As told to Nicole Audrey Spector
From the start my periods were abnormally long and heavy and often debilitating. As a teenager, I would sometimes bleed through my clothes, even when wearing a pad or tampon. In ninth grade, I embarrassedly bonded with a new friend who lent me her jacket to tie around her waist after she bled through my clothes.
After high school, my periods were still long and painful. To this day, I have heavy bleeding, as well as severe cramps and back pain. I am also prone to anemia. For so many years these symptoms felt like an unfortunate but normal part of being a woman. I wasn’t worried because my health care provider and OB/GYN weren’t worried.
When I married and converted to Islam, an independent decision I made almost a year after marrying a Sunni Muslim, inspired by seeing him practice his faith, my periods became an even bigger problem.
Alyssa and her husband, 2015
In our faith, there are some restrictions regarding prayer and intimacy when a woman is menstruating. These rules were designed as a relief for women, recognizing that periods can be physically and emotionally draining. But some interpretations make these rules sound negative, like punishment or impurity. They are often misunderstood, even within the Muslim community.
There are five obligatory daily prayers, but when we are on our period, we cannot pray, have sexual intercourse, or participate in any fasting rituals (such as those in the month of Ramadan). Having a heavy period that lasts a week or more and can include some spotting afterwards is a big upset. It made it difficult to get into a prayer routine and left me feeling disconnected from God and from my husband.
And then there are the everyday problems of living with horrible periods. I always carry extra clothes with me and most of my wardrobe is black so if I bleed out it won’t show as much.
Alyssa and her daughters, 2023
Long and heavy periods are also a challenge to live with as a mother of three girls who want to go swimming and play outside. I have to balance his needs with my own and plan plenty of bathroom breaks. For the most part, I try to do everything I do when I’m not on my period, but in a reduced capacity and with a lot of planning. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) recommended taking afternoon naps, so it’s a small blessing that I try to fit into my schedule.
I lived with these harrowing periods for years without knowing what was causing them. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child that I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids, the source of my pain and discomfort. Unfortunately, my OB/GYN did not discuss how the fibroids had been affecting me, my marriage, or my quality of life. She was just worried about how they might affect my pregnancy.
Fortunately, I was able to successfully carry my pregnancy to term, although I developed a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) during the pregnancy.
After giving birth, I was told that my uterine fibroids were too small to be surgically removed. And with a family history of blood clots and pulmonary embolism along with my own history of DVT, I was not a candidate for the only other available treatment I was offered, hormonal birth control, because hormone therapy can increase the risk of clots.
I have been treated by various OB/GYNs in different parts of the United States over the past 20 years. The same message has always come to me: Uterine fibroids and their terrible effect on my menstrual cycle will always be a part of my life.
Since I have no way to avoid abnormally heavy periods, I find meaningful ways to connect with God outside of the required prayers. These alternate connections increase my confidence in God’s plans and understanding of his mercy. I have also explored non-sexual ways to enjoy intimacy with my husband. That part has been really fun! Because we can only snuggle and kiss, we feel like newlyweds, in love again every few weeks.
Many people of our faith believe that one should not read or recite the Qur’an while menstruating according to the translation of verse 56:79. While the verse is often translated as “whom none but the pure can touch,” another translation is “whom no one can lay hold of but the pure (in heart).” To me, this means that if your heart is impure, you will not understand the information nor will you be able to weave the messages of the Qur’an into your life with sincerity. So if I come with a pure heart, can grasp (as in comprehend) the spiritual text.
Once I discovered this more open interpretation, I started reading the Qur’an when I was menstruating. I still do. It gives me the opportunity to maintain my relationship with God’s word every day. For those who take the rule of not touching the Qur’an literally during their period, I encourage you to use audio books so that you can access God’s message without having to hold the Qur’an in your hands. Spotify and YouTube also have beautiful recitations.
In general, I feel that society needs to have more candid conversations about periods, but perhaps more urgently in the Muslim community, where stigmas and misunderstandings about periods are common.
In my state, Florida, educators will soon be prohibited from talking to students about terms until they reach middle school, so it’s very important that parents feel comfortable having these conversations at home.
Despite the challenges, I am pleased to say that progress is being made. Last Ramadan, I participated in the Organization of Muslim Women’s Women’s Health Issues series on “positive periods”. We were able to connect and talk about periods in a way that fostered peace and healthy coping.
I am excited to see more of these honest and helpful conversations take place, and I will continue to engage in them with Muslim women in my community. I hope others will join us and find the support you were looking for years ago.
This resource was created with supportort of Myovant Sciences GmbH and Pfizer.
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