Branching Out: An Inspiring Woman Stands Tall in Struggle, Strength & Solidarity

Photographed: SPC Ngungiri (2015)

Photographed: SPC Ngungiri (2015)

At Be a Rose, we strive to expand the conversation on menstruation in a way that reaches all portions of the population, especially those who have been marginalized by society. We appreciate and celebrate those who give voice to their experiences and share their perspectives authentically and with enlightenment, honoring the complexity of their journeys.

Jane Ngunjiri carries such a voice. Her powerful story speaks to menstruation management under the most challenging circumstances, finding her purpose, recognizing what motivates her, and overcoming incredible obstacles to achieve her goals. Jane also emphasizes the value of a support system and finding strength through open, honest dialogue.

Born in Kenya, Jane immigrated to the United States when she was young and worked hard to adapt to an entirely new environment and culture. Despite her incredible strength and heart, Jane faced heavy challenges in her life, including a struggle with homelessness. However, she was determined to rise above her circumstances to give a better life to her son.

“My son is my life,” Jane said. “He pushes me to work hard.”

This love and commitment to her son, as well as her hunger for adventure, motivated her decision to join the United States Army Reserve. She was anxious, though, to tell her family in Kenya, fearing they would not understand and that it would cause them to worry. In fact, it wasn’t until she graduated from basic training that she told them! Although they indeed expressed concern, Jane ultimately found support and understanding from her family.

In basic training, Jane was again challenged to adapt to vastly different practices and behaviors than she was used to. Eating became one of the most immediate struggles. Jane—who had always been a slow eater—was forced to consume entire meals within five minutes. There was such great stress and pressure to learn to eat quickly that she “didn’t even taste the food—just chewed and swallowed.”

Another challenge for Jane was heavy cramping during her period. She was not permitted to keep medications with her belongings, so when she needed pain relief she had to visit the nurse at a scheduled time each day. There, she would need to give detailed descriptions of her cramping, which was a challenge in itself as Jane had always tried to keep her period private. This routine, however, caused her to become much more comfortable talking about her period, as it was the only means to access the pain relief she needed.

Jane shared the struggles of menstruation in the military, beginning with the difficulty of accurately tracking her cycle due to changes in diet and exercise. Menstruation was especially difficult to manage in the field, where there were no toilets—only bucket latrines—and where it was often dark and the lack of proper hygiene resources made it difficult to keep clean and prevent infections. Women primarily used feminine wipes to clean themselves as thoroughly as they could under the circumstances. The process of cleaning herself or changing her pad was made especially difficult by the weight of the gear and equipment layered on her small 115 pound frame. “Everything had to move quickly, but this process took so long,” she shared.

Although these challenges weighed on Jane, she discovered a great sense of support among the women with whom she served. She explained, “In the military, you’re trained not only to help yourself but to help each other.” These women were comfortable venting about their cramps or asking each other for pads as needed. Jane expressed that although these women have come from different countries, cultures, and life journeys, they were able to lean on each other and “act as a family,” sharing from their own experiences in the military and exchanging advice on menstruation management. They were also able to have fun and make jokes with each other, helping to foster this sense of camaraderie. Jane found encouragement in hearing the experiences of women who had been deployed, demonstrating the value of women sharing, lifting, and supporting one another.

“You become so strong just listening to those who have been deployed,” Jane reflected. In fact, her experience in the military has helped her to realize her own strength and potential. With the help of the army, Jane has studied for a career as a behavior analyst and is close to receiving her board certification.

“I have made it this far because I believed I could,” she said. She encourages women who are facing hardships of their own to maintain hope and be brave, and urges people to push beyond their comfort zone and embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. She exemplifies this inspirational mindset and model of behavior each day.  

Be a Rose is truly honored to share her story, and we hope that it will inspire you to persevere through life’s challenges and draw you to participate in a network of solidarity and support. To learn about ways in which you can support women in the military, we encourage you to visit the Service Women’s Action Network.

By: Aanee Nichols

Photographed: Roy (Jane's son, 2015)

Photographed: Roy (Jane's son, 2015)