Assume the position. The foetal position, that is.
This has been the order from my body once a month, every month, for the last 17 years. I reach for the paracetamol, the ibuprofen, the codeine (before I discovered I’m allergic), the hot water bottle, my boyfriend’s throat, anything to ease the storm that’s raging in my uterus.
Sometimes the only thing that works is sleep, which has meant curling into a ball in the break room at work, trying to force sleep, to reboot, like some malfunctioning computer. Because the reality of it all is that life doesn’t stop for period pain.
If you’re nodding your head emphatically right now, whether you suffer from endometriosis or just have a tough time at that time of the month, you understand. 27-year-old Melburnian Alice Williams, the owner of fem-tech startup Ovira, literally feels our pain. She was diagnosed with endometriosis – a disorder that can cause severe pain during menstruation – at 21.
“The diagnosis was almost a relief, as I felt I now knew what was going on with my body,” Williams says. But relief is elusive. “Apart from invasive surgery, the options for endo sufferers are extremely limited, so my life didn’t change post-diagnosis.”
On average, it takes between seven and 10 years for a woman to be diagnosed with endometriosis, which is largely due to the normalisation of symptoms by both patients and their doctors (studies show that women are more accepting of pain as part of their lives than men).
Looking for pain relief without the use of medication, Williams delved deeper. She discovered Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – a vibration-based therapy that can help muscles relax and reduce pain and the need for ibuprofen in some patients – and created Ovira, a pocket-sized, wearable TENS machine that allows those suffering period pain to self-administer the therapy at home.
My Ovira arrives in a millennial pink box, and works by emitting electrical impulses via electrode pads placed on your lower abdomen or back. The device itself is small and easily fits in the palm of your hand, with a slim profile making it discreet enough to wear under your clothes.
After a quick study of the instructions, I attach the pads and turn on the device. At first, I feel nothing. I wonder if I’ve got it wrong. I wonder what I’m supposed to be feeling. I wonder if, like so many pain killers before it, my uterus is simply too powerful for this little machine. Finally, I see the “up” and “down” buttons on the device. I jam on the “up” button and suddenly I’m feeling an entirely new sensation. Vibrations? Pulses? It’s pleasant and slightly spiky all at once.
I’m so busy trying to think of words to describe the feeling, it takes me a moment to realise that I’m in less pain. It’s not been eliminated, but it’s definitely taken the edge off. The relief is localised – it’s only effective, for me at least, in the area the device is targeting (I get referred pain in the legs, for example, so I still take medication) – but it’s there.
Ovira may not eliminate period pain completely, and it may not work for everyone, but for me it definitely offers relief. As William puts it, “for some, it will be a companion device”. And that beats strangling my boyfriend.
Ovira costs $189 and can be purchased online. Shipping is free and takes between two and seven business days.