Category Archives: Health
Twenty-six years ago on this date, I had my first period.
It must have been a Sunday or a Thursday (my school weekly holiday) and I had gone swimming with my father in the morning. I came home and changed into my favorite white cotton frock with a gigantic sash at the back that made me look like I actually had some curves, which I totally didn’t. And then my mother called me to the bathroom and held up my panties with streaks of red on them.
Of course, I knew what a period was by that time. My mother had given me the facts because as she put it, she had been terrified she was going to die when she had her first period and didn’t want me to go through that. My education had comprised this diagram and an instruction to keep one eye on the calendar every month for ‘those days’.
At the start of the year, my school had devoted a whole week to Sex Education. Unfortunately, I missed it because I was in Chennai attending my grandmother’s death anniversary function. I returned to one of my close friends yelling at me from across the class that I’d missed Sex. I sniffed and pretended that such things were beneath me.
My mother was extra worried about my not getting my periods. I was already in tenth standard. I think she forgot that I was a year younger than everyone else in class and that girls getting their periods as young as 9, were still considered aberrations and not the norm. I’d already seen a number of specialists, my picky eating habits, my early onset of allergies and my skinny frame discussed at length by the adults.
One of my mother’s friends believed that wearing black when I got my first period would be inauspicious (a belief system that would also later keep me out of temples, the kitchen and touching new clothes during my periods). So I didn’t own a single garment in black for three years. My paternal grandmother had advised that the clothes I was wearing when I got my first period would have to be discarded and never worn again by another person.
All these conversations stacked up in my head as I stood in the bathroom with my mother, looking at my period-streaked panties. They were not black, so the red showed up clearly. My swimming costume was a fiery orange, a colour I really liked. There were no streaks on the it but that went into the never-to-be-worn-again list. And just to be safe, the cotton dress I was wearing, my favorite one was listed in that too. I really wish I hadn’t had to give up that pretty dress.
I was made to sit in the bathroom and have oil dripped on my head with some kind of a religious ritual, presided over by my maternal grandmother who happened to be visiting. My father booked a trunk call to my extended family and after exchanging a few pleasantries said,
“One good news. Ramya became a big girl today.”
In the evening, we went out shopping. I was bought not one but two new dresses, one by my parents and one by my grandmother. Later in the night, my father told me I didn’t have to go to school the next day. I didn’t want to miss school. I couldn’t wait to tell my girlfriends that I had finally joined their ranks after the years of talking about what a period felt like. I said no, I’ll be okay tomorrow. I know a period is not sickness. But dad said, you’ll still feel tired. Take tomorrow off. And so I did.
I heard about how ‘in smaller villages’, girls were stopped from going to school after they got their periods. I was told about distant aunts and even cousins who had had elaborate functions on their first period. My father scoffed and called it ‘parading the fresh baby-making machine that’s just become available so put in your bids’ ritual. I felt relieved I hadn’t been subjected to that public spectacle. And in hindsight, I guess I’m glad I didn’t have to go to school the next day. Schoolgirls have their own hierarchy of cruelty and it hadn’t gone unnoticed that I was the last girl in class to not shuffle awkwardly or be found in the toilets crying over a stained uniform.
So many things have happened since that day, on my menstrual journey. I went from belted sanitary napkins (the latest menstrual technology at that time) to stick-ons and period panties to the slim Whisper generation. I briefly dallied with tampons but I just didn’t like the idea of shoving a dry cotton wad into my insides. And finally, the menstrual cup a few years ago and my creative work on menstrual health awareness.
I’ve now been a menstruating human longer than a non-menstruating one. I’m also closer to menopause than the start of my periods. I know getting your period is only one point in the journey of being a woman. But so many thoughts, cultural, religious and social are associated with this milestone. This day wasn’t the first time I felt the weight of my gender label nor the distance from my male peers. But it became a reference point.
I guess it would be fair to say my journey as a woman started on this day, twenty-six years ago. So, today is the one day it’s alright to wish me a Happy Period Day.
