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Menstrual Cup Anniversary: Third Time’s A Charm

In a conversation with new cup users, I went looking for the chronicle I knew I’d written and realised I’d never published it. So here goes for my menstruating peeps, hope it helps!

This is a recap and my learnings on my cup journey. I am very happy, now that I’ve figured out how to use the cup for my needs and I’ve found not one but two that suit my requirements. So here’s me sharing what I’ve learnt.

My journey with menstrual cups

  • July 2015: I started with a firm, medium sized, stemmed SilkyCup bought online. It took me awhile to learn insertion and get comfortable with the cup. But leaks were still happening.
  • June 2016: I decided to switch to a soft, medium sized, non-stemmed SheCup bought online. I thought the leaks may be happening because the previous cup wasn’t unfurling properly. This cup was easier to put in. But it turned inside me a couple of times and once, fell into the toilet bowl when I was trying to get it out. It also leaked.
  • March 2017: I decided to go back to stemmed cups and go up one size to see if a snugger fit would prevent the leaks. I moved to WOW Freedom and ALX Care, both firm, large sized, stemmed cups. I’ve been using these alternately and have had good experiences with both. No more leaks, no difficulty putting in or removing and the cramps have reduced too.

What is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a cup made of silicon, which you insert into your vaginal passage during your period. It captures the period discharge. Typically you can leave it in for at least 8 hours before needing to take it out and empty it. The cup is reusable and is said to last for up to ten years, which makes it very cost-effective (think of the taxation on feminine hygiene products). It can be inserted, removed and cleaned by the user herself, in a bathroom, which takes away the problem of disposing sanitary napkins or pads. It’s made of silicon so does not absorb any of the period discharge, only contains it (unlike tampons which have been known to cause Toxic Shock Syndrome). It has no bleach or other skin-irritating products, unlike sanitary napkins (how else do you think they’re that white?). And finally, if you care about the environment, the menstrual cup protects you from having to add to landfill with disposables.

It’s still a very low visibility product since women’s health is not a big priority for the world. I’ve never seen a chemist stock this. But menstrual cups are very easily available online, on all major ecommerce sites. There are several brands and types and they come in a variety of price ranges.

Myths/Fears/Taboos about menstrual cups

  1. A menstrual cup will not get stuck or lost inside you. It cannot enter your uterus. It might go fairly deep into your vaginal passage but it can be removed easily. In the absolute worst case, your gynacologist will be able to get it out of you without any complex surgical procedures. It just requires putting two fingers in and pulling the cup out.
  2. Menstrual cups are not and should not be painful. Most women are not familiar with their own bodies. We are also given a lot of negative messaging, especially about our vaginas. This means most of us will worry and even panic when asked to go down there. This could cause the muscles to tighten which makes insertion a little harder. The trick is to just take a deep breath, relax, wait a few minutes if need be and try again without worry.
  3. Menstrual cups are not for certain women only. Any woman who is menstruating should be able to use the cup, regardless of her age or sexual history. To be absolutely sure, check with a good gynaecologist. Mine had not had a lot of experience with cups but she didn’t see any major worries about it. I’ve been keeping her posted about my progress and her subsequent checkups have shown no adverse effects of two years of use.
  4. Menstrual cups do not need any other support products. If you have the right cup for you, there will be no leakage. By this I mean, literally ZERO leakage. So you will not need a sanitary napkin or panty liner. Your vaginal passage is plugged up with a well-fitting cup that captures all the discharge.
  5. Menstrual cups don’t fill up and overflow uncontrollably. Until I started using the menstrual cup, I never realised how slowly and how little the period discharge really is. Yes, it is bloody and yes, we have heavy flow days. But even at its peak, a period is not like a tap on full, spraying blood. The average cup and user can go upto at least 8 hours without a problem. I always empty my cup every 3-4 hours during the day anyway and I sleep the 8-9hour night without getting up. I have also gone for upto 12 hours without a change and there were no issues. This has never happened to me, but apparently if the cup gets full, it will only move downwards, presumably weighed down and it might leak a bit because of the shift in position.

