Sunday, April 19, 2009

Menstrual cups: TMI is my middle name

*Warning to readers:  if you don’t want to read about my period, it’s best you skip this post. Check out the archives or wait a few days for a new posting. I promise to get a non-menstrual-themed blog entry up soon. 

For the rest of you who are thinking, “Thomasin’s period? Why, what more fabulously interesting topic could there possibly be?” please continue on!

As you may have gathered, my period is back. It was MIA for just ten weeks after Uli was born.  I’d been hoping for a nice eighteen-month break like some new mama’s get but, alas, no such luck for me, likely because I wasn’t nursing Uli in the weeks after her birth (pumping just doesn’t affect a woman’s hormones like breastfeeding does). Or perhaps it was the fact that our bedroom is filled with small electronic devices that glow with just enough light to confuse my pineal gland.

But maybe, just maybe, it was because part of me secretly longed for it to return.

I was the last of my friends to meet Aunt Flo. I’d suffered through years of ‘period talks’ at sleepovers (if you were ever a girl in her pre- or early teens, you know what I mean) embarrassed that I had no personal stories to share. How I anxiously awaited the month when I too would become part of the sisterhood! Oh happy day, in the middle of my 14th year, when I could finally say I had cramps! (Had I known those cramps would become a debilitating backache each month, I may not have been as ecstatic. Thankfully, the backaches stopped in my early 20’s).  For me, my period was the portal to womanhood, not a curse.

But let me clarify: it’s not the actual bleeding part that I’ve missed but my choice of feminine protection. Your period isn’t so bad (and can even be kind of interesting) when you have the proper tools. And for me, that tool is a menstrual cup.

It feels like something I should have to go to group for. Hi, my name is Thomasin and I use a menstrual cup.

Blood cups (as some grosser people call them—please don’t call them that. I’m sorry I mentioned it.) are awesome enough to addict their users. I’m so not joking. (Well, okay, I’m kind of joking. Kind of.)

When I first heard of the cups, I was on an internet forum and the women singing their praises were those I considered ‘overly crunchy.’ Hippies. Uber environmentalists. Everything I wasn’t. Did I actually know the women? No. But I knew their type. They weren’t like me. They were extreme. I wasn’t interested in their menstrual propaganda.

Yet, as the years passed, threads continued to pop up again, always declaring things like: 

“I got my cup in the mail last week and just had a chance to try it out today. I LOVE IT!”

“I couldn’t figure-out how to use it at first, but now that I’ve got the insertion down it’s the easiest thing imaginable. I’ll never go back to tampons!”

“I’ve been using my cup for 5 years, and I realized I’ve saved about $1,000 so far.”

“I can’t believe I wasted so much time and money on pads/tampons in the past. I’ll never use anything but a cup from now on.”

After, oh, 80 million or so of those comments, I finally thought I should look into the product a little more closely. This wasn’t a huge research episode or anything, just a quick look around on-line. I read-up on several different brands. My interest was piqued. But still, I was fine with my Tampax.

Until a couple of things happened (imagine I’ve inserted emotional music or graphics showing stars/planets aligning):

It was a cold and rainy afternoon. I was out of tampons. I was broke. I emptied out my change jars. $5 in dimes and nickels—hurrah! I ran to Walgreen’s to pick-up a box. In the interest of saving the planet, I said I didn’t need a bag. Headed back out into the rain to my car. Realized I’d locked my keys in the car. Realized I hadn’t brought my cell-phone along. Realized I’d have to carry the exposed box of tampons back inside to ask the male clerk to call the locksmith. And I’d have to stand there, in the rain, holding the box while the locksmith unlocked my car. And then I’d have to figure out how to pay for the said unlocking. Then I realized I hadn’t locked my keys in the car after all—there they were in my purse. Phew! Embarrassing and financially catastrophic event avoided.

Forward to an afternoon a few paychecks later: I had some cash in my account and was picking-up some items at Whole Foods. Wandered down the personal products aisle and saw The Keeper. Remembered the Walgreen’s episode. Remembered the positive comments I’d read on-line about cups. Decided to spend the $20 and see what all the fuss was about.

I was instantly converted. Some women struggle initially with the insertion/extraction process; it’s different than using tampons. But once you get it down, you’re set. For me, it was pretty easy. I used a punch-down fold to get it in, rotated it a few times to make sure there’s a seal, and voila—12-hour protection. A quick bearing-down to get it out, empty it, rinse it (if at home—or just a toilet paper swipe if you’re in a public restroom), and back in it goes. No problemo.

All seemed perfect. Except that The Keeper was made of gum rubber and I have a latex sensitivity. You don’t want to be using materials you’re sensitive to in, urm, sensitive areas. Irritation galore. So I switched to a silicone version. And now all really IS perfect.

Yes, I have to use my fingers. But I’d be washing my hands anyway, right?

Yes, I see the blood. I’m a woman. It’s my own blood. I can handle it.

Yes, I need to wash/sterilize the cup—takes just minutes a month.

Yes, there can be a learning curve, especially with insertion. Click here for pictures that really helped me.

Menstrual cups are one of those well-kept-secrets that really shouldn’t be a secret. I look forward to sharing the info with my baby girl when she’s less of a baby. And I don’t blame you if you think I’m a bit overly enthusiastic about the subject; some things are difficult to appreciate without first-hand experience. If you’re at all interested in learning more, check out I am so glad I let my guard down and decided to switch. Even if it did mean joining-up with that group of supposedly uber- crunchy hippy women of whom I’d been so skeptical. ;-)


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