I’ve been a menstrual cup user for over two years now. There have been a few misadventures but nothing so bad as to deter me from using this wonderful product. This is truly a product that has changed my life in meaningful ways. Earlier this year, I bought two new cups, having made certain critical decisions about my body based on past usage.
The first of these was the WOW Freedom cup in a Size:L with a stem. My previous cup was a Size:M unstemmed and had turned inside me causing some discomfort and frequent leakage. So I decided to go up a size (yay for body-positivity, down with body-shaming!). In addition, I decided that I like having the safety net of a stem which keeps the cup from turning. Here’s my unboxing video of the WOW Freedom cup:
In the six months since then, I’ve used the cup in different ways. I’ve tried it when I’m not having my period. I’ve tried different insertion methods. I’ve tested it on different period days as well as for longer time durations to check capacity. I’ve also worn it while swimming. And here’s my review of the WOW Freedom Cup:
Here are the salient points of my review:
- Aesthetics: No discolouration after over 3 periods of use. It’s easy to clean.
- Insertion: Easy to insert and lock into place; no pain or discomfort
- Positioning: Is soft enough to adapt to the vaginal passage shape but once fixed does not move
- Leakage: None at all
- Removal: Slides out smoothly with stem making it easy to pull out
I’m keen to hear your stories if any, with menstrual cups. If you have questions about menstrual cup usage, drop me a comment below or inbox me on the XXFactor Facebook Page or the S3xonomicsBand Facebook Page. I’ll do my best to answer, based on my experience. Have a (truly) happy period!
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You may remember my menstrual cup misadventures last month. A recap of my journey so far:
- I started with SilkyCup, a medium sized menstrual cup with a stem (resulting in ‘vagitail’ in my early attempts)
- I practised and found a folding technique that worked for me and I’m still learning about insertion
- 7 months in, I discovered that the leakage that was happening was not normal. A menstrual cup replaces or should replace all other sanitary products like tampons, sanitary napkins and panty liners.
- I bought a SheCup, a medium sized menstrual cup without a stem
- Insertion was easier. I perfected the punchdown fold. Leakage vanished.
- The SheCup turned over completely inside me in December.
- It turned around 90 degrees in February. It also leaked out enough to stain my bed in my sleep.
- When removing the SheCup, it fell out and into the toilet bowl.
I’m over the upset of all this and I have decided that this is just trial-and-error till I find the best cup for me. Reema is of the opinion that the SheCup’s firmer material makes it ‘pop’ open inside on insertion while the SilkyCup being softer, stays folded and leaves room for leakage. I am theorising that a stem keeps a cup from spinning. And both of us think that the two cups may not have been the right size for me too.
With these in mind, I’m back on the road to the perfect cup. I’m going to set aside time, some money and the determination to soldier through and not give up. The menstrual cup has too many benefits (financial, environmental, feminist) for me to give up on it at this stage.
I know a lot more women are using menstrual cups now and several others are taking notice and have questions. I would like to start a discussion. So here are some questions. Share your thoughts and comments.
- If you are a menstrual cup user, do you prefer one with a stem or without?
- Have you had any troubles with the unfurling? How do you address those?
- What fold/s do you use? Have you experimented with angles of insertion?
- Has anyone noticed any increase/reduction in cramps? Any other physical changes noticed?
Leave your comments below and let’s get talking!
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The menstrual cup chronicles continue. I started with a SilkyCup gifted to me by Reema. After a lot of teething pains (birthing pains?), I established a relationship with this piece of silicon and got used to putting it up my lady business every month.
A HUGE part of developing a comfort with menstrual cups is the safety valve that the stem provides, that you can just yank out anytime. No, not really, it doesn’t really work that way since after the first couple of months or so, my vag began swallowing up the entire cup, stem and all. I’m assured that is is quite normal, in fact the right way to wear it. Getting it out proves to be awkward but possible since when you reach the tip of the stem you can tugtug it out. By the time I got to this place with my cup, it had already discoloured. Also it continued to still leak.
