14 to 25 % of women have irregular periods, with 1 in 5 women experiencing heavy bleeding and cramps. Every grad student either knows, works with, or identifies as a woman. This means that it is likely that many of us grad students either interact with someone or experience the consequences of periods ourselves. Yet, we never talk about it. As a result, many female graduate students suffer in silence, having to take sick days or quickly run to a bathroom in the middle of a meeting.
As for me, I am one of those women with irregular periods. And they manage to start at the best times possible; right before giving a lecture to 250 students, when I’m about to meet with my supervisor, or when I really need to cramp down on editing my dissertation. What makes irregular periods even more uncomfortable, is that they can signal underlying health issues, and so every time it happens my internal monologue starts again about what is going wrong this time. Having had ovarian cysts the size of grapefruits removed from my ovaries as an emergency surgery in the past, each time my period starts, it distracts me so much that I get flustered. Even when I had surgery on my ovaries a year ago, I felt the need to come up with a white lie to my supervisor because I don’t think he will understand.
As a solution, female grad students can take a sick day or place themselves on medical leave but discussing their health with peers or with supervisors is often impossible. Simply for being born a woman – thank you dad – women are still set back in the academic world. This does not only impact women, however, and it is time for everyone to educate themselves and speak up for recognizing health issues that are both natural and inevitable. A good begin is being honest about female health issues, opening the conversation about the consequences that women face from female health issues and advocating for the removal of the stigma around women’s health.
If you want to get more involved you can join the Queen’s Women’s Health Advocacy, which aims to raise awareness and break the stigma surrounding health issues faced by individuals who identify as women. If you have concerns about your own health, Queen’s Student Wellness has a gynaecologist working on site, who is not only extremely helpful but also very understanding. If you want to get a better understanding of female health, but you do not have a vagina or have no urgent medical questions, you can go to the Sexual Health Resource Centre in the LaSalle building Rm 215. Aside from information on sexual health and practices, they also have books on loan and products you can buy relating to female health.
In the meantime, I will keep sharing too much information about myself. It is time that we normalize our natural bodies and rhythms. Not just for ourselves, but for the whole academic world. And while it may be a bit uncomfortable at times, it is not nearly as bad when you realize that you are not alone.
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