Keep these in mind while looking for a cup

  • Size is a very important aspect of how the cup works for you. This has nothing to do with your body weight, age or sexual history. Human bodies come in many beautiful forms and yours is unique. Don’t body shame yourself for whatever size cup you need. The cup needs to fit you, not the other way round. A cup that is too loose will allow leaks and you’ll need pads, which defeats the purpose.
  • The stem is another important aspect of the cup. Even cups without stems will not get lost inside you. But you will need to insert your fingers a little deeper to get a hold of the cup during removal. Cups with stems will not hurt you because they’re really soft. If the cup fits well, it will get pulled into your vaginal passage completely and the stem won’t even stick out. Either way, the cup works. It’s a matter of personal preference. Figure yours out.
  • Cleaning the cup seems to be a big deal for a lot of women (based on what I read online). Maybe this is more in the western world where they’re used to bathrooms being dry and using toilet paper rather than water. As an Indian, wet doesn’t equal dirty to me. And I’ve been cleaning myself during my periods for over 20 years now. All you do is sit on the toilet, pull out the cup gently, empty it into the bowl, rinse it with clean water and put it back in. I also wash it with VWash if I’m at home. Sterilising can be done at the start and at the end of the period before you put your cup away. If you can’t do this in the kitchen, use a face steamer like I do or even a sterilising cup.
  • Take your time with finding the right cup and gaining comfort with whatever you buy. This is really important. This product is to help you live easier and better.

All the very best on your journey with menstrual cups! I would love to hear your experiences with the cup too. If you’d like to share, please leave a comment here or tweet to me or drop me a note at ideasmithy [at] gmail [dot] com.


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5 Things Every Woman Should Do For Her Body


Image courtesy tiverylucky at

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.

Marvin’s World: My Daily (And Nightly) Health Nags

And now that I’m a self-confessed Android junkie, I’ve progressed from games to the other delights that the Market offers. Out of curiosity, I went looking for what this ‘techy’ bazaar had to specially offer a woman. I was hit by a barrage of menstrual-cycle linked apps. Of course, a mobilephone is a daily companion and who knows the value of a calendar better than a woman who has to figure out clothing, commute, food, grooming and schedule by predicting her body’s cycle?

Of the apps I looked at, WomanLog Calendar appealed the most to me. The app begins with a 5-step process (of which 2 are the ‘Welcome to this app’ and the ‘Congratulations, you’re in!’ announcements). The only really key part of this process is step 2, where you enter your average menstrual cycle length and the average length of your period, both in days. After that, you pick the beginning day of the week, set language and you’re done.

The app then opens up into a pink * cringe at the stereotyping* calendar. You enter your period cycle by clicking on a date, which takes you to a push-button screen. Here you can select the start & end dates. In addition you can also include details such as birth control pill consumption, Basal Metabolic Temperature (BMT), sexual activity, weight and notes. Other features include charts tracking weight and temperature.

Thoughtfully, a password-protect feature has also been provided to keep those prying eyes (or fingers) away from such intimate details. This is particularly interesting since a mobilephone is open to far more scrutiny and non-secure access than a computer.

Once I got over the pinkness of this app, I realised it was probably a must-have addition to Marvin. I’ve just added it so I can’t tell how good the charting will be, as yet but I see no reason they shouldn’t work right. The paid version, WomanLog Pro Calendar also lets one enter mood, cervical mucus (presumably to track infections) and provides notifications, which sound like great features to add to an already decent app.

WomanLog Calendar is a product of Pro Active App and is available for download in the Android Market and the iPhone App Store.

I haven’t been particularly health-conscious but the past few years have made me painfully aware that I’m not a teenager anymore. I spend most weekends catching up on a massive sleep debt accumulated during the week. The Android Market had something to say on this.