Figuring it must be a size misfit and that I was ‘grown-up’ enough to buy one for myself, I bought a SheCup. This one was a real adventure because it came without a stem (thus nullifying the ‘vagitail’). The SheCup is also made of a slightly firmer material than the SilkyCup which means it pops open once inside you. I’ll admit the theory sounded fine and truly, in the last few months, I’ve sprung very few leaks if at all. I’ve even gone on all day, including outside with zero fuss (I even wore a thong once). The only trouble if at all was that it went in so snugly, I was always afraid I’d forget it was in there. So I’ve gotten used to placing an alarm for myself every few hours to ‘Remove cup’.
In December, I had one alarming episode where I reached in at the end of the day and found my finger poking into thin air. Thin air inside me? Am I actually a mannequin then? It turned out that the cup had turned ALL the way around inside me. It wasn’t actually as bad as it sounds. I had to get a grip on a side and slide/slip/scratch it out. Soreness around the vaginal area had also been noted around the end of Day 2. But well, nothing gained overnight, I was just glad to be rid of the pain of sanitary napkins.
February was an admittedly tough month for me periodwise and otherwise. What is otherwise? Any fusses and stresses you face in life show up in your monthly visitor. Your period is like your auditor of your wellbeing and health. February was very little of that, given a lot of things. It started on a high-stress sudden summer day when I was rushing out for an important client meeting. Anticipating the calendar, I plugged in the cup and off I went. Midmorning bathroom break revealed stained panties. In the middle of a makeshift office bathroom, I scrabbled around inside me only to find that the cup had moved around 90 degrees. This had to be the worst of the cup woes, I decided. It took me ten minutes, a sprained wrist and an almost injured pubic bone to get that damn cup out. That should have been it.
Then on the morning of day 3, I woke up in a pool of blood. Okay, a puddle. But still, after 20-odd years of periods, one has gotten quite used to managing the blood flow. It’s a wee bit embarrassing and annoying for this to happen. No, I kid. It’s bloody terrifying, pun intended.
Sheets yanked off in disgust, I trudged to the bathroom still mostly asleep. I don’t know if it was the grogginess or the cup misbehaving but I struggled to reach it. When I finally did – and I have no idea how this happened – IT JUST EFFING FELL OUT. Fell into the pot. I cried.
I spent the rest of the period with my leaky old SilkyCup and plenty of pads. So let’s just say that the cup isn’t the magical cure to all menstrual nightmares. I’m still soldiering on and going menstrual-cup shopping again. This time, I think I’ll pick up a cup with a stem again. I guess the SheCup was a tad too small for me, giving it play to move around. And its stemlessness probably made it easier. A stem should prevent it from doing this bloody spinning thing
Wish me luck and here’s hoping third time’s the charm. I’ll post an unboxing video when the new cup/cups arrive.
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Today is World Menstrual Health Day. I wonder if they chose the 28th of this month because of the 28 days that are a cycle average. Well, there is certainly a lot to be said about menstrual health and I think I do a lot of talking (and writing) about it already. But it appears to fall to the few of us to keep it going. So, if you are a woman or if you truly care about at least one woman in your life, think about what this means and contribute to the conversations.
There are a lot of myths around menstrual health. My favorite ones (to poke holes into, that is) are:
1. Menstrual blood is dirty! Heh, Adhyayan Suman anyone? Witchcraft and evil galore. Well, no. Menstrual blood is not shit or urine. It’s not ‘dirty’ in that way. If anything, menstrual blood is the raw material that makes up a human being. It’s what would have been left of you, had your daddy’s sperm not fertilized your mummy’s egg. It’s no more dirty than you are.
2. Menstrual health is about getting your period on time. How cute. That’s like saying a movie is about the two hours that you see it on screen. The female reproductive system is intricately organised (entirely internally). It is also self-regulating and self-cleaning. And it involves a lot of hormones, their production and their dispensation. Hormones are chemical and anything chemical is complex and involves hundreds of things that could potentially have concern areas. Honour the most important system in your body, ladies and know it.
