Sunday, March 25, 2007

Disclaimer: This post will have nothing to do with knitting, weaving, or anything fibery. It will have to do with the sometimes messy reality of being a woman. It may very well fall into the realm of Too Much Information, so if it bothers you, just stop reading and move onto the next blog on your list.

First a little personal history: When I started menstruating at 13, my mom only let me use pads. I hated them. I hated my period and what my body was doing to me. When I was allowed to start using tampons at ~15, it was a whole new way to look at the world. I felt free. And when I discovered applicator-free o.b. tampons at 19, I finally began to make peace with my body. It was so great to be able to tuck supplies for an entire day into one pocket, and they didn't leak. I no longer dreaded my period. I had total brand loyalty to o.b., and never used anything else after discovering them.

Now, let me ask a question of the women reading this. How much do you spend in a year on “feminine supplies,” tampons and/or pads? Where I shop, a 40-pack of o.b. tampons is $6.19. A 50-pack of Always pantiliners is $4.49. A 36-pack of regular Always pads is $7.49. I can go through most of a box of tampons in one cycle, plus daily pantiliners and the occasional pad as backup on a really heavy day. What’s that in a year? Well, figure about $7.00 per cycle, thirteen cycles a year, total of about $91 per year. This, of course, assumes regularly spaced, normal length cycles. (Insert hysterical laughter here.)

The fact is, I’m a heavy bleeder, and I use a lot of supplies. This bothered me over the years, as I thought about all that cotton and paper and plastic ending up in the landfill/sewer. However, I had no desire to use cloth pads, given my aversion to pads in general. Using applicator-free o.b. tampons was my compromise between environmental consciousness and personal comfort. I was comfortable with this decision.

Until last month. I was reading a thread on a bulletin board, and came across mention of a menstrual cup. I had never even heard of such a thing. My first response was “ick…” but then I got thinking about how much more environmentally friendly it is. After 23 years of “womanhood,” pregnancy, and childbirth, I’m fairly comfortable with the way my body works. I felt like this was something I should be able to handle.

So I acted. I got a DivaCup. I actually got it at a natural-foods store in Maine, while my dad was in a meeting. It was an all-day meeting, and Emma and I were tootling around Bangor by ourselves, so I didn’t have to explain this to my dad. (I can’t even imagine how many shades of red he (ok, we) would have turned.) I used it for the first time in Maine.

And you know? It’s great. It’s not messy, it’s comfortable, it’s easy to use. It didn’t leak once, and I never have to buy tampons again. Ever. The cup has a lifespan of about 10 years. At $30, my DivaCup will pay for itself in about 4 months. I’ll probably use a small pantiliner as backup against leaks, but I’m going to make a couple cloth ones instead of buying disposables. Since the cup never leaked, not even on the super-heavy days, the pad will only be insurance, not the front line of defense. Once I get more used to the cup, they may not even be necessary.

There’s apparently no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome with a cup, it doesn’t dry out those sensitive tissues, it doesn’t contain bleaches, dioxins, or fragrances. It's cheaper. It's environmentally responsible. What’s not to love?

I’m torn between excitement at this cool new thing I discovered, and anger at the society that doesn’t discuss this option with newly-pubescent girls. Most mainstream stores don’t even carry them. Why did I have to wait until I was 36 to discover this? Menstrual cups have been around since the 1930’s, though not much used in this country until the 1980’s. I suppose it’s the “squeamish factor.” Really, it’s no worse than using an applicator-free tampon. Aside from all the pads and tampons that you wouldn’t be sending to the landfill, just consider the possibilities for living-ease during your period. Camping! Hiking! Travel! School! Nothing to carry or dispose of!

So anyway, that’s my evangelizing for the day. I’m opening myself to public embarrassment by revealing the intimate workings of my body. I may regret this post, but if it makes even one woman think about trying a cup, it’s worth it. Anyway, why should I be embarrassed talking about something that nearly every woman goes through once a month? (I shouldn’t be, but I am.)

