By now, my late 30’s I’ve had a bleed almost every month for over 20 years. You would think that 20 years of experience would make something seem pretty easy, but a lifetime of conditioning to believe that bleeding is something to be hidden and ashamed of had made me avoid being curious. As a result, the system I created as a teenager to ‘survive’ my period has stayed pretty much the same. As a teenage I had some breakouts and was prescribed the pill, this started almost 15 years of medication and more attempts to control menstruation. As an athlete taking the pill to not get my period seemed like a great idea. The journey to get off the pill and heal my body and hormones is a story for another day. The reason that is relevant now, is it was the beginning of my own journey of questioning what I had learnt growing up about what was normal for the female cycle. I remember as a teenager, my mum buying pads and tampons, opening them up and showing me how they were used. After that I don’t ever remember friends talking about periods unless it was because someone had the unfortunate experience of leaking somewhere in public. I never heard older women talk about it. On TV it was those adverts for pads where they used blue liquid poured into pads. Everything about my exposure to periods was about shame and hiding the fact of it. After a lifetime of conditioning to not question, not talk about, not share experience. When I started to explore this, the internal and external resistance has been real. So what made me start thinking about trying a Menstrual Cup? This was a few years in the making - remember lifetime of conditioning to work through. I watched a video a few years ago by a female powerlifter lifter who discussed how she tried a cup during a deadlift training session. She spoke about how great it was. Now I have been lifting for a lot of years, and I can tell you deadlifting with a tampon on a heavy flow day is terrible. Those little terrorists do not want to stay in. You will be mid-lift, with one of the heaviest weights you’ve ever pulled and you feel your tampon slip right out. Obviously this is disturbing, and enough to stop some women from training at that time if the cycle. So when I hear someone telling me there might be an option that doesn’t do this, obviously I was intrigued. But when I started looking for where to get them at the time they weren’t really available in the middle east. In many countries it’s almost impossible to get tampons, because the idea of insertion is something shameful. So access to cups and female hygiene products is a serious consideration, along with the lack of education and honest conversation about female hygiene. With no easy access I stopped thinking about it unless it happened to be one of those lifting days. Fast forward a few years, I have started to make an effort to live more sustainably and one of the things this brought up was the amount of trash I produce each month. Think about it, if every month you use 1 pack of tampons, times that by the last 20ish years that’s over 4000 tampons. So even if it had nothing to do with my own connection to self and being more comfortable, then doing a small part for the environment pushed me over the edge. If you are just here for the practical tips you can start reading here. There are some great comparison resources online that look at all the different brands on the market, they vary in diameter, length and firmness. They can also have slightly different shape, remember that every woman body is different so you may need to try a few different types until you find what works for you. The sizing is usually a small, med, large situation. Shapes, Firmness, Length, width can vary widely. The guide says small for teenagers, and large for women over 30 or who have had vaginal births. In my experience this is more related to the strength and tightness of the pelvic floor, and to the actual length of the vaginal canal (research says this length can vary from 6.5 to 12.5cm, so you can understand why choosing the right length for you is important). This is a helpful comparison resource between many cup brands and sizes. Before first use boil some water and soak the cup for a few minutes and after each cycle. For insertion there are several ways to fold and insert, you want to practise different ways until you find the technique that works for you. After some trial and error you will learn when it is in place or not, when it wasn’t there was blood all around the cup. It was messy. But when it is in the right place the cup forms a seal and everything just neatly catches in the cup. Honestly the first time I pulled the cup out and it was full of blood I did mildly freak out. Then I asked myself why was I feeling this way about something that is a normal and healthy part of being a woman? Once I got over the first shock of seeing the blood in the cup, I found this to be an empowering experience. For cleaning and reinsertion - When you remove the cup you grab the end with your fingers tips, and then push with your pelvic floor and it will pop out. Don’t worry, it can’t get stuck in there forever. After removing, tip the blood into the toilet. If you are at home use the sink to wash it out with water before you reapply. If you are away from home but there is a bidet or hose you can use that to wash it. You can also get wipes specifically for this purpose, or keep a water bottle handy. ‘I recommend to have two. When you take out one, clean it with the toilet shower next to the toilet and insert a clean one. I usually don’t have the issue as mine lasts good 8 hours. I actually notice my cramps getting softer and better after using the cup!’ - an anonymous friend Here’s a great video of cup insertion folds. Another common suggestion is to have two different size cups for heavy and light flow days, many women reported the larger cups they use on heavy flow days to be uncomfortable when their flow is light. I haven’t used disposable cups, in my mind that defeats the purpose of changing to a method that removes waste. Though I would love to hear from people who have and why they chose to use them. I will share another story that I thought was crazy a while back, and may trigger some of you. A friend told me she empties her cup in the garden to fertilise her plants. She spoke of the feeling of connection to nature and continuing the growth cycle. When I heard this I thought ‘Imagine the neighbours seeing me with my pants down emptying a cup of blood in the garden’ it seemed completely nuts. Obviously I’m not recommending public nudity (not where I live anyway). What it does make me consider is, ‘Why does this trigger shame for me?’ Maybe this is actually something that our ancient ancestors would have understood and appreciated, maybe this is another form of disconnection from the world and my true nature. I am not a menstruation or a women’s health expert. What I am is a woman on a mission to learn about myself, who wants to share with my tribe the things I learn.
Hopefully I’ve covered some of the biggest questions and concerns. If you have other helpful experiences and ideas, please get in touch so we can continue this conversation and in the process we start to break down the shame we have been holding around this unique experience of being a woman.