3. Gynacologists are to be visited when you’re pregnant or when you’re about to get married. Really. And you should probably see an eye specialist when you’ve completely lost your eyesight. Look at point 2 and think about whether it makes sense to assume that everything is okay until something is drastically different?
I don’t want to talk about any further myths because most of them have to do with social beliefs rather than scientific facts. I’ve also created two videos that may be of interest, while on this.
The first is the unboxing of a new menstrual cup. Reema has decided to try a different brand, given they all come in varying sizes and shapes. I’m considering a new one myself, after the somewhat decent experience I’ve had with SilkyCup. This is the She Cup and the video shows what it looks like and what else the package contains.
The second is the unboxing of a parcel from CossetBox. They’re a new service catering to women on their period days. Take a look at the magnificent box they sent me to try out. It contains a lot more than the usual suspects of sanitary napkins and chocolate.
All these are commercial products but they cater to women’s health and it is in all our interest to talk about them. It’ll be a fine day when we can discuss menstrual cups, vaginal wipes (not ‘intimate wipes’) and female condoms with the same unblinking confidence with which we speak of shoes and lipstick. Happy World Menstrual Health Day, ladies!
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I’ve received and given a few strange gifts in my time but the most unusual one was Reema’s birthday present to me this year. For context, Reema showers me with gifts of books, food, makeup and pretty objects year round so she managed to take it up a notch even further for the special birthday gift. She gave me my first menstrual cup.
So what’s a menstrual cup? It falls under what our world likes to call ‘feminine hygiene products’. In a nutshell (or a silicon cup), it collects period blood. Menstrual cups fit inside the vaginal passage, somewhat the way tampons do. Except tampons absorb the blood while menstrual cups collect it so you can take it out and empty it.
The benefits of this method are multifold. Tampons end up being blood soaked fabric bolts, which lend themselves to infections. The menstrual cup is made of silicon which as we all know gets put into people to enhance their curves (so presumably, it doesn’t react negatively with the body internally). Tampons are thought to contain bleach and other chemicals which could irritate the sensitive insides of the vaginal tract. No such issues with the menstrual cup. Of course all of this is academic, because I’ve never used a tampon, having been cautioned by the doctor who detected me (as a foetus) to avoid them for fear of infection.
Why menstrual cups over sanitary napkins then? After all, sanitary napkins have evolved (barring the ‘Have a Happy Period’ glitches). They’re more absorbent, don’t require itchy elastic belts, don’t slide out of your panty and have even gotten flatter (no unsightly bulges on the back of your pants). But any woman who has used them, knows about rashes and chafing, the inconvenience of having to find a place to change every three-four hours, the trouble of discarding used napkins in a private as well as hygienic and environmentally-conscious manner (don’t flush them down the toilet, yo!). Not to mention they’re an ongoing cost, EVERY DAMN MONTH. Anybody who thinks this is a trivial matter has never bought a sanitary napkin in their entire life. Menstrual cups are supposed to last for about 10 years.
None of this however, prepared me for the thought of sticking a strange foreign object into my body, especially in the time of cramps, low blood pressure, nausea and fainting. Oh Reema, the things you push me to do! But in Reema we trust and nothing she has introduced me to so far, has ever been regrettable. I did some reading up on menstrual cups online myself. I also asked my gynecologist about them. She didn’t seem too keen on the idea but she didn’t give me a firm no either.
“Maybe not because you’re putting a foreign body into yourself, you know?”
were her exact words.
As circumstantial luck would have it, for the first time ever in my perioding history, I fell short of sanitary napkins this month. My period arrived early, I was busy and then too exhausted to go down and buy some. Otherwise, I probably might have delayed the trial infinitely and the little silicon cup would have lain unused for years. Nothing to be done about it, I reached for the silicon cup.