Here are a few links:
DivaCup (silicone, Canadian company)
Keeper and Moon Cup (latex rubber and silicone respectively, US company)
Mooncup (silicone, British company)
Lunette (silicone, Finnish company)

(Now I'm off to splash some cold water on my face and try not to hyperventilate at the thought of what I just posted for all the world to see.)


Valerie said...

Well...those days are over for me. However, as a homeowner with a septic system, the cup sounds like a great idea to me!
Also, I remember in the 80's when the search for ever more absorbent disposable products resulted in the deaths of a number of women from toxic shock syndrome.
Am glad you posted.

Liz said...

Love the disclaimer. :)

I think it's great that you had the courage to blog about this. I LOVE my DivaCup (actually, I got mine at the same place you did). In fact, I love it so much that James knows all about it.

I had always ranted about the price of feminine supplies, especially since I went through a lot of them. When I learned about dioxins in tampons, I switched to the organic non-applicator kind, but they are *so* freaking expensive! It was only a couple of months before I started to use the cup.

I hated it my first cycle because it leaked, but it turned out I just got the wrong size (I was 30, no kids, and got the smaller one. Whoops.). Once I traded up, it's been wonderful. I actually don't mind getting my period! And it could be psychological, but I feel like my cramps aren't as bad.

Why don't we talk about this stuff? I guess there's this shame that Americans seem to have about their bodies... anything natural is deemed "gross". You have to be comfortable with your body to use a cup, but the benefits are great.

Hey, at least you can teach Emma about it in 10 years! :)

Claire said...

Cloth pads rock!! I REALLY have to look into a cup. I've known about them for years, but really had no idea where to get one.... Thanks for the links.

Maryellen said...

Sounds intresting. But as I become one of those really heavy bleeders and was ruining cloths I went back on low dose birth control and good bye period. Now it does protect my ovires as my sister died from ovarian cancer but it endangers my breasts as Mom dies from breat cancer but... Now that yo have my history I have a stupid question. How do you clean the cup?

Sue said...

Thanks for asking that Maryellen. I purposely didn't go into detail on how I dealt with the cup, just so the post wouldn't be WAY Too Much Information! But it's not a stupid question at all. I wondered the same thing when I first heard about them.

I empty the cup (in the toilet) when it needs it. Frequency depends on how heavy I'm bleeding- on my heaviest day, when I normally would have needed a new "super" tampon every 30-45 min, I emptied the cup every 1.5-2hours. On the other days, when would have gone through a tampon every 3-4 hours, I emptied it about every 6-8 hours. Towards the end of my cycle, I only emptied it twice a day- morning and evening. The cup holds an ounce of fluid, but it never got completely full before I emptied it.

As far as cleaning it goes, I wash it out with soap (not antibacterial soap) and hot water after emptying, if I'm in a place where I can. In public restrooms, I just emptied it, wiped it with a bit of tissue, and reinserted. I washed it the next time I was able. Wash hands before taking it out and after reinserting, obviously, just like using a tampon. The cup can also be boiled to sterilize between cycles if you want to, but it's not absolutely necessary if you wash it well. (Tampons aren't sterile.) It comes with a cloth storage pouch, since it shouldn't be stored in plastic (should be kept dry between uses, and a plastic bag doesn't breathe). Wash or boil before using it the first time on the next cycle.

It was really easy and a couple times I actually forgot I was on my period! Now that's never happened before, not for this heavy bleeder!

Charleen said...

