my pad. I’m worried they think I’m unreliable at work, but I can’t talk to my colleagues. They’re all men and would be so embarrassed.
I sit in 3 hour long meetings, and I wait until everyone else leaves the room before I stand up. Just to make sure there’s no blood on my dress. I’m getting close to the menopause which makes it so much worse. My periods come without warning and I sometimes flood. I’ve not had a disaster at work yet.
When I get home I’m exhausted and still in pain. I can use my heat pad at home, no one asks why I’ve got it. So I curl up with it, and hug my cat. Tomorrow I can work from home and I’ll have everything I need. I’m lucky though, only the first two days of my period are like this. Usually.’
Written by Kate Sang, a Professor of Gender and Employment Studies at Heriot Watt University.