Just to be clear. The comic Super Woman by Proud Mary isn’t about the legendary action hero Superwoman by Marvel. The autobiographical illustrations are about Super Plus Tampon Woman. In other words: heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB). Because women with HMB are also a kind of superwomen. They can leave permanent stains on any surface, they can bleed so heavily they ‘pee’ out tampons, and there’s no-one who can fly faster. Into the toilet, that is… To put it another way: you need superpowers to menstruate abnormally. Normal menstruating is for sissies.
Proud Mary is the label/brainchild of the Dutch creator Marieke Nijhof. She always used to draw things that happened in her daily life. Guess what she started drawing when her menstruation started getting out of control? Indeed: Super Plus Tampon Woman. Many people were surprised by this, which in turn amazed Nijhof. ‘I seriously didn’t realise that menstruation is still such a sensitive subject. Friends and acquaintances really wondered what I was doing.’
The story that’s told by Proud Mary’s cartoon-like illustrations is of course a bloody serious one. Nijhof: ‘I’ve always had the perfect menstruation. Until two years ago. It suddenly stopped and afterwards returned with a vengeance. One time I bled for 47 days in a row. After a pause of only nine days. I suspected this might be somehow related to the menopause, although I thought it was too early for that. I was 44 years.’
‘Normal menstruating is for sissies. You need you need superpowers to menstruate abnormally’
Through research in internet fora, Marieke Nijhof discovered that her complaints – apart from the heavy periods she was also suffering from a whole bunch of atypical menopausal complaints – could indeed mean she was in perimenopause. ‘My GP – herself a woman actually – thought I was way too young for this. Therefore, after some underlying medical problems were ruled out, no actual treatment followed.’
Long story short (want to read the entire story, and see more pretty illustrations, just visit the website): it wasn’t until Nijhof was unable to get out of bed because of her heavy periods (‘meanwhile I had iron deficiency anemia’) and her partner called the emergency services, that her heavy bleeding complaints were finally taken seriously.
‘After years of muddling along, there was suddenly an emergency situation and decisions had to be taken ad hoc. The GP wanted to stop my periods with hormones. For me, this was a tricky decision as having had a stroke earlier in life meant I shouldn’t be using any hormonal contraceptives. Meanwhile, I haven’t had my period in the last six months. But only after not menstruating for an entire year, you know for a fact that you’ve had your menopause. Perhaps my periods will still return.’
Looking back, Nijhof is surprised about the lack of knowledge when it comes to menopausal and menstrual complaints. Not just women themselves could do with some more reading up on this subject (‘I didn’t even know the perimenopause existed’), also doctors (‘My own GP – for the rest I’m happy with her – is a woman, would you believe’). ‘It wasn’t until later that I discovered some women are even younger when they go through perimenopause, and that menstrual problems are a typical menopausal complaint.’ She’s also surprised about the discomfort that still surrounds these subjects. ‘I discovered that worldwide there are 5,000 euphemisms to avoid having to say the word ‘menstruation’. Some, like ‘the blob’, ‘shark week’ or ‘crimson wave’, are meant to be made into a cartoon.’
More about Proud Mary and Marieke Nijhof: proudmary.me/
November = heavy period awareness month. The Dutch information campaign Bloedserieus (which translates as ‘Bloody serious’) is raising awareness for heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB, also sometimes known as menorrhagia). This is a medical condition which affects 1 in 5 women between 35 and 55 years old.
More menstrual-themed art? Check out the art category.