The period that almost killed me: ‘My mam was told, if you take her home, she won’t last the night’

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When she was 16, Marjolein Robertson had a play that stopped and started, stopped and started again, past didn’t stop.

“It picked up successful gait and measurement for days and days,” she says. “I retrieve talking to my friends astir it, but we were each clueless. I was changing my pad and my tampon each half-hour but I still thought: ‘It’s OK, it going to extremity eventually.’ In my head, it was a sac of blood. It tin only person truthful overmuch volume.”

Her higher-English exam was approaching. Her mother said they’d get that retired of nan measurement past spot a expert – but connected nan nighttime earlier nan exam, nan bleeding was excessively much. Her mum took her to their section infirmary connected Shetland.

“She thought they could springiness maine thing to extremity nan bleeding, past we’d spell location truthful I could do my exam,” says Robertson. “We walked in, nan expert and caregiver asked: ‘What’s wrong?’ and I started crying, saying I was having ‘a really bad period’. I deliberation that was nan first clip I’d talked astir it to a stranger.”

The medics rolled their eyes a little. The expert took Robertson’s bloods, while nan caregiver chatted astir horrible periods and wearing 2 pairs of pants – but erstwhile nan expert returned, his demeanour had changed.

“He was speaking really accelerated and successful jargon,” says Robertson, “and I didn’t understand, but my mam understood and said: ‘No, she’s coming location pinch me. She has her English exam tomorrow.’ The expert said: ‘If you return her location now, she won’t unrecorded done nan night.’”

Robertson stayed successful infirmary for 3 days and had 2 humor transfusions. “I was meant to person a 3rd but location were only truthful galore humor banks successful Shetland,” she says. When she was discharged, her humor backmost astatine patient levels, Robertson asked what had happened. The doctors didn’t know.

Now – 18 years later – Robertson is simply a comedian and, successful her caller solo show, she relives this episode. At this constituent of nan communicative she tells nan assemblage that luckily she didn’t require a diagnosis. That, luckily, nan NHS had a magical solution, thing that useful for immoderate female whose periods are dense aliases achy aliases irregular – moreover life threatening. “Say it pinch me, ladies!” she says connected stage. The women chorus: “The pill.” (“It’s interesting,” says Robertson. “It’s much of a corporate groan – ne'er a bully cheer.”)

The show, O, which will tally astatine nan Edinburgh show fringe this summer, opens pinch a stunt. It’s bloody and gory and intends to radiance a ray connected nan authorities of women’s healthcare successful nan UK. Robertson – a finalist successful nan BBC New Comedy awards and victor of Scots Speaker of nan Year successful 2022 – is good alert this is not a sexy subject. (“Oh no, is this different female comedian talking astir periods?” she asks midway through.)

On nan look of it, nan years Robertson has spent surviving pinch brutal, agonising periods, trying and failing to find answers since nan haemorrhage that could person killed her, makes for arsenic improbable comedy. Initially, connected leaving nan hospital, she was put connected Depo-Provera, nan contraceptive injection, moreover though it’s not recommended arsenic a first-line curen earlier nan property of 19 because of nan consequence to bony density – thing 16-year-old Robertson wasn’t told.

“It was an injection each 12 weeks successful my bum,” she says. “I had it from nan property of 16 to 26. It flattened me, made maine conscionable truthful sad. Every 3 months, aft nan injection, I’d beryllium lying successful nan dark, not bothering to move nan ray on, thinking: ‘What’s nan constituent successful getting up today?’ I had nary activity thrust – but I’d started taking it successful nan turmoil of puberty erstwhile you don’t cognize what’s normal. You don’t cognize who you are aliases what your emotions mightiness beryllium like.”

After Depo-Provera, Robertson tried different solutions. “I had nan implant, nan pill and nan coil,” she says. “But moreover pinch each these, my bleeding yet came back. Sometimes it was normal. Other times, it was truthful dense I’d faint. It could beryllium truthful bad that I’d beryllium bedridden for 3 aliases 4 days astatine time. I’ve had to propulsion retired of gigs because nan only point I tin do is dishonesty very still. If I was active, if I went for a tally aliases did immoderate yoga erstwhile a play had ended, it would travel backmost for different 5 days.”

Robertson astatine home.
Robertson was astir 30 erstwhile a friend told her: ‘I’ve recovered nan password!’ Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

And past location was nan pain. “There person been times when, moreover if I return 2 paracetamol and 2 ibuprofen, I can’t slumber – I conscionable outcry each night. And I cognize I person a precocious symptom threshold; I collapsed my toed erstwhile and didn’t realise! My Thai boxing coach had to show maine to extremity kicking and spell home.”

Robertson went to her doctor, went to different doctors, galore times. “I was ever asking for help,” she says. “I’d say, I want to cognize why my periods are truthful bad. I’d want to cognize what was incorrect pinch me, but I’d conscionable beryllium told: ‘Periods tin beryllium for illustration this.’ It made maine consciousness I was wasting their time.” She was astir 30 erstwhile her champion friend told her: “I’ve recovered nan password! I cognize really to get due treatment. Tell your expert that you’re trying for a baby.”

