I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but time management and I are not currently on speaking terms. At any rate, about three months ago, I decided while reading Inga Muscio’s Cunt that I wanted to start taking care of my body in a different way. What does that mean? I already take fairly good care of my skin and hair; I eat healthily (usually) and I get a decent amount of sleep on a regular basis. But there’s one thing that causes me to hate my body for four days every month…
For the feint of heart, or those who are squicked by discussion of menstruation, blood, pain, and vaginas: don’t read on.
During that four-day period of each month, I load myself up on pain meds and try to sleep as often as possible. Simultaneously, I wear crappy underwear in anticipation of several stains and I sometimes set alarms for the middle of the night or very early morning to use the restroom and make sure I don’t stain my pajamas or bed sheets. Ever since I first started my period when I was 12 (11? I can’t recall, but I know I was in sixth grade and I cried), I’ve had an incredibly heavy flow.
I know what you’re thinking: they make super absorbency tampons for heavy flows! No big deal!
This advertising is — unfortunately — false. “Super absorbency” means little to nothing for my body. My periods usually last about four days, which means they’re relatively short compared to other people’s. Unfortunately, they’re also incredibly heavy and very painful. I get cramps that are so debilitating I’m stuck in bed, crying, for at least the first day. I’ve missed school and work because of menstrual cramps, and had to cancel plans with friends and family because I was in so much pain. I started a birth control regimen to help with my cramps after I graduated high school, which led to surgery to have my gallbladder removed (thanks, Yaz) and then I went off the pill for the next year and a half. I started another birth control regimen about 18 months ago but dropped off of that after I graduated college in May, because I didn’t like the other effects the pill was having on my body and I haven’t made the time to go see a doctor about other options. (Shame on me.)
For the moment, let’s focus on the issue of flow. The nurse practitioner who first put me on birth control told me that my body has a tendency to try to push all of its menstrual fluid out at the same time; this creates a “backflow,” which is what causes my cramps. Lovely. I usually begin my period in the late afternoon or early evening and for the first night, everything is peachy. Then comes the first full day. On the first full day of my period, I soak through anywhere from five to seven “super absorbency” tampons in less than 16 hours. In the night that follows, I usually need to change my tampon right before bed and in the middle of the night if I want to prevent leaks. Otherwise, I wake up with stained everything. This occurrence happens more than I’d like to admit.
The second day is slightly easier — I’ll go through three to five “super absorbency” tampons during that 16 hour span. The second night is also easier, as I usually (note: still sometimes do) don’t wake up to uncomfortable and messy leaks. The third day usually requires two or three tampon changes, and by day four, my flow is light enough that I can get away with wearing just one.
If you’re doing the math, you might have noticed that I’m spending a hell of a lot on very expensive wads of dry cotton that are meant to be shoved up my vagina. I can’t use pads because I’ll leak right through them and my thighs will be coated red within the first hour of my period. No thanks. For the past decade, tampons have been the only option I was really aware of if I wanted to prevent at least some unnecessary discomfort and leakage.
Then, my friend told me about the Mooncup. (There are variations on this product, like the Diva Cup and others. This post isn’t meant to be an endorsement of the particular brand, but the product type itself.) I did a bit of research and then let it be, going on with my next period using tampons like always. But something happened shortly after that period: I read Cunt. Muscio’s use of sea sponges, combined with her explanation of her own painful and heavy periods, made me think twice. I finally went to the Mooncup website with the intention of purchasing one. At only $30, with free shipping, the purchase of one of these plastic cups — which will last me for several years and more than a dozen periods — I’m already saving a ridiculous amount of money. And that’s only one benefit.
One of the dangers of tampons is that these dry wads of cotton keep bacteria crammed up against the cervix. They can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome and, for many people, are just very uncomfortable. My vagina is often sore after my period, largely because I spend so much time cleaning the entrance and changing tampons. Like I said already, pads are not an option for me. I need my flow to be contained if I want to be able to wear clothes in public. (Note that tampons and pads were both clearly invented by men and cost so much that I’ve known friends to break down in the aisles at the supermarket because they couldn’t afford to buy their preferred brand. Problem? Yes. Solutions? Thankfully, there are many. It just requires a little research and openness to trying new things.)
The Mooncup creates a seal around the inner walls of the vagina and allows blood to drip down into it, meaning there’s no bacteria crammed against the cervix and the blood flow is still contained. The cup is flexible and comfortable and sits just inside the vagina. It has a stem to make it easier to insert and pull out the cup, which also sits just inside the vagina. (There are instructions that come with the cup to teach women how to trim the stems so that they’re the correct length; no part of the Mooncup should sit outside of the vagina, because that causes irritation and can be very painful. I learned this the hard way because I didn’t read the instructions before putting the Mooncup inside of me. Alas, I did read them once I realized how irritated my entrance felt.)
I’ve gone through two periods with the Mooncup. It arrived literally an hour before I started my first period after deciding to order the device (a sign?), and I can’t believe I spent so many years using tampons. While it can be messy to remove the cup, especially after several hours, and I still experience some leaks (but not nearly as many as I did with tampons, and not nearly as bad), the old adage “practice makes perfect” absolutely fits this situation. After inserting and removing the cup so many times, I now feel comfortable doing it at work, in public restrooms, and at friend’s houses.
The best part for me is that I only have to change the Mooncup about three times on the first day of my period, twice on the second, and maybe once on the third. By the fourth, I can leave it in until I’m certain that my period is finished and then remove it, clean it, and put it away for next month. It’s completely safe to leave the cup in for that long, which is fabulous, and it’s so comfortable that I don’t even realize it’s inside. (For those who are nervous or wondering, that’s safe, too. There’s no way the cup can “get lost” inside of you. Biology wouldn’t allow it.)
As for my menstrual cramps, I’m still working on solving that issue. But the economic and hygiene aspects of my monthly problems with my body have been solved by this glorious little cup. I think all people need to find their own ways of adapting to their periods and learning to love their bodies even during the days when their bodies seem to hate them. For me, it’s the Mooncup. For Inga Muscio, it was sea sponges and a lunar calendar (which I plan to request for Christmas). What is it for you? For the people you love?
I’ll never buy another man-made menstrual product again.