I am 38 and have been bleeding every month for more than 22 years. Even though it happens every month, it has never become a natural part of life. It always felt forced and given the choice, I would not like to go through it.
But, it is no more the same. Things unexpectedly changed when last year, a dear friend added my name to a Facebook group on sustainable menstruation. I found out about menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are made from medical grade silicone that can be inserted into the vagina to collect blood. The cup can be emptied and reused which makes it environment-friendly, and in the long term, a pocket-friendly option too. I spent an inordinate amount of time on Google learning about the cups – its type, dimensions, functions, safety, benefits, and so on. I watched endless videos on insertion and removal, and tips for buying, sterilising and cleaning it. I must admit even after substantial research, I procrastinated the decision to buy one for a few months.
Finally, my pink cup arrived in a pink pouch, (my favourite thing in pink) and since then life has not been the same. I am an outdoor person – if not travelling for work, I like to hike in the mountains. But I always planned trips around my period dates, especially for any outdoor activities. Sanitary pads may claim to be super absorbent, but never get rid of the wet, messy, itchy feeling they give. Menstrual cups make period bleeding a happy experience. I vividly remember the first day I wore it. By the end of the day, my anxiety had turned into excitement. I could not believe the freedom and ease it brought into my life. I was already telling my friends that I had been ‘cupverted’ and trying to convince them to try one for themselves.
So my ultimate test was to use a cup on a trekking and camping trip, the kind of trips I would always avoid during my period. I was not confident, so I carried pads as a back-up. In the mountains, sometimes there is lot of water and sometimes there is not enough. I had to deal with both conditions. I needed clean water at least twice a day. I used drinking water. Every time I washed my cup, I silently prayed not to get an infection. I was tense for four days, but at the end of it I was a happy woman. I was happy to have trusted the cup and now I am ready for any adventure activity any day of the month.
So, in the last five months, I have been trying to introduce more women in my family, friends and at the office, to the freedom I have felt. But it has not been easy.
“Yuck! How can I insert something inside and collect blood in it.”
“I cannot insert anything inside, I wont feel comfortable.”
“Will it hurt?”
“Is it risky?”
“Will it get lost?”
“Where is the cervix?”
“What is cervix?”
“Where to insert it?”
“Is it safe?”
It is shocking how little we know about our own body and how reluctant we are to explore it. In trying to select a cup, I read scores of articles and learnt about biology. I did not know that the cervix gets high and low during the cycle and other such things. And I was a biology student! It’s no wonder that in high school, the chapter on reproductive biology with a figure of the female system, was stapled by most of our class. Education is not much help in dealing with life.
Above all, this is a human rights issue. Do we ever think about what happens to a pad after we dump it in the dustbin? Who picks them up? How many safai karamcharis wear gloves or take any other precautions while handling waste? Cups are an excellent choice to reduce waste in life. Every year in India alone thousands of tonnes of sanitary waste is created which contaminates our living spaces and beyond. It takes 500-800 years to decompose a pad. More worrisome, are the toxins that are absorbed in our body by using pads and tampons. A quick web search on ‘toxins in pads and tampons’ will expose you to the horrors that we invite into our living system through these pads and tampons.
Ever since I started using menstrual cups, I have stopped looking at period dates on my calendar for planning outdoor activities. So I call my cup ‘the freedom cup.’ I have not used pads or tampons in the last four months and I only wonder why I did not discover it 22 years ago. Otherwise, all these years I would not have missed or changed so many plans just because I was bleeding.
It has been an incredible year for me. I tried something new and I am absolutely loving it. I don’t curse periods anymore. More than anything, it’s been a journey about knowing and understanding my body. We are special because we bleed. Let’s make it even more special by making it a happy experience. Say bye to sanitary pads. Let us spread cups by encouraging more women to use them and by gifting it to women who cannot afford them.