"I just thought the heavy menstrual bleeding was normal" - Judy shares her story

When challenging menstrual symptoms are ignored or dismissed as 'normal,' it can lead to underlying health conditions being overlooked - with devastating consequences. This was the case for Sri Martuti (known as Judy) a women's empowerment advocate and mother of two who works as a migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong. In this piece, Judy candidly shares her story with our founder, Olivia.

Judy came to Hong Kong in 2009 to start work as a domestic migrant worker. "I was divorced with two children, and no financial support from my ex-husband,” she explains. “I wanted to give my children a good life full of opportunities." She is beaming as she tells me her 23-year-old daughter, Amelia, has just graduated from university back home in Indonesia. "I'm so proud," she says. "I've faced so much sickness and many hardships, but I’ve remained strong for my children." Pictured below, Judy's son and mother with her daughter, Amelia, at her recent graduation in Indonesia.
Just how strong Judy is was made clear at our first meeting six months earlier at a LUÜNA menstrual health workshop for domestic migrant workers in Hong Kong; part of our LUÜNA For All program in collaboration with Pathfinders. "I feel much better than the last time we met," she tells me.

"I remember sitting at the front of the workshop just crying the whole time. I was going through a difficult time. After my surgery, I had been experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts and hallucinations, with voices in my head telling me I should die." - Judy 

At the event (pictured above), Judy confided in me about her struggles with mental health which had followed her diagnosis and subsequent surgery for endometrial hyperplasia—a diagnosis long overdue after years of challenging menstrual symptoms being dismissed.

I have thought about her countless times since that meeting and today, it seems especially poignant to dive deeper into her story during Endometriosis Awareness Month; a month that sheds light on often overlooked and inadequately supported health conditions that impact women and menstruating people.

Judy’s Menstrual Challenges Begin

In 2020, while living in Hong Kong as a migrant domestic worker, Judy’s challenges with her menstrual health began, starting with months of consistent heavy bleeding. “There was heavy flow every single day for four months,” she tells me.

A brief trial on the contraceptive pill to regulate her hormones - the solution as prescribed by a doctor - provided only temporary relief before the heavy bleeding resumed. After this, Judy endured the constant bleeding for the next three years, leading to extreme fatigue brought on by anemia, and other difficulties.

"It was so challenging but I thought it was ‘normal’," she reflects, “and anyway, I didn't have the time to keep returning to the doctor."

From Dismissal to Diagnosis 

In 2023, Judy experienced sudden, dramatic weight loss and developed excruciating back pain. The pain became unbearable, leading her to terminate her employment contract and return to Indonesia to seek medical assistance. 

"Back in Indonesia, I went to an orthopaedic doctor, as I thought it would help my back pain. It wasn't until my sister noticed I had been bleeding for a whole month that I considered seeing a gynaecologist."

Through the gynaecologist Judy received a diagnosis, coming to understand her symptoms —the excruciating back pain, bleeding and weight loss — were all the result of atypical endometrial hyperplasia. This is when the lining of the endometrium (the lining we shed during menstruation) becomes too thick and contains abnormal cells. She had never even heard of this condition before.

Upon learning Judy’s bleeding abnormalities had already been taking place for three years, the gynaecologist recommended immediate surgery. This caused immediate financial difficulties. "I hadn't saved enough money not to work. Plus my salary was the only income supporting my children's school fees."

But Judy had no choice, as without treatment, symptoms can remain or become debilitating, and the risk of endometrial or uterine cancer increases. Pictured below: Judy post-surgery in Indonesia.

Enduring Stigma and Shame Post-Surgery 

The physical challenges of surgery aside, Judy faced stigma and suspicion.

“Neighbours in Indonesia were suspicious, assuming my medical appointments and surgeries meant I was having an abortion. There's still so little understanding, so people think this is the most likely explanation." - Judy

The misguided assumptions of Judy's neighbours shed light on a widespread issue impacting millions of women and people with periods globally. Insufficient awareness regarding reproductive and menstrual health issues often results in judgment, dismissal and a lack of empathy when it comes to addressing menstrual-related pain.

Navigating Mental Health Challenges

The surgery, combined with an ongoing prescription of the contraceptive pill (which her doctor recommends she takes until she reaches menopause or has her uterus removed) helped manage the physical symptoms, but quickly, mental health challenges ensued.

“When we experience menstrual or reproductive health issues it can affect our mental health, causing stress and depression. After the surgery I lost confidence, struggled with memory lapses, and lost passion for the things I loved, like my community activism. This even led to a determination to do unimaginable things such as suicide." - Judy

The Power of Community

Today, as Judy smiles and sips coffee with me in Wanchai, she confirms these feelings of loneliness and despair are behind her; that she has found strength, both in herself and her community. Community support, she says, is one of the most powerful resources:

“I remember the day I first called Pathfinders and Miss Cristina answered. I was just crying and asking her to help me. They knew me - they knew I never cried - so they knew something was serious. They told me to come into the centre where I would find a safe space, free of judgment, where I could get counselling. This was so refreshing after so many people telling me that I am ‘abnormal’ and judging me for feeling this way.”

Judy stresses the importance of these supportive safe spaces for women dealing with health challenges:"So often though women are questioned, judged or their character assassinated. We must find ways to stop this and support them to grow back their confidence after experiencing such difficulties. We often just need a place to talk and to be heard; an atmosphere to be able to think and decide how to move forward to rebuild our lives." 

Using Her Voice to Champion Change

With her deep passion for activism and uplifting Indonesian women in Hong Kong reignited, has not only has Judy reclaimed her voice but is using it to advocate for greater awareness of women's health issues, and working to break the silence surrounding taboos. "Sharing my surgery story on social media got lots of support," she notes. "No one should suffer in silence, and seeking help should never be met with judgment." In the picture below is Judy, one of the co-authors of #MyVoice. Get the book here.

Continuing on her healing journey, Judy hopes to inspire others to speak out, seek support, and stand in solidarity with those facing similar silent struggles.

"For all my friends, if you feel unusual pain, don’t ignore it or take it lightly, immediately visit a doctor, and if you feel that your mental health is having problems, don’t hesitate to seek help, it’s okay for us to admit that we are not fine, because there is it’s time for us to love and cherish ourselves more. Don’t be afraid and don’t be sad, because you are not alone. Rise and Fight: Live to keep others alive.” 

LUÜNA is a woman-led social enterprise enhancing access to period products and fostering understanding of the menstrual cycle through education and community engagement.
Built in Hong Kong with a growing APAC-wide reach, our vision is to ensure all women and menstruating people can access our services, unhindered by barriers such as financial constraints, cultural taboos or outdated societal attitudes. We work with individuals, schools, corporate offices and more. Learn how to get involved here.

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