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Turn, Turn, Bleed: Menstrual Cup Misadventures

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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* If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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Menstrual Myths and Products That Matter

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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* If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

The Menstrual Cup Month: There Will Be Blood

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.

120px-Coupe-menstruelleThe next three days were rich with experience and learning of all sorts. I’m going to condense it all into what I learnt.

  • 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.

I Have A Bloody Relationship With My Pad

This is a Facebook post on the Bodyform wall (am the only one who thought ‘uterine wall’ just now?), written by a man asking why sanitary napkin makers have lied to him for years.

FB

Bodyform responded with the following video by Caroline Williams, the CEO of Bodyform (played by an actress), apologising and explaining in the same tongue-in-cheek manner why they did what they did.

I’ve had a complex relationship with Whisper, the Indian version of the same brand. What else would you expect between a woman and her sanitary pad? Through the 80s, I was dimly aware of ads depicting rectangular white pads onto which blue liquid was poured and women spoke in hushed tag lines about ‘un dinnon ke liye‘. Then Whisper broke the silence (yes, yes, pun) with an ad that had a young woman demanding

“What’s this un dinnon business? I have my period, yaar.”

That ad was one of the first influences that built my feminist ideology. Score one for blatant commerce making social impact! It coincided with the start of my periods. I entered puberty listening to horror stories about wash-and-resuse-home-made pads, ’embarrassing’ leaks, panty-on-panty tips for heavy days, thigh rash, plastic shields and other monsters. But I entered the bloodied world of womanhood armed with a slim/non-bump-showing, leakproof, disposable pad. And it came with a big dose of rebellious daring to speak up/refusing to be embarrassed.

This is why I was so disappointed with the ‘Have a Happy Period’ campaign. Happy Period? HAPPYPERIOD???!!!!! Nausea, giddiness, headaches, backaches, cramps, endless hunger PLUS depression, the urge to laugh at insane moments, mad horniness combined with utter disgust – how on earth does HAPPY even figure in this? I dismissed it as having been conceptualised by a stupid man who had probably never even seen a bloodied sanitary napkin. After that, my relationship with the brand changed. I needed it, it needed me (as a consumer, that is) but we didn’t like each other anymore. Talk about a toxic marriage!

Then, with this turn of events, I felt better able to accept that c’est la vie (sometimes PMS makes me pretentious). A male friend from the media industry told me that sanitary napkins use blue liquid in their ads because they are not allowed to show red. Yes India, yes censorship, we have one of the biggest populations in the world but we don’t want to acknowledge the most basic fact that makes this possible. (Speaking of which, there must be a huge population of men that doesn’t even know there’s a connection between the period and population). You want honesty, no game-playing, men? You’ve got it. There will be no whispering behind closed doors anymore. No secrets unless you want.

I will end, both triumphant and saddened (these period moods, man) with this scene from Game of Thrones.

Why Are Period Jokes Okay But Period Talk Not?

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*Image courtesy Simon Howden on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was in college, a guy leaned in and asked me,

“Why was there blood on the dance floor?”

These were the late 90s, Micheal Jackson was still alive, already white and not yet branded a pedophile. I shrugged. I had not understood the song anyway.

“Because Susie had her period!”

he guffawed as the boys around him erupted laughing. I frowned. I still don’t get it. The song and the joke.

If the idiot had any sense, he’d know that Susie would know to wear a tampon or a sanitary pad during her period. Even if by some miracle, she forgot to wear panties (no woman does that outside of porn films), the blood would not gush out of her and land on the floor in a  puddle. It would cake around her groin, with a trickle or two lining the insides of her thighs. I very much doubt it would even get as far as her knee before it congealed and dried up. It’s menstrual blood after all, not red wine. But how would he know? He was a man. What did he know about menstruation, after all?

I once had an argument with a friend over this. He thought joking about things made it possible for people to not take them so seriously. I see where that might make sense in some things. But not here. Most men are terribly uncomfortable with the notion of menstruation. This discomfort is indulged by a society that makes it okay to not talk about it and silences girls and women about a natural, bodily process. Making a joke of it, especially in an information-deprived environment actually propagates wrong notions. It also increases the shame factor that keeps the silent zone in place.

I think the heavy silence that lies around menstruation is dangerous. It gives men (and women) all kinds of wrong notions. I know men who think that having sex with a menstruating woman will kill her. I know women who use iPill as a regular contraceptive and I fear that one day they will bleed to death. (iPill is an emergency contraceptive that basically induces the period. Having a period more often than normal is not normal or good for the body.) I know men and women who think that painkillers can ‘solve’ the period. And I know men and women who think that contraceptives will ruin a woman’s child-bearing capacity.

Periods suck. They’re awful. I hate having them. Why should I not be allowed to rant about them? Why must I not be able to expect sympathy for strong nausea, blinding headaches, backache, stomach cramps and aching joints (on account of weakness due to blood loss, the doctor says)? Everyone gets sympathy when they face any one of these, don’t they? Why, when I have to have all of these together am I not accorded the same, just because it’s on account of my period? Never mind getting a day off to rest. The only people who will grant me that will also treat me as an untouchable, not allow me to pass by places of worship and create a huge hullabaloo if I reach for a bottle of pickles. Yes, this happens, even in 2014 Mumbai. It happens to me.

