I still remember my hatred of sanitary towels. It began aged 13, having to conceal them in my schoolbag. We were lucky in that my mother worked out our favourite brands and provided an unlimited supply. I would hate the feeling of blood pooling on them when I was trying to learn in class, the fear of leaving any marks on chairs, the rustling the wrappers would make in the school toilets. The huge inconvenience, the vulnerability of it.
The smell, pungent like rusty iron. I still felt like a little girl and this dreaded monthly ritual made me feel dirty. The heavy cramps that would sometimes take my breath away. Changing for PE and hoping nobody would notice the wings of the towel.
I moved onto tampons as soon I was able which helped, those dainty 'teen' size ones that unfortunately had the skill of bouncing out if you dropped your bag. My disgust of my body meant I would swathe my hands in toilet roll to insert them. Easily hidden up sleeves and easily disposed of.
It made me feel so sophisticated, even if the reality was sometimes cringe-worthy. The struggle to get the first ever one in. The panic when you thought you had lost the string. The way towards the end of the week they would become dry and stiff and hard to use. They weren't infallible. I still dreaded the ominous trickling that sometimes occurred.
Periods lasted at least 7 days, regular as clockwork. I would look in the mirror and see a stranger. Pale and wan, Like my life was running out of me. Still I was expected to climb the hill to school, to sit and concentrate, to ignore the wetness between my thighs or try not to clock watch so I would not miss the 8 hour warning of toxic shock risk. The chafing, the irritability of itchy bleached cotton. The summer and the heat. Knowing you had to figure out to use a tampon so you could go swimming with your friends. Dreading every month.
I didn't have a period for two years, from when I was pregnant to when Judah was over a year old. It was amazing. Freeing. The absence of hormonal peaks and troughs. Not worrying about ruining underwear, or having to wear it to bed as a barrier. I thoroughly enjoyed the break and peace I found in the interim. It made time seem slower without this regular routine, somehow.
In the meantime, I spent of maternity leave learning. Not just about how to care for a baby, but about everything. Natural birth, natural parenting. Changing the way I began to see the world and my place in it. Learning about alternatives to almost everything. The thought of using tampons again after Judah made me feel slightly ill for some reason. I saw the Mooncup on the shelf at Boots and thought for twenty quid it was worth a try. It could even end up being an investment! It came in two sizes so I picked the one for women who had had a vaginal birth.
It sat in a drawer until 15 months postpartum. I was so excited to use it. It was very much trial and error in getting it positioned right and trimming the stem to make it comfortable. I had a lot of leaks on that first cycle as I adjusted. What amazed me was how quickly my squeamishness evaporated. You had to fold it up to insert it, and pinch the base to break the suction when removing. I couldn't believe how easy and wonderful it was. Getting it out was sometimes tricky but I used my birth motto (relax the jaw to release the pelvic floor) and that was sufficient in getting the cup to descend.
My cramps disappeared, my mood improved. No longer caught off-guard, I could put it in on the day I was expecting my period and pre-empt any accidents. No risk of toxic shock, it had a huge capacity and only needed changing twice a day. No more remembering to take sanitary items everywhere with me. Feeling like my body and I were a team again. Feeling like I was doing my bit to help the planet.
Since my first postpartum period they have become slightly heavier, and I do find that on the first couple of days I use cloth pads as back up for my trusty Mooncup. Cloth pads are wonderful things, miles away from the scratchy towels of my teenagehood.
I think every woman should at least consider reusable sanitary protection, not only for the financial and environmental implications but also for wellbeing. You can try cups, cloth pads, sponges. We don't know exactly what chemicals are in disposable items but there is some evidence to suggest they cause painful cramps and thrush in women. Not to mention the general disgust we have for women's bodies which is evident in the secretive, disposable nature of these items. My cup forced me to get acquainted with myself and I've never been happier for it.
I honestly love it so much and can say it has changed my life.