As I cross my 26th year – and after roughly 708 days of bleeding – I look back on my journey as a menstruator through these stages:
Enter menarche. A perfectly happy birthday week ruined with the bleeding mess I had become. All reasonable functions, including interactions with humans and deities suddenly put on hold – territories drawn around the kitchen and the praying area, mattress denied.
The burden of now having to be careful with the opposite sex, not get pregnant, to not ‘stain’ and not be an ‘irregular’ menstruator. More importantly, not telling men about your periods. Instead, waiting coyly outside the temple since you’re not old enough to be left alone at home, and innocent enough to shrink at the jeering young boys passing by who know why you are not entering the shrine.
Three or four years after the onset of monthly menses, my body became more conscious of the cramps that pierced my body. A stained bed-sheet meant more work for my mother, besides inviting disgust from my non-menstruating sister.
Sometimes the pain would only leave me dull. On those days, I couldn’t help but be envious of the girls who fainted to get much-needed care and attention – rest easy, you delicate young ‘feminine mystiques’!
Love is pain and so is menstruation. If there isn’t sufficient pain, one will be lead to believe that you are not frail or girly enough, because of a lack of suffering.
Plastic pads, which constitute most of the products available online, gave me itches, rashes and nightmarish odours. On the other hand, the prices for flowery-smelling ones gave my mother reasons for more disapproval.
Why couldn’t these companies look into these problems? Where were the information pamphlets which I could look up? Why does nobody want to talk of these issues?
Moreover, what about the monthly ordeal of having to burn your napkins with petrol or kerosene and the resulting headache?
This stage concerns pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). During this time, conversations in college that dared to step beyond discussing mere physical discomforts and bring in the ‘alchemy’ of female hormones were common. Fights and breakups, failed examinations and tortured parents were only ‘collateral damage’.
On the other hand, counter-arguments which dismissed PMS also prevailed. Some of us, ‘sisters of blood’, portrayed PMS as a thing to stay away from – calling it ‘negative energy’ or ‘destructive vibes’ (or even ‘plain unpleasantness of a cranky soul’).
There was also existential angst over unexplained feelings and actions (especially after bleeding) – experiences which, in retrospect, seemed to belong to another mind and body.
I am now a woman of the world. I have traveled to places and met people and stayed away from my hometown long enough to see the other side of parented perspectives.
Oh wait, what about #periodofchange? While wondering what needed to be changed regarding the issue of periods (barring the possibility of natural elimination or mutation) I faced the very questions that had haunted me previously.
The ‘bubble-bursting’ began, thenceforth: Sanitary napkins are not made of cotton! Dioxin exposure! Corporate monopoly over women’s bodies and toxins being shoved down our vaginas! Reusable menstrual hygiene products! Human rights and environment violation in the name of sanitary napkin revolution! The list of realisations goes on.
Ultimately, my switch to menstrual cups was instrumental in bringing me closer to the womanhood I had failed to connect to, despite being biologically connected to it.
A full-time ecologist and sustainability researcher, who came to my hometown after learning of the crusaders of sustainable menstruation, sowed and spread the seeds of co-creating a collective.
This person was aware of the unacknowledged oppression in our system which failed to provide us a choice to menstruate responsibly. This also fostered the culture of shame and silence (about menstruation) that has seeped into science, society and markets across generations.
We now work with the Sustainable Menstruation Kerala collective, which is a group of educators, activists, writers, film makers, experts, politicians and alternative product groups who share a love for the environment and commitment to ensuring justice.
What makes it even more beautiful is the fact that men who have joined us in our cause are not dismissed just because we deal with what is often termed as ‘just a woman’s issue’.
If this journey has taught me something, it is that we cannot work by using the ‘us and them’ approach any more. For instance, I cannot hail ‘my’ reusable menstrual cup as the ‘only’ acceptable solution to ‘your’ disposable sanitary napkin.
However, I can stay with you, in your journey, to understand your confusion and counter the claims that may be detrimental to our health and the world. The problems that plague us everyday are often the result of systemic failures like capitalism, patriarchy and fundamentalism – the perils of which have been the only thing that has ‘trickled down’ to us so far.
So, while we participate in campaigns like #HappytoBleed, #GreentheRed and even #ReadytoWait, we must realise that as long as we are in it together and back ourselves with evidence-based action and innovation – we have sufficient reason to change!
Image used for representative purposes only.