You know what talking about the above gets me? PMS jokes (which are period jokes in douchebag clothing, pun entirely unintended). I think PMS jokes are even more offensive. They don’t just spread ignorance like period jokes do. They also actively propogate demeaning women for natural body functions. They reaffirm the idea of women as shrieking banshees incapable of logic, sense or responsibility.

I have no problem with humour. But humour is only really funny when everyone (and not just the the person who makes the joke) gets that it is not serious. In the Susie joke, I think a lot of my classmates actually believed that a woman dancing during her period might leave puddles of blood behind on the floor. Think about what their attitudes would be towards the women in their life undertaking physical exertion during their periods?

So yes, we need to be able to talk about periods. What about period jokes? I’ll say they are okay the day it is permissible to sit around talking about menstruation as normally as we discuss Arnab Goswami and the next Salman Khan movie.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Update: I challenge every man reading this post, to go through this list. It’s creatively designed as a humour/horror quiz but is closer to the truth than most factual articles I’ve read. Go on, I dare you to read it through to the end.

PMS: The Bogeyman’s Here!

Image via Microsoft Office

PMS: Three syllables that could rock your world. But what does this word mean? As a man, it is one of those words you never want to use to describe away women’s seemingly irrational behaviour. Unless you want to hear a very loud and shrill rant.  Or if you know the women I do, get a prompt kick in the crown jewels. For women, it is the constant irritation of dealing with pop culture and stand-up comedians love affair with PMS jokes.

But is the alternative to making crass oversimplifications, just shutting up? I think not. The fact is, in our increasingly politically correct world, we do not address some things just to pacify, well, the angry women. The women whose eyebrows go up when you mention PMS and tell you “Don’t even think about it!”

Now here’s my problem with that. Society and culture thrives on making certain topics taboo- female sexuality, periods, rape, etc.  When you cannot even talk about something openly, it provides a connotation of shame to it. How do you expect women to believe there is no shame in their being women when everything about their bodies is brushed under the carpets as ‘inappropriate’?And it is that culture that tolerates locking up women when they menstruate, treating them as social outcasts and of course dismissing them as professionals. For years, men thought women could not be involved in outdoors activities and professions because of- wait for it- menstruation!

This was fine in the world that was but it cannot be a part of the world the Modern Man seeks to build. In order to deconstruct what he has been raised to believe he needs to understand. So women can continue to be overly sensitive about words like ‘vagina‘ and ‘PMS‘ and god knows what else. But the Modern Man is not a gentleman. He is no knight in shining armour. He has little patience or indulgence for your baggage and who has been oppressing you.

The fact is, the more ‘secretive’ and ‘inappropriate’ any topic is deemed, the more power it has to dominate and repress people. So what we propose is this: rob it of its power by taking away the secretiveness. That is the key to a lot of the issues that come with the conversation on gender. It certainly is the key to this one.

And if you want, I can start. Men don’t hate talking because they think it’s a bore. Men hate talking because most women don’t really want to hear what they have to say. And ignorance breeds bigotry. Or in this case- sexism.

Mr. Garrison as a child, as seen in "Weig...

Image via Wikipedia

I will end with a quote from South Park by the delightfully offensive Mr. Garrison:

“I’m sorry, Wendy, but I don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.”

Sure, you can call him a chauvinist pig. But what then? What then indeed.

Countdown To The 28th Day

The weather is sickening.
Outside the sun is scorching the earth
like something from the kitchens of a very bad cook..dark, smelly, sticky.
The sunlight on my face gives me a headache.
Inside, the fan is whipping a breeze across my face too fast.
Slower it offends my ears with its whirring.

I’m sick, going to throw up.
Food is a revolting thought.
As are dusty corners, soaking wet clothes, bathrooms..
Bathroom, I need to make my way to the bathroom.
I heave across, slow-motion in my own eyes
And suddenly comfort is there
In the splashes of red.
The twenty-eighth day.
I mark it with a red cross on my calendar
And turn around with a sigh of relief.

The longest journey is when you don’t know what awaits you in the end
D-day to D-day is just 28 days.
And yet, each of them seems to vary in length.
The first week..what a relief, what a joy!
Waves of perspiration breaking out,
Relief is the sweetest thing of all.
While my body pays for that joy.

As the pains subside,
Its time for resolutions
To be more careful,
To be less willing
To be stronger in my will.
All in good intention.

The days pass and dangers spread thin over them,
Like butter softly melting into bread,
The temptations sink into my being.
Till I slowly break down again
And sink into them.
Feeling my body’s victory over the mind.
Defiant pleasure overruling guilt.

And then, the most difficult phase begins.
The waiting, the wondering, the secret misgivings.
A million “Why did I?”s and “How could you?”s
For every hundred or so, one fight.
For every fight a hundred or so sorrys.

I’m frowning more and more each day.
Then one day tears roll down.
Then the weather starts to sicken.
And I wait and wonder if it is close to D-day again.

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