SleepBot Tracker Log sounded like it would be a stern mommy-figure type, wagging its finger in admonition at the unhealthy lifestyles of today. But instead, it turned out to be a sensible, easy-to-use app for the sleep-deprived advanced smartphone user segment of today. On installing the app, the first thing you can do is take a Sleep Debt Index Quiz, which looks at how sleepy you are likely to get in the afternoons, during phone conversations, commuting and other such drowsiness-striken situations. Based on this, you are given a Sleep Debt Index which tells you how sleep-deprived you are.

You use the app to track your sleeping patterns by clicking ‘Sleep’ when you fall asleep and ‘Wake up’ when you do. Alternately, you can also manually input the times of these two events. SleepBot logs the hours slept & napped and tracks the sleep debt you accumulate. You can change the settings to reflect what you think is optimal sleep amount for you.

Over time, the app graphs your sleep records to show you the fluctuations in your cycle. Other features include auto-flight mode (avoid calls in sleep), auto-silence during sleep, WiFi off when sleep button pushed, idle threshold (to determine when sleeping) and sleep/wake reminder text.

There is also a wealth of handy somna-related resources such as a Caffeine Content Chart, Sleep-inducing foods and a Bedside Necessities list. SleepBot also offers information on the nature of Sleep Debt, Sleep Disorders, Diagnostic tests and associated health problems. And finally, it offers quick tips on sleeping well.

All in all, SleepBot feels like a comprehensive sleep-related app and a very relevant one for the typical target user of smartphone. SleepBot Tracker Log is a product of SleepBot and is available for download in the Android Market.


* This is a one-off app review on XX Factor since it involves women’s health. For more, see Marvin’s World.

Your Menstrual Cells Can Insure Your Health: LifeCell Femme Menstrual Cell Banking

Earlier in the month, I was invited to an event at the Taj Mahal hotel by LifeCell International. They’d chosen Women’s Day to launch their new product – LifeCell Femme. My first thought when I heard the phrase ‘stem cell banking’ was the medical thrillers I used to read in college. I was pretty sure it had something to do with regrowing limbs and such in a petri dish, for accident victims. I had no idea what that had to do with Women’s Day or me, for that matter. I went along out of curiosity.

It turns out my basic perception was right. Stem cell regeneration is the technology that allows us to regrow certain parts of the body, using basic cells. Just thinking about it is awe-inspiring. Science tells us that each of us starts with one cell, that divides progressively into halves, quarters and so on. At some point of time, the collection of cells starts to resemble an actual human being.

How does a cell know that it is going to be part of the liver and not, say, a finger? How does a cell know that it should grow in this direction, not that? How do the cells know that they should bunch up in just this shape and not another? Mind-boggling, isn’t it? Imagine a few renegade cells in your right kidney had decided that left elbow was more their thing, instead? What a miracle the human body is then, that every single cell knows its own place and function!

This line of thought took me to memories of my grandfather and uncle. The first died of cancer of the urinary bladder, the second of stomach cancer. Two generations before them have died of cancer of various parts of the body. Medical opinions I’ve heard are divided over whether cancer is hereditary or not. All I know is that it has claimed a few lives in every generation of my family. I’ve seen reports, become thoroughly familiar with terms like oncology, carcinogen, malignant, benign and chemotherapy. The scariest part of cancer is that it isn’t a virus or germ. It’s not an outside element at all but your own body turning on itself. Cells inexplicably start growing in the wrong place, in the wrong manner. Cancer is when life goes haywire, literally and metaphorically. The reason chemotherapy is such a dreaded treatment is it is quite literally killing off cells, targeting the cancerous growth but obviously other cells would suffer too.

The concept of it and my own personal experiences make me choke up at the very though of Lisa Ray, whose journey through cancer and its treatment has been chronicled in recent times. Ms.Ray was at the event to launch the product and talk about her own experience with stem cell regeneration. She spoke about being diagnosed with a rare form of the disease that was normally found only in older people. Much to her good fortune, she said, her doctors also advised her to consider stem cell therapy, which ultimately was her return-to-life story. LifeCell couldn’t have chosen a more powerful ambassador for their cause.