I'm glad you posted about this too. I would try it (don't need to anymore) but I can tell you my daughters wouldn't. I can just hear them now, "How gross, Mom!"

waterlilysage said...

no hyperventilating. good for you.

interesting. yoko had just posted about this a little while back, once of our friends responded with similarly positive (and nonchalant) experiences, and i was very tempted to give it a try.

interesting too, that mom didn't make the tampons verboten for me. she'd either chilled out by then at the idea--i started so late and we had to work so hard for me to even have a period(!) i think you were off to college by the time we addressed my (non)-menstruating--either that or she figured the ballet thing wouldn't work with pads. i remember seeing my german exchange student friend with applicator-less tampons and it was like a whole world opened up to me. o.b. all the way for me too.

hear hear!

gtr said...

Yay! Bravo! Thanks for posting this. I've been toying with the idea of a post about the very same idea, but I know that my dad reads my blog, and you know... eeek.

I've long wondered about the cloth pad issue: why are people really rather comfortable talking about cloth diapers for babies (who only need them for a couple years) as a great environmental choice, but the topic of feminine hygiene (which we need for MANY more years) rarely comes up, even in "enviro" circles?

I have been using cloth pads nearly exclusively lately (not a real heavy bleeder) and really really like it. I know it might not work as well for some, but I heartily endorse Lunapads... look 'em up. Less laundy than the Gladrags (which are also good). I've used the keepers, too, but find I dont' really need that anymore... but it would be less laundry. Hmm. Good for camping, too, I've found.

Thanks again for posting, maybe you'll inspire me to do my own!

Christine said...

No! You are so right. Amen!

yoko said...

Actually, I think it was our friend Addie who talked about the Keeper. But anyway-- I'm glad to hear there's a silicone version, as I have some sensitivity to latex. I still haven't gotten around to trying this or the cloth pads, but it's good to know these options exist.

jackie said...

sounds like a plan. I'm getting tire of pads and only used tampons as a "swimming" thing. I've heard others mention the cups, but never have I heard such rave reviews from a non advertising source. Thanks!

Suz said...

Funny you should post this...

I haven't had a period in 7 years because I've been on depo. Since I got the essure procedure, I've gone off of BC, and now I'm just "waiting" for my period to show up. While I"m looking around on the web on forums to see how other women have adapted, I saw mention of the Diva cup and I would love to know more. I just don't know where I'm going to find one. The idea is so intriguing.

I also hear that women are reporting less painful cramping while using a cup as well.

I feel like I'm 15 all over again, waiting for this thing to happen. I think I've forgotten how to "deal" with it.

Cathy said...

One of my college friends (back in 1970) used a cup. It was interesting concept but for some reason, most of us thought it was gross. I forgot all about our reactions til now. I suffered TSS - wish I remembered the cup!

PJ said...

I have lived 36 years and never heard of such a thing, but I think I would be willing to try-seems to make sense! wow.. way to go stepping out for us ladies :)
I kid you the word verification for me it's: pcuphbu HILARIOUS!

CrazyFiberLady said...

I tripped on the cup myself a couple of years ago. I had the same initial reaction.. ICK. But then, pretty much for giggles, tried the Instead, the disposable ones available at CVS. I wasn't ready to commit to the expense of the Diva, especially with that whole ICK reaction. Thanks for the reminder of the Diva as I'm going to buy one. The cups just work. I too am a heavy bleeder.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you posted this. Reading your post & the comments that followed have finally made me take the Divacup seriously. I am definitely getting one! My husband has tried to talk me into getting the "organic" 'pons, but I just couldn't justify the expense, especially with how many I go through in a month. I knew of cups, but never could wrap my mind around it.
I followed the link to their website & feel so much better informed & am looking forward to giving this thing a test-drive.

Thank you for helping me take better care of myself & our world. Well done, you! As they say, each one, teach one.

Artemisia said...

I'm on the other side of menopause, but thought I'd chime in on this subject. Yes, of course, as grown, intelligent women we should be able to freely discuss these things without any embarassment. It's natural.

My only concern about the cup is any possible risk of infection or irritation to the cervix due to the cup itself and the blood held there. I wonder if there has been any studies done on this. Also, the handling of the cup being removed & reinserted away from home in less than ideal conditions makes me worry about bacterial contamination. Sorry, just the worry-wart in me. Otherwise, I wish I had known more about these cups when I was still getting periods!

