Britta Wiebe is a period expert and co-founder of Vulvani, an online, menstrual educational platform working to reduce the stigma around menstruation through education, open conversations and more recently the Vulvani Gallery, the first stock photo gallery focused solely on menstruation.
We asked her to share some of her experiences and insights regarding menstrual pain. In the interview, she shared what menstrual pain has meant to her throughout her life, how her beliefs have changed, and what changes she believes need to happen with regards to menstrual pain.
Many thanks to Britta Wiebe and to Vulvani for generously sharing your time and photos.
Adding on to what you referenced in your article, what has been your experience with your menstrual pain?
“My period pain has luckily never been too bad, but I definitely experience some form of menstrual discomfort – especially on the first two days of my period. However, since switching from conventional tampons to practicing free bleeding, I experience significantly less pain during my periods.
Over the years, I have tried many things to strop my period pain – from painkillers to yoga or simply taking a nap. I now know how to cope better with more painful days and to find my inner well-being during my period again, even when period cramps are on the agenda.
When I’m listening to my body and giving myself some time off, I can recover more quickly (aka less menstrual pain) and generally feel better. For example, on the first day of my period, I absolutely love lying in bed listening to a podcast with a hot water bottle on my stomach. During my period, less is often more for me personally.”
Have your beliefs about your period pain evolved over time? How?
“About two years ago I started listening more to my body, especially my menstrual cycle and started practicing cycle awareness. During this time, I decided that I didn’t want to take painkillers for my period pain anymore. It just didn’t make sense to keep taking medication every month just to be able to function ‘perfectly’ on every single day. I no longer felt comfortable taking painkillers regularly – especially when it was not absolutely necessary. There are always possible side effects of medication that we are mostly unaware of.
Thus, I began my search for alternatives for relieving my period cramps naturally. The goal was to support my body as much as possible. And I have learned that practicing free bleeding, a hot water bottle and time to rest during my period are the best things for me personally and make my pain almost completely disappear. Accepting my period and appreciating my body play a big role in feeling better when bleeding. Cycle awareness also really helps me with this.”
Nowadays, I am aware of what my body is actually accomplishing during menstruation and that it is working at full speed to remove my uterine lining efficiently. Knowing this, I understand that it’s okay that I feel weaker and experience some forms of discomfort during my period.”
How does Vulvani address period pain?
“Period pain is often not really talked about and thus people don’t know what is actually normal when it comes to period pain. And we at Vulvani want to change that by encouraging open discussions around menstruation and educating about diseases, such as endometriosis or vaginismus. We are talking about different types of period problems that exist, what is normal and why we actually experience period pain. Every menstruating person experiences their own period individually, but we think that some basic knowledge is important for all of us.
Often the use of painkillers during menstruation is a given and quickly results in the desired pain relief. Through Vulvani we present natural and alternative ways to manage menstrual pain as well. However, in case of severe menstrual problems that interfere with daily life, we encourage people to get a medical examination as it can be caused by diseases.”
What changes do you think need to be made in terms of how we view and treat period pain?
“The normalisation of periods is a key factor when it comes to changing how we view and treat period pain. Only if we can talk more openly about menstruation, can we talk more openly about how we experience them as well. Once we start talking freely about a topic, personal experiences are shared and new solutions can be found together. We can learn from another and better understand what kind of period discomfort is even normal.
It is important that we stop perceiving menstruation as a burden, disease or problem, but rather accept it as a natural body process and strength. If we bleed, we are not sick. On the contrary, it is a sign of our health. We need to change the narrative from period shame to cycle awareness. If this is possible, then we are on the right path to normalising periods and with it finding better solutions for managing period pain.”