I still remember the night before my first period. I was in the 9th grade and I had a social science test the next day. My back hurt terribly and to top it off, the book that I had to use for my daily English assignment had gotten over. I cried a lot because I thought that my English teacher would scold me. I stayed up all night because of the pain. I didn’t know what kind of pain that was. The next morning, I found a blood stain on my bedsheet and I was asked to not go to school for the next four days. I was the happiest that day; I didn’t have to write the test or get scolded for not completing the English assignment.
Not much has changed since then when it comes to my monthly menstrual cycle. Every month, for a few days, I feel a strong pull from beneath my feet, it moves from my back to my thigh muscles to my legs and I struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. These days are usually spent with a hot water bag against my stomach and the nights are spent tossing and turning until I fall asleep. I constantly ask my friends to check the back of my outfit to see if I have any blood stains. Over the years, I have learnt to prepare myself for my period when the pain starts but it hasn’t gotten any easier. The vulnerable feeling that I have at that time is hard to explain. It sort of feels like even if someone were to touch me gently, I could cry.
When I joined NalandaWay Foundation, I was really impressed by the fact that the organisation had a menstrual leave policy. In 2021, there was a lot of talk about the need for menstrual leave and everyone in the organisation got to share their thoughts on the topic. Based on this discussion, it was decided that all employees should be entitled to 10 days of paid menstrual leave in a year.
I have realised that everyone goes through menstruation differently – some have terrible cramps, some have mood swings, some have both and some don’t go through much pain. This might vary each time. Something that I have observed at work and also generally is that everyone who menstruates almost always carries an extra sanitary napkin. And they readily offer it to anyone who needs it. This comes from shared understanding and sensitivity regarding what we go through.
Having the option to take a menstrual leave makes the world of a difference. I can sleep peacefully knowing that if my body needs to rest the next day, I have the option to do that. For me, it is more about having the ‘choice to rest’. If not for that, I would overburden myself and that wouldn’t help my mood, work and irritability in general. Sometimes, instead of taking the day off, I choose to work from home. Working from my bed, wearing comfortable clothes and sipping on some hot tea makes it a tad bit more bearable.
On the days that I take a menstrual leave, I let myself do the bare minimum. I make myself some hot tomato rasam sadam and I spend the rest of the day sleeping. I wish more people get to live their ways of guilt-free “homely comfort” during their periods.
Written by Lavanya NK. Lavanya is a part of the Partnerships team at NalandaWay Foundation where she also contributes to the research and ideation of new projects. She holds a Master’s Degree in Ecosophical Aesthetics from Manipal Academy of Higher Education. She loves writing about arts, history and films.