My uterine fibroids make it difficult to be intimate with my partner and honor my religion, but I've found a way to cope

My uterine fibroids make it difficult to be intimate with my partner and honor my religion, but I’ve found a way to cope

As told to Nicole Audrey Spector

Right from the start, my periods have been abnormally long and heavy and often debilitating. As a teenager, I sometimes bled through my clothes, even when wearing a pad and/or tampon. In eighth grade, I bonded in embarrassment with a new friend who lent me her jacket to tie around my waist after I bled through my clothes.

After high school, my periods remained long and painful. To this day, I have heavy bleeding, as well as severe cramping and back pain. I am also prone to anemia. For so many years, these symptoms seemed like an unfortunate but normal part of being a woman. I wasn’t worried because my doctor and gynecologist weren’t worried.

When I got married and converted to Islam—an independent choice I made nearly a year after being married to a Sunni Muslim, inspired by seeing him practice his faith—my periods became even more of a problem.

Alyssa and her husband, 2015

In our faith, there are some restrictions on 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 taxing. But some interpretations make these rules sound negative, like a punishment or an impurity. They are often misunderstood, even within the Muslim community.

There are five obligatory daily prayers, but when we get our period we cannot pray, have sex or take part in any fasting rituals (such as those during the month of Ramadan). Having a heavy cycle that lasts a week or more and may include some spotting afterward is a huge disruptor. It made it difficult for me to get into a prayer routine and made me feel disconnected from God and my husband.

And then there’s just the day-to-day problems of living with awful times. I always keep extra clothes with me and most of my wardrobe is black so if I bleed, it won’t be as noticeable.

Alyssa and her daughtersAlyssa and her daughters, 2023

Even long and heavy periods are hard to live with as a mother of three girls who want to go swimming and play outside. I have to balance their needs with my own and schedule lots of bathroom breaks. For the most part, I try to do everything I do when I’m off my period, but with reduced capacity and with a lot of planning. The Prophet Muhammad (PBU extension) recommended taking afternoon naps, so that’s a little blessing I try to fit into my schedule.

I lived with these excruciating 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 fibroid, the source of my pain and discomfort. Unfortunately, my OB-GYN didn’t discuss how the fibroids had affected me, my marriage, or my quality of life. She was just concerned about how they might affect my pregnancy.

Thankfully, I was able to successfully carry my pregnancy to term, even as I developed deep vein thrombosis (DVT) during pregnancy.

After giving birth I was told my uterine fibroids were too small to be surgically removed. And with a family history of blood clotting and pulmonary embolism coupled with my history of DVT, I wasn’t a candidate for the only other available treatment I was offered — hormonal birth control — because hormone therapy can increase the risk of clotting.

I have been treated by several OB-GYNs in different locations across the United States over the past 20 years. I’ve always gotten the same message: Uterine fibroids and their terrible effect on my menstrual cycle will always be a part of my life.

Since there is no way for me to avoid abnormally busy times, I find meaningful ways to connect with God outside of obligatory prayers. These alternative connections increase my faith in God’s plans and understanding of his mercy. I have also explored nonsexual ways to enjoy intimacy with my husband. That part was really fun! Because we can only cuddle and make out, we feel like newlyweds, falling in love again every few weeks.

Many people in our faith believe that you should not read or recite the Quran during menstruation based on a translation of verse 56:79. While the verse is often translated as “that none but the pure may touch”, another translation is “that none will understand except the pure (in heart).” To me, this means that if your heart is impure, you won’t understand the information or you won’t be able to weave the messages of the Quran into your life with sincerity. So if I come with a pure heart, I Candies grasping (as in understanding) the spiritual text.

Once I discovered this more open interpretation, I started reading the Quran while menstruating. I still do. It gives me the opportunity to maintain my relationship with God’s word every day. For those who take literally the rule of not touching the Quran during their period, I encourage them to use audio books so they can access God’s message without having to hold the Koran in your hands. Spotify and YouTube also have beautiful recitations.

In general, I feel 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 banned from talking to students about periods until they reach middle school, so it’s extremely important that parents feel comfortable holding these discussions at home.

Despite the challenges, I am happy to say that progress is being made. This past Ramadan, I participated in the Muslim Women’s Organization’s Women’s Health Matters series on “good times.” We were able to connect and talk about menstruation in a way that encouraged peace and sound management.

I am excited to see more of these honest and helpful conversations taking place and will continue to participate in them with the Muslim women in my community. I hope others join us and find the support I sought years ago.

This resource was created with support from Myovant Sciences GmbH and Pfizer.

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