She cries until she had no tears left.
I sit near her, stroking her hair, wiping a damp, cool cloth across her forehead, feeling completely and utterly helpless. I am, by turns, good cop/bad cop: gently soothing tones tempered with firm reminders to breathe when she begins to get hysterical. This is no ordinary period pain.
She screams out in pain, a staccato, “WHY. Is this. Happening. TO ME?” She is raw emotion.
I have no answer. “I don’t know,” I murmur, as I hold back tears of my own.
We repeat this song and dance nearly every month. Some months are worse than others. Other months she makes it through with nary a blip on the pain radar. Lest you think she — or I — is being dramatic, this is no ordinary PMS. This is what it’s like when your teenage daughter suffers from acute pain related to her menstruation.
She is 14.
She was young when she got her period. Too young. But I sensed it was coming and we were as prepared as we could be. She didn’t want it, but she accepted this first step into becoming a young woman as well as any ten-year-old could. She felt alone and awkward, being among the first among her peer group to hit this milestone. Now, of course, it’s NBD.
Except, apparently, it is.
A mere two weeks after she turned 12, my husband took our daughter to the hospital because she had been in agonizing pain for 48 hours. Crying. Writhing. Punching at air. Jabbing at her abdomen. Screaming at no one in particular. Any attempts to get her to dial it back were met with a death stare. How did I know she wasn’t just overreacting to period cramps?
An ultrasound at that time revealed an ovarian cyst. Since then, another ultrasound showed uterine fibroids. The possibility of endometriosis has also been offered, although no firm diagnosis can be given without an invasive procedure. WTF.
To say we are frustrated by the results of each test is an understatement. Meanwhile, what do we do?
Fun fact: did you know that periods aren’t supposed to be painful?
Recently, while on a walk with a friend — one keenly aware of the subject of pain in children — this subject came up. I said I was torn between the recurring recommendation of our family doctor to put our teen on hormonal treatments (aka oral contraceptive pills, aka OCPs) and the ridiculously high doses of pain medication she is being prescribed to get some modicum of relief from the pain.
When I mentioned the whole process was “not an exact science” my friend suggested that medicine is more art than science. There is an element of truth to this because it sure as hell feels as though trying to find ways to help our girl manage the pain has become a bit of an art form.
The last thing I want is for our daughter to think we are willing to let her suffer. There is little in life worse than seeing your child suffer while you look on, helpless. I do, however, want her to know we have tried all the things before we resort to OCPs.
Nearly a year ago she began seeing our family naturopathic doctor. We have been working closely with her to find that right balance of dietary changes as well as incorporation of naturopathic and homeopathic supplements. I was shocked to hear that menstruation should not be painful. Why am I only finding out about this in my 40s?
To some degree we have been successful. After several months, we noticed that nearly every second cycle appeared to pass relatively pain-free. Our guess is that our daughter is releasing an egg from the opposite ovary every other month since the pain is always on her left side. Huh. I feel like I’m the 14-year-old learning about the female reproductive system all over again.
But those in-between months are hell.
It’s been a week since the latest episode. I felt so distraught that I took to Facebook. While I’m fairly transparent on social media, I defer to my children on certain things out of respect for their feelings. But this also affected me and I felt I needed a bit of a shoulder that night. Facebook delivered.
The women in my life — both online and off — are amazing forces of love and support. I strive to surround myself with people who speak my language, who exude love, positivity, and humour, who embrace and lift up each other in a time of need.
The messages poured in. My feelings were validated. The pain our daughter has been going through was validated. More than that, it was understood. Whether through first-hand experience or through witnessing their own daughters going through a similar experience, I no longer felt isolated. I relayed the replies to our girl and I believe she felt a little less alone.
Our top 5 best coping strategies may include Netflix.
While we are hardly a walking PSA for “beating period pain once and for all”, here are some strategies we’ve stumbled through to try to offer our teenager some relief — or at the very least, a distraction — from the stabbing pain.
- Prescription medication. I hate to say it, but we’ve had to overlap prescribed super-strength acetaminophen with super-strength ibuprofen, gradually increasing the dosage, under our doctor’s care.
- Just being there. There have been times when the racking sobs have been almost too much to bear. Feeling helpless I ask our daughter if she wants me to leave but she always insists I stay. So, I do. I rub her back, stroke her hair or wipe her brow with a cold cloth. Human touch can work wonders.
- Big ball. Bouncing lightly on an exercise ball helps alleviate pressure in the pelvic area.
- Meditation & breathing. Reminders to breathe are important, especially when the sobbing turns to hysteria. At bedtime, our daughter will put on a sleep meditation I downloaded for her months ago. As the breathing kicks in, the soothing cheesiness of the guided meditation helps her drift off to sleep.
- Netflix & laugh. Several months ago, during a particularly bad bout, our girl was splayed on the couch and I was trying to make her comfortable. Drawing on the old adage that “laughter is the best medicine”, I turned on That 70s Show, since we happened to have the TV in the living room at the time. The distraction actually worked. She has since polished off the entire show and moved onto How I Met Your Mother.
We still have questions. But we also have options. We don’t expect any quick solutions but we won’t stop until we figure this out. In the meantime our daughter knows she has her family and a tribe of women surrounding her with love and support. And sometimes that can mean the world.
This post was written with express permission (and editing) from my teenage daughter whose hope is that others out there who may be experiencing something similar can know they are not alone.