LifeCell Femme involves potential stem cell therapy using menstrual blood (hence the name and the launch date). It was a revelation to me to know that what I thought of as waste discarded by my body every month, was actually still of use in some way! Even with my liberal upbringing, I always thought of menstrual discharge as dirty, unclean and in general, dead.

The presentation made me think of something else. Menstrual discharge is the disposal of materials created by the womb (uterus) in anticipation of fertilization. In a nutshell, it is preparing for a baby, creating it, storing it, supporting it, feeding it and carrying it through to term. An entire human being could have been created and maintained for nine months, from the material that flows out of me every month. It seems intuitive that the cells in that discharge would be the most powerful life-creating ones found in the body. Shock, awe and pride! Reading this in a science textbook is one thing, actually realizing it on a profound (dare I say, cellular?) level is a life-changing experience.

LifeCell’s proposition is to collect and bank menstrual blood for anticipated future use. The cells thus collected, have applications in the treatment of diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, renal failure, lung failure and cancer to name a few. It’s like insuring your health (using cells instead of money) against future calamity.

The most interesting thing is that menstrual blood collection is a non-invasive process (which means the body does not have to be cut or surgically entered by a foreign object). It’s also non-intrusive, by which I mean that the customer can perform the collection all by herself and without any help needed or embarrassment faced. The way the product works is thus:

  1. On the first day of the period, the customer calls LifeCell to inform them. A collection kit is delivered to her doorstep immediately.
  2. Collection is advised on the heavy bleeding days so Day 2 can suffice. This involves inserting a small cupped tube into the vaginal passage for a few hours. 10ml of menstrual blood is the most that is required.
  3. Once collected, the kit includes a sealing and packing facility. LifeCell will then collect the kit from the customer’s doorstep.
  4. The collection is stored cryogenically at temperatures below -150 degree celcius. In theory, this sample can be frozen indefinitely. Power back-ups ensure that electricity downtime will never contaminate this storage.

It is also advised to perform this procedure as early as possible in one’s lifespan as the younger the cells are, the more potent they are (potency being a measure of how many cells can be grown from one cell).

The Menstrual Blood Stem Cell banking service costs Rs.49,900 for preserving these cells upto the age of 60. The alternate plan offers a buying price of Rs.29,900 with an annual fee of Rs.1,500.

The ideal age for a customer is purported to be under 35. I am thinking about this seriously myself. What I would like to see happening is greater awareness of this science. No doctor I’ve known has ever talked about this, even though the technology has existed for over 50 years. LifeCell Femme’s involvement goes as far as collection and storage of the cells. It would be good to see the other end, i.e. – the actual applications tying in too. For example, a top-class healthcare facility would ask its patients if they have medical insurance. I’d like to see doctors also inquire if their patients have cell insurance. I’m not a medical professional myself and at the end of the day, I may not even know that a certain ailment has a possible cure in stem cell regeneration. But the future looks promising for LifeCell International and for stem cell therapy and hence I hope, for all of us.

Light at the end of the tunnel

One of the sweetest women I know is facing a personal crisis. But she finds that her pain and her fears act as a shining beacon on her secret hopes and desires. And from that emerges some profound spiritual insight as well.

I have been struggling every moment with questions that echo, reflect and get thrown around within me.

But then, there is peace as well. Peace in knowing that I can be loved in spite of what has gone from me, in spite of the emptiness, in spite of the scar on my stomach. There is also a great promise in the fact that I will be gifted with a unique experience and once I have lived it, I might as well be gifted with lovely feelings, new possibilities and valuable thoughts.

I found her letter both heart-rending and inspiring. From darkness comes light. At the heart of turbulence is peace found.

Please wish her luck, everyone!

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