“It Happens When You Eat Too Much Chicken”: How A Gynaecologist Justified My PCOS

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

I got my first period when I was 11. I know. I was really young. Too young in fact. At least, that’s what my first gynaecologist said to me when I went to see him at 13. It was a period problem. It was heavy and painful and irregular. I remember when he wrote down the words “Menarche: 11 years” and then looked up at me and sighed, silently judging me.

Schoolgirls laughing. Representational image.

At school, there had been an incident. I’d been sitting on one of the metal benches during lunch break and when I got up there was a splotch of blood on the desk. I rubbed it off with my navy blue sweater. I went to the school nurse and got a cheap, low-budget, totally low-key, sanitary napkin. My classmates who’d seen the blood started catcalling and hooting the moment I walked in.

I was so traumatised that I decided to skip school as often as I could. My attendance became sporadic and I started studying at home. The cramps would get so bad that I would have to crawl from my bed to my bathroom every time I needed to change.

So, when I went to see this rather sagacious doctor and he looked at me as if I’d committed a sin, I was bewildered. I didn’t know what exactly I’d done, but I felt ashamed like I had committed a sin. The sin of the period. Most of my friends hadn’t even gotten their period yet. The boys and girls in my class were whispering about me. They said I was “maturing” as if, instead of writing my maths exam, I was lying under the stairs giving birth to a litter in a box.

Dear God, I was turning into a woman and I could do nothing to stop it.
Look! Boobs! Gahhhhh!

It Happens When You Eat Too Much Chicken.”

It happens when you eat too much chicken.” My gynaecologist said, interrupting my inner monologue. “Non-vegetarian and spicy food must’ve brought it on early. Are you finding it hard to focus on your studies? Maybe you’re feeling excited all the time about the boys in your class?”

I puzzled over this for some time. As a 13-year-old, my life revolved around homework, Harry Potter and yes, crumb chicken. It was one of my favourite dishes. Could that be it? Is that why my homework was always unsatisfactory and marks inadequate? Was my crush on Daniel Radcliffe getting the better of me? (I’d been doodling his name along the margins of my social studies textbook). Did I have to give up chicken? The thought brought tears to my eyes. What would I say to Ravi, the kind old cook at the local Dhaba who always made me whatever I demanded?

At 14, rather inexplicably, I started putting on weight. And not like the normal kind. I’m talking 55 kilos at the end of 9th grade and 75 kilos by the time I was writing my 12th boards. It was like something inside my body had imploded. I was constantly moody, irritable, hungry and exhausted. The worst thing was that my period would skip for several months and when it came, it wouldn’t stop. I’d bleed for 30, 40, 50 days. I’d become anaemic. I’d look pale. I had to buy sanitary napkin packs by the carton.

When I was in law college, freshman year, doing a part-time job as a spoken English teacher, my biggest fear was that one day I’d turn around to write down something on the whiteboard and this whole room of grown-ups would see the red stain spreading across the back of my Anarkali Kurti.

By 21, I must’ve been to at least 10 different gynaecologists. Cantankerous, the whole lot of them. “What have you done to your daughter?!” One gynaecologist in Delhi exclaimed to my parents in sheer dismay.

When I got my period at 15, my grandmother slapped me so hard. What have you been doing, you stupid slut, she said to me”. The heavyset woman in Pune told me. “You must stay away from boys. Don’t think about that haan, it has side effects”. 

Representational image.

When did you get your period this month? When? How? Why?” A military doctor harassed me about the dates of my period, refusing to understand that I couldn’t keep track of them because they were so erratic. He badgered me for so long, that I nearly burst into tears. Then his assistant took me to a corner, asked me to undo my bra and squeezed my breasts so hard I nearly fainted. No, she wasn’t molesting me. She was trying to see if there were any leaks. Lady, I wanted to say, you’d have to buy me a drink before I’d let you do that

I had PCOS. Polycystic ovaries. Yeah, I know the women reading this must’ve picked up on that by now. Your ovaries develop cysts and your uterine wall becomes extremely thick due to hormonal imbalance. At one point in time, I had more testosterone in me than a bodybuilder.

I was on birth control since the age of 16, and just so you know, it’s like being Carrie from the Stephen King novel. At 21, my gynaecologist gave me a dire warning. “You’re an unmarried girl. Don’t let anyone know you’re on the pill. See, they might think you’re having sex”.

Wait a second. What if I wanted people to think that?

Then, there were the insulin pills. The drugs counteracted one another so beautifully that every day brought a new surprise. What would it be today? Nausea, migraines, extreme hunger, insomnia or a nervous breakdown?

I’d also fall down a lot, suddenly, for no reason. I’d develop acne which was more like an outbreak. There were nasty boils all over my face, my scalp, my neck and my back. It got really hard to find the right clothes for me to fit in so I had to shop exclusively at plus size stores, surreptitiously going in and out of changing rooms without looking at my backside in the floor-length mirror.

Mental health And Menstrual Health Are Deeply Intertwined

The worst thing was that my period would skip for several months and when it came, it wouldn’t stop. I’d bleed for 30, 40, 50 days. I’d become anaemic. Representational image.

At no point, did even one gynaecologist ask me how I was feeling. They didn’t care.

See, I struggled with depression throughout my teens. I had an eating disorder which was supposed to make me feel better, but then I’d put on weight which would make me feel even more depressed. I tried everything. Medication, juice cleanses, gymming, tarot cards, healing crystals, astrology and exorcists. Sorry, gynaecologists.

Not a single one wanted to talk about my problem. Why was I struggling to take care of myself? Why couldn’t I make the choice to eat right, exercise, sleep well, de-stress or follow a good routine? What was making me hate myself so much that I was literally trying to self-annihilate?

For every woman, her body is connected to her feminine psyche. Your mental peace and emotional well-being determine what your next period is going to be like. Mental health and menstrual health are so deeply intertwined, that it’s a shock when gynaecologists just look at you like a walking-talking uterus. Your mind, your thoughts, your feelings, are completely disregarded.

You’re looked down on because you’re a woman, and the one thing you’re supposed to do is bleed. You mess that up and you’re a spectacular failure. Like a pathetic excuse for a woman. If you don’t bleed enough or bleed too much, there’s something seriously wrong with you. You can’t have kids. You’re infertile. You’re barren. No man will take you. You’ll die an old maid. You will never be happy.

You’ve got that the wrong way around people. If you invested more in a young girl’s happiness, you’d find that menstruation isn’t that hard for her anymore.

Menstruation isn’t an alien bodily function, separate and disconnected from the rest of you. It’s a fallout of a healthy mind and body. Instead of bombing a young girl with drugs, try having a conversation with her. How is she doing? Are her friends bullying her? Are her parents getting a divorce? Did someone break her heart? Did a teacher hit her? Is her family forcing her to marry? Is someone sexually harassing her? What does she want to do with her life?

How can you as a doctor, help her take better care of herself, so that your patient can have a healthier period? Can you suggest therapy for her mental health? Can that bring hormonal normalcy? Can that make menstruation easy?

Menstruation is not the standard of a real woman. Mental wellness is.
The next time Whisper asks you to have a happy period, remember, ‘happy’ is the issue. Not the period.

Feature image is representational. 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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