As told to Nicole Audrey Spector.
Beginning as early as fifth grade, my periods were long, heavy and often debilitating. Even while wearing pads or tampons, they would occasionally leak through my clothing causing staining on clothing despite use. A new friend in ninth grade helped ease my embarrassment by loaning her jacket for me to tie around my waist after my clothing had leaked through after I bled through.
After graduating high school, my periods remained long and painful. Even today, they include heavy bleeding as well as cramps, backaches and anemia risk factors. For many years, these symptoms seemed normal – both I and my healthcare provider didn’t appear concerned by them.
My periods were more severe after becoming married and converting to Islam – an independent decision I made approximately one year after marrying a Sunni Muslim, inspired by watching him practice his faith – than they had previously been.
Religion dictates certain rules regarding prayer and intimacy when a woman is menstruating. While these regulations were intended as relief for women who experience periods, some interpretations make these restrictions seem punitive or impure, even among Muslims themselves. They can lead to misinterpretations.
There are five obligatory daily prayers, but when we’re on our periods we are unable to pray, have sex or observe fasting rituals (such as those during Ramadan). A heavy period that lasts more than one week and involves some form of bleeding can be an enormous disruption – leaving me feeling distant from both God and my husband.
At first, living with regular periods was just plain hard. I always keep extra clothing with me just in case something leaks through and most of my wardrobe consists of dark colors to reduce any visible bloodstains from leaking through.
Long and heavy periods are particularly challenging as a mother of three young girls who want to go swimming and play outdoors. I must balance their needs with mine while planning plenty of bathroom breaks; generally speaking, however, I try my best to carry on doing everything that would normally happen but at reduced capacity and with extra planning; for instance, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) recommended taking afternoon naps; therefore this is something I try and incorporate into my schedule when possible.
I lived through years of agonizing periods without understanding why. Finally, while pregnant with my first child, I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids – the source of all my pain and discomfort. Unfortunately, my OB-GYN did not address how these fibroids had affected me, my marriage, or quality of life; she only cared about their impact on my pregnancy.
My pregnancy progressed smoothly; however, I developed deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
After I gave birth, my uterine fibroids were too small for surgical removal and due to family history of blood clotting and DVT as well as my own personal history of DVT; therefore hormonal birth control could only offer me temporary relief because hormone therapy can increase risk for clotting.
Over the last 20 years, I have been treated by multiple OB-GYNs across the US, and each time, their advice was consistent: Uterine fibroids will always be part of my life and affect my menstrual cycle negatively.
Since I can’t avoid abnormally intense periods, I find meaningful ways to connect with God outside of mandatory prayers. These alternative connections strengthen my trust in His plans and understanding of His mercy. Additionally, I’ve explored nonsexual forms of intimacy between me and my husband that make us feel like newlyweds each few weeks!
Based on verse 56:79 of the Quran, many in our faith believe menstruating women should refrain from reading or reciting it during menstruation based on its translation as “none but the pure may touch”. Another translation: “none shall grasp but the pure [of heart].” To me this means if your heart is unpurified you won’t comprehend its information or integrate its messages into life sincerly – therefore if I come with a pure heart then I can fully comprehend (grasp) its spiritual text.
Once I discovered this more open interpretation of Quran reading during menstruation, I started doing so every month – something which gives me an opportunity to connect with God’s word every day. For those who take literally what the rules about not touching the Quran while menstruating are, audiobooks may provide access to God’s message without physically holding onto a book – Spotify and YouTube also feature wonderful recitations!
Overall, society requires more open conversations about periods; I feel this need is especially pressing in Muslim communities where stigmatization and misunderstanding about periods are frequent.
My state, Florida, soon plans to prohibit educators from discussing periods until middle school; therefore it’s even more crucial that parents feel at ease having these discussions at home.
Although facing challenges is never easy, I am pleased to see progress being made. Over Ramadan I participated in the Muslim Women’s Organization Women’s Health Matters series entitled Positive Periods where participants discussed menstruation with peace and healthy coping in mind.
I’m delighted to see more honest and constructive discussions taking place among Muslim women in my community, and hope others join us and find the same support I did years ago.
This resource was produced with assistance from Myovant Sciences GmbH and Pfizer.
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