So Robertson did. “The expert virtually said: ‘Lets get to nan bottommost of this, then,’” says Robertson. “No 1 wanted to get to nan bottommost of why, each month, I was debilitated and successful pain. Now that I wanted a baby, I was fixed an soul scan. I sewage to spot a gynaecologist. All these things yet happened.” As a result, Robertson was diagnosed pinch adenomyosis – a information that mightiness impact arsenic galore arsenic 1 successful 10 women. (Last year, BBC presenter Naga Munchetty described its devastating effect connected her life, saying she’d been “failed and gaslit” by nan NHS.)

“Adenomyosis is erstwhile nan womb lining over-enthusiastically stitches correct into nan muscular wall of nan womb, truthful erstwhile you person a play and shed nan lining, nan muscles person to tear unfastened and you tin commencement to suffer soul bleeding,” says Robertson. “If it doesn’t heal itself, that’s erstwhile you commencement to haemorrhage.”

O is nan 2nd successful a trilogy, and follows Marj, Robertson’s sell-out Edinburgh show past year, which won her 2 grant nominations. Both are surreal successful parts, weaving acheronian pinch light, combining consecutive standup pinch Shetland folklore and individual stories, weird and wild, of life connected a Shetland croft. For Robertson, they are a earthy hold of nan world she grew up in. “It’s nan powerfulness of a bully story,” she says. “Shetland had truthful galore arts nights and festivals wherever everyone would execute a sketch. Whenever location was immoderate event, there’d beryllium jokes aliases funny talks and a coming together to laugh.”

After finishing school, she studied archaeology astatine Edinburgh, earlier moving to Amsterdam wherever she took a standup drama course. (She’s now based successful Edinburgh.) “I recovered that what I loved astir was having clip successful a show to stock a full folktale, to thatch group thing and return them to a spot that’s possibly uncomfortable, earlier taking them back, and making them laughter again. Even successful nan darkest moments, erstwhile you’re going done nan astir horrible things, you tin opportunity thing to make everyone burst retired laughing. That’s cathartic and truthful powerful.”

In Marj, Robertson told nan Shetland folktale of nan Selkie wife, part-seal, part-human, who is confined to onshore aft losing her seal tegument while dancing connected nan beach. She falls successful emotion pinch a fisherman, marries him and has children who, years later, find her seal tegument buried astatine nan bottommost of their father’s sportfishing chest. “At first, she’s overjoyed, but past she realises what her hubby did to her,” says Robertson. “He’d stolen her existent aforesaid and hidden it truthful she had nary action but to enactment pinch him. He was her captor.” In nan show, erstwhile she reaches this point, Robertson pulls backmost to her ain life to uncover that she was successful an abusive narration and didn’t cognize for a agelong clip because it was coercive, because of nan gaslighting – and nan laughter would slow correct down.

Similarly, successful O, Robertson tells nan folklore Shetlanders erstwhile utilized to explicate nan seasons – nan battles betwixt nan Sea Midder, mother of nan sea, and Teran, nan tone of winter. She points retired that subject has travel a very agelong measurement since past – but erstwhile it comes to women’s menstrual health? Maybe not truthful much.

For Robertson, location has been nary bully solution for her adenomyosis – which is why she is still moving connected nan last conception of her show, still penning it, looking for immoderate light. The astir effective curen is simply a hysterectomy, different is an ablation, and some transportation considerations specified arsenic early “crash” menopause aliases infertility. She’s presently connected “incredibly beardown painkillers” and tranexamic acerb to trim nan bleeding. “But astatine nan works-in-progress, women successful nan assemblage pinch adenomyosis person told maine they needed truthful overmuch tranexamic acerb that they’re now experiencing side-effects,” says Robertson. “Both my parents are connected humor thinners, truthful I’m not comfortable taking a clotting medicine long-term.” She’s besides experimenting pinch manner changes, quitting alcohol, exercising to fortify her core, to spot if thing helps.

She hopes to operation up immoderate rage. “At nan extremity of Marj, I ever stood extracurricular successful lawsuit anyone leaving wanted to speak astir it,” she says. “Every day, astatine slightest 1 personification would travel and say: ‘I’ve been there.’” She remembers 1 19-year-old who approached successful tears, hugged her, past quickly left. “She was location pinch her mam,” says Robertson. “A fewer days later, her mam contacted maine to opportunity that she’d been successful an abusive narration pinch her daughter’s stepfather for years and her girl had near location arsenic soon arsenic she’d been capable to. Now they were slow trying to rekindle their narration and they picked my show astatine random pinch nary thought what it was about. At nan end, nan girl had turned to her mam and said: ‘Now I understand why you didn’t time off him.’” Robertson wells up abruptly and has to pause. “Sorry, I don’t cognize why I get truthful upset,” she says, half laughing. “But that was why I wrote nan show.

“I astir apt won’t beryllium opinionated astatine nan doorway astatine nan extremity of O – there’s excessively overmuch clone humor to clear up,” she continues. “I don’t expect it to beryllium arsenic affectional arsenic Marj – but a batch of america person been bleeding acold excessively much, and successful symptom for acold excessively long. Something has to change.”

Marjolein Robertson: O is astatine nan Edinburgh show fringe, astatine nan Monkey Barrel (the Hive), from 30 July to 25 August

Source theguardian