- You may not be able to sterilise it by boiling the cup in your kitchen, owing to social/cultural norms. My mother won’t even let me stand in the kitchen while she’s doing her puja and I’m on my period. I doubt my ‘dirty’ menstrual things would find any place in the kitchen. I got around this by using a face steamer. The basic plastic variety you get for 100 bucks at the chemist, that lets you steam your pores or sinuses. Silicon bends easily so it flattened into a corner of the steamer cup.
- Inserting the cup is THE BIG CHALLENGE. I followed the instructions to fold it into a ‘C’ and I struggled for over 45 minutes before giving up. Then I tried again after I’d had lunch and this time I managed to get it in. The next time I put it in was difficult too but it took me 20 minutes. I imagine at that rate, I’ll be able to slip it in easy-peasy in another two periods or so.
- Figuring out how to position yourself during insertion is part of the challenge (I wonder if reading the Kamasutra would help). I tried squatting over a toilet or just the floor, as they recommended but nada. The only way I could get it in both times was when I sat on the floor, one leg splayed out and the other raised so the foot was resting on a chair or the toilet seat and slouched back about 45 degrees from the ground.
- On my second trial, I realised it slid it much easier when I angled it slightly to the left. I guess that’s just my body structure but it’s important to remember that our bodies are all different and none of them conform strictly to biological diagrams. A couple of degrees to the right to correct, made it very painful so I moved it back and it went right in.
- I put in the menstrual cup twice during the period, the first time for about 3 hours and the next time for about 5 hours. The instructions say that you can easily go 12 hours before having to empty the cup out. The first time I was freaking out worried that it would get lost in there. So I yanked it out in the early evening. Just in case it didn’t budge and I had to see my gynecologist, I wanted to ensure I’d be able to catch her. You might want to do this as well. All the literature assures you that the cup can’t possibly get lost inside you. But this is an intimate, big thing you’re doing and you need to do it at your own pace and with whatever support (emotional and otherwise) you need.
- The second time was sort of funny. The first time, I had put the cup in and sat in one place working. The second time, I decided to walk around to see how it felt. It was strange, very strange. After about 15 minutes, I had a sudden feeling like I needed to shit. But it passed in a few minutes. I guess the cup may have been resting on one of my internal organs and shifted slightly. Does that make you a bit sick? Yes, well, you’ll have to deal with it to go through this. A little later, I felt the urge to pee. When I went into the toilet though, nothing would come out. It was the strangest unpee I’ve ever had. It wasn’t like having a urinary infection where you burn as the urine passes through you. It was just as if I had a full bladder but nowhere to let it out from. I stood up and jiggled the cup around a bit and it started to come out. And immediately after that I was able to pee right. The stem of the cup must have been resting against the urethra blocking off the pee passage. Gross I know, but such a relief. I thought my urinary passage had closed up and I might have to pee through my mouth or something.
- There was no pain really but inserting the cup was an arduous process. If you’ve ever had a gynecological examination, you’ll know that the vagina isn’t like a straight tube where stuff just slides in and out. It has all sorts of angles, it’s bumpy and it expands and contracts. And finally it’s all soft flesh with hundreds of nerve endings so you feel every little poke and pinch. Taking out the cup was not painful either, just very awkward. Squat a little, tug on the stem of the cup hoping it doesn’t break in your hands, rotate or jiggle a little all the while feeling that strange tickly-rubby feeling that isn’t altogether pleasant and then WHOOOSH suddenly it’s like you sneezed and you can breathe again.
- The literature actually said to insert it so even the ‘stem’ was inside but I didn’t dare shove it up that deep and risk losing it to the vast unknown (isn’t it interesting how the insides of our own bodies are as scary and unknown as outer space?). So both days I had a little vagitail. But it’s not long enough to get in the way or even irritate your skin. Only you know it’s there because, well you know and not because it causes pain or discomfort.
