When I was a teen, my friends used to talk about their periods like a coveted prize that you get once you become cool enough. “I’m a woman now,” Sara said, showing me her stash of tampons she got to buy with her mom. “I’m gonna have a boyfriend next.” I used to feel so jealous, and would spend two years wishing my period would show up so I could be a woman, too.
Then it did, and everything sucked.
It took me until I was twenty-seven years old to figure out that my period didn’t have to be my enemy. Various IUDs and pills that made me bleed excessively, and two babies later, I was confronted with the reality that my period might always be painful and heavy and I was desperate to figure out a way to stop dreading that week of every month. The one where I’d soak my sheets despite best efforts, be left curled up on the couch with a heating pad, in tears and ashamed of bleeding so much. I couldn’t keep living like this, and I was tired of tampons that absorbed nothing and pads that just acted like a slide. It wasn’t until my husband tenderly helped me wash the bed and told me not to be ashamed, when I questioned who the real enemy was. Was it my body? Or was it the useless, conventional methods of menstrual management and years of being told to suffer quietly?
The real nemeses were tampons, hormonal birth control (for me), and this whole idea that a woman must bleed but never discuss it. The shame of being a woman was the foundation of all my problems with my period, and subsequent crappy efforts to control it. Setting aside men who found periods disgusting, I’d hear women not want to talk about it or act disgusted when alternative methods of period-management were brought up. Specifically, the menstrual cup. Women I’ve talked to would wrinkle their nose and say “oh gross, why would I want to shove a cup down there?” So I put it off, buying into this idea that cups were for crunchy weirdos that are free-spirited and gross (which is actually me, hilariously).
But by the second postpartum period, I caved and bought a menstrual cup because a friend of mine was brave enough to rave about it. I figured, I double hemorrhaged with my second child and if I could handle that, I can handle being a little more hands-on with my period. When it came, my period had just started and HOLY HANNAH. After the initial learning curve, I was in tears from relief. I was able to sleep without my standard two towels and two diaper-like pads. Just a regular liner and my cup. I was able to workout, do yoga, and go for jogs without feeling wet ten minutes in. And even moreso, my debilitating cramps lessened. My period came and went without much fanfare, I boiled my cup to clean it, and then tucked it away for next time. As soon as my uterus was done with her fit, I was so ecstatic that it completely overshadowed any sense of shame or embarrassment over buying the cup. I unleashed so much excitement upon my friends that you’d think I found the cure for the common cold. No, I found the cure for something better- for period anxiety.
My friends were a mixture of “tell me more” and “oh man that is so gross.” The resistance to period cups is real, y’all. I decided to take it to my local mom group, and even more interest sparked, as well as other cup users who chimed in with their praise, and yes, more disgust from some. I was noticing a trend that made me sad. Why is our period gross? Why are our vaginas things that we don’t really spend time looking at, exploring, and getting to know? Is it really so bad to have to touch our menstrual blood? Women should not be having such an aversion to their own bodies. I’m not shaming you if this is you. I actually completely understand, because it took me two decades to finally decide to try something outside the norm. I just think it’s sad and wholly unfair to you, to women. So I gently started talking with more women openly, and with my encouragement, some more moms hopped on and purchased. Every single one so far has not had a single regret.
Then Amazon Prime Day came, and a ton of menstrual cup brands were on sale. So I decided to post an announcement to all the ladies I know: GO GET YOUR CUP! Price is one of two big factors that hold women back from purchasing, the other being how to choose the right one. Prime Day was the perfect day to take the plunge. Cups that are normally $40 were $15, so off my lady friends went. And my inbox was flooded with messages. “How do I choose? What size is best? I can’t measure myself. How do I use it?” I had so many messages, so I decided to make a video. It was my first time really openly discussing cups, and the reception was huge. I showed women how to measure their cervix using a simple hand test, discussed how to insert and remove the cup, and chatted about all the great benefits – and minor downsides – to the magical method of menstruation control. How cups last up to FIVE YEARS (so $40 is nothing), how they’re so much safer since there is a lower risk of TSS, and how easy to clean and store they are. I felt uplifted by so many of the sweet messages and comments, and relieved I could help some women in need. It felt like this secret to a manageable period had been unlocked, and so many of us were being showered with the blessings from it.
I was still sad to see some women say they’re afraid to even touch or look at themselves, but not surprised. We aren’t taught to be open and accepting of our own sexuality and physical anatomy. We grow up hearing about vaginas being this mystical object that can only be appreciated once antiquated ideals are met, and even then, we can only discuss it with our doctor and our vaginas exist for the pleasure of men and bearing children. We have this awesome organ that everyone can benefit from except us. Many of us haven’t learned what every anatomical part is called (like the difference between vulvas and vaginas), and we don’t get to even call it what it is. How many of you were given an alternative name for your vagina growing up? Or when you poked at it, did your parents quickly pull your hand away and say don’t touch? I know that was my experience, and so many of our friends’. We are equipped with a complicated, intricate, beautiful, cool reproductive organ and the education we desperately need to accommodate it is left behind. So that’s why women, at 30 and with kids, still can’t reference their vaginas as anything other than “down there” and I can’t blame them. I know why they feel that way, but empowerment and education are two things that are never too late to learn. I encouraged them to take a mirror and get to know themselves; say the word “vagina” ten times out loud. Laugh, feel light, embrace that part of them. I love that these women felt comfortable enough to at least watch my video and approach me, because it’s hard taking that first step to controlling your womanhood and embracing your body.
I’m just glad that I finally did, because there isn’t a single part of my body that I want to resist or feel bitter about. And thanks to the menstrual cup, there isn’t.
To find what menstrual cup fits you best, check out www.putacupinit.com/quiz
To check your cervix size, do this easy test at home: simply insert your index finger into your vagina and stop when you feel the cervix. It should feel like the tip of your nose. If you can only get in as far as the first knuckle closest to your fingertip, your cervix sits low. Middle knuckle, your cervix sits in the middle. Furthest knuckle, your cervix sits high. Take that little test before checking out the quiz, because you will need that information. Best to do while standing, rather than laying down. Gravity is your friend for accurate results.