Sue said...

artemisia- Thanks for the comment and for voicing your concerns! I'll respond here, since I don't have your email address, and others may have the same concerns.

As far as risk of the cup irritating the cervix goes, there shouldn't be any. The cup sits low in the vagina, and doesn't actually touch the cervix at all. The blood flows through the cervix naturally, just as it would if you used a pad. The blood collects in the cup and doesn't pool around the cervix. (Except possibly at night, when you're laying down, but that would also happen with a tampon or pad. That lovely gush when you get up in the morning...)

Regarding bacterial contamination and infection, the risk there should be low as well. Just as when I use a tampon, I wash my hands before inserting, even (especially) in public restrooms. Tampons actually carry a greater risk of infection, because the fibers of the tampon can create micro-abrasions on the vagina wall, opening the way for pathogens to enter the bloodstream. The cup is very smooth and doesn't have this effect.

It is more awkward to wash the cup when you're in a public restroom, but emptying and reinserting without washing is fine, as long as you wash it at the next available opportunity. The blood on the cup came from your body, and is not inherently dangerous. You could bring a water bottle into the stall to rinse, if you wanted to.

The more I've thought about this over the past month, the more I can only come up with positives about menstrual cups!

circumspice said...

I'm so glad Liz at Pocket Farm linked over to this post! I'm a big Diva Cup fan. Like, really big. Huge, even. I talk about it way too much...even in public places. That's how much I love it. I just want to get the word out, and I'm glad you've taken it upon yourself to do the same. I actually bought a Keeper in my freshman year of college. I was in the dorms, and sharing a bathroom with a million girls and boys (it was Oberlin, so the bathrooms were unofficially co-ed). I was uncomfortable washing it in front of other people, and I also didn't expect it to travel so far up in me over the course of the first night I had it in. I had a minor panic attack trying to get it out (I'd trimmed the tab way too short), and promptly threw it away. Four years later I bought a Diva Cup, ready to try it again, and I never looked back.


April said...

Hey! I'm late to reading this...and really glad I finally got to! I've heard of the Diva Cup before but couldn't wrap my brain around how that could work. Thank you (all) so much for the information! This looks like a great way to take care of this issue. I'm certainly going to take a look at getting one!

Jennifer said...

I love my DivaCup!! Should have been using this years ago. The best price I found is at South Coast Shopping for only $17.99 and arrived in only 2 days! Model 1 and Model 2

Jodi Bon Jodi said...

Thanks again for posting about this. I work for GladRags, a company that makes cloth pads and sells The Keeper, the Moon Cup and the Diva Cup and I am always excited to read about new converts to the world of menstrual alternatives!



Anonymous said...

I received my DivaCup and and will never go back to anything else! South Coast Shopping has them on sale for only $16.99! Diva Cup Model 1 and Model 2

Anonymous said...

I have been telling every woman who is still menstruating about the Diva Cup! I LOVE IT!!! I think b/c we have used other forms like pads and tampons that we never knew what menstrual blood really looked like - how amazing it really is - it supports life - all of HUMANITY is raised on it!! LOL

What I LOVE:
* No dryness from a tampon - it breathes (that's what those holes are for) & feels like it's part of your body
* Change it 2x per day - morning and evening and then FORGET ABOUT YOUR PERIOD!!! (I have a moderate flow and used super organic tampons on my 1 heavy day & still changed it 2x/day)
* No more spending money
* No more worrying where that last tampon or pad is...or if you brought it
* Seeing the blood for what it is - LIFE SUPPORT
* Seeing the blood literally for what it is
* Knowing that I am free

I have thought that women we might know who live as missionaries or researchers or aid workers in destitute or wartorn countries would HIGHLY VALUE this gift b/c it would set them free...

Thanks for blazing this important trail!!!