- All the literature warns that it will be messy. I’m not sure why since it wasn’t more or less messy than changing a sanitary napkin after a hard day. You can’t really do it without getting some blood on your fingers. And if you’re on a heavy flow time, there’ll probably be a splotch or two of blood on the floor in the time it takes you to change. Get over your grossed-outness if that scares you. It’s your body, it’s natural. And finally, menstrual fluid is not shit or urine. It’s not really ‘dirty’ in the same way. The vagina is self-cleaning so you’re really not going to catch any germs from getting some stuff on your hands. Wash well with soap and water afterwards and that’s quite enough.
- I used a sanitary napkin along with the menstrual cup both times I tried it. I think both times and especially the first, the cup didn’t really unfold all the way, leaving a little way for leakage. It was better the second time, which might be because it fit better but also because my flow had reduced. But Reema suggests using a pad along with the cup for the first few times. I guess I’ll figure out a comfort level with going pad-free after a few months.
- And finally, a good intimate wash is worth investing in – to clean yourself and the menstrual cup. I used V Wash, which is available at all chemists. Regular soap irritates the skin so get the special one for yourself.
And before I knew it, the period was over! One article I read, said that using a menstrual cup actually reduced cramps for some obscure biology-based reason. Reema says it also reduces the period cycle by a full day. Apparently menstrual discharge takes a full day to seep down from the uterus to the vagina. If you know your dates, you can insert the cup even before you see blood and it’ll catch it all midstream. Ergo, you’ve saved time on the externally bleeding cycle.
If I have anything else to report on my next few period cycles, I’ll write more. If you’re looking for a menstrual cup, here are some places you can buy it online for India: Amazon, PrivyShop, ShyCart, Mooncart, SilkyCup
Write to me at ideasmithy at gmail dot com, if you have anything to share or ask about menstrual cups and I will answer your question if I’m able to. I’m not a doctor or qualified to give any kind of medical advice but I’m happy to share my experience and listen to yours.
Empowerment begins with taking responsibility for yourself. Reema points out some common misconceptions around women and fitness regimes. If you’re a woman, take charge of your body. It has been your prison for so long. It’s high time you make it your personal vehicle into a better life.
1. Get yourself a gynaecologist you trust. You probably already have a trusted hair-stylist. This is just as important, if not more. Visit them for routine check-ups (and not just pregnancy scares or UTIs). Ask them how you can care for your body better. There is a reason there’s an entire branch of medicine devoted entirely to women’s bodies. Use it.
2. Monitor your menstrual cycle. This doesn’t just mean knowing when your next period should happen but also tracking how your moods, your energy levels, your blood pressure and your blood sugar fluctuate during the month and during the period. PMS is a real thing but if you know your body’s downtimes and special-requirement phases, you’ll be able to plan and work accordingly.
3. For the love of whatever God you believe in, if you are sexually active, use protection. The consequences of unprotected sex and all the so-called solutions are too horrific for you to put your body through. Emergency contraceptives are harmful if used often. Sex without condoms can spread STDs (not to mention pregnancy). You’d treat your car nicely, even if it was second-hand. Why settle for less with your own body?
4. Eat right. Nutritionists, doctors and the Internet exist for good reason. I won’t preach about smoking, drinking or drugs, if you enjoy those. But remember your own body is a factory that produces potent, mood-altering chemicals. Be prudent about mixing intoxicants (see point 2.)
5. Find a fitness regime that matches your body type, your schedule and lifestyle. I’ve tried yoga, aerobics, swimming and the gym and I find my body’s needs have changed and evolved over the years. Exercise in some form has always helped, not just to keep me slim and flexible but also sane and grounded (endorphins, watay drug!). A body that is kept physically active enough to balance out its 18-hour mental activity, is better looking and more productive.
Remember that women’s bodies go through many more changes and far more dramatically through the course of our lives than men’s bodies. We also live lives of greater pressures and scrutiny than our male counterparts. Keep yourself prepared to meet the challenges of being a woman, by having a healthy female body.