Yup. That Time of the Month. Periods. Menstruation. Riding the Red Wave. Shark week. Mother Natures Gift. Pick a name, there are as many names for the bleeding week as there are for where the bleeding comes out of. Warning. This post contains intimate discussions of my menstrual cycle, and may be offensive to some viewers.
Which makes the bits inside my pants feel a bit like this. Only, you know, actually inside my pants. (Seriously, finding a picture of a sad vagina takes you down some really uncomfortable paths). (That double entendre was unintentional).
Google it, and you will get a billion hits. Lots of them are jokes. Some of them are hilarious.
Others are fucking gross and not at all funny.
Though. That may depend what time of the month it is…. Sometimes things get so bad you just gotta laugh, right?
The other thing google will give you is a whole pile of really clinical images. Super basic information that everybody looking at it should already know, but somehow, for some crazy reason that I am sure has absolutely nothing to do with Patriarchy, the people who really need to get it right are still referencing “Down there”. For real. I have had an actual emergency room doctor ask my 15 year old daughter as she vomited and sobbed through excruciating “period cramps” from her fetal position on the examining table (prior to her eventual, years later, diagnosis of Endometriosis, a painful, life changing disease that affects the lives of up to 10% of women, impacting their fertility, quality of life and ability to work a full month in any given calendar year) if she was having pain “Down there”. Like. Seriously. Where? Her feet? Are you asking about Her fucking feet? No? Well, then, be specific, there is a lot of stuff that is “down” from her face! Somebody needs to show these people a text book. I have some. I am willing to share.
Don’t worry guys, I just put this here in case someone wanted it. I am not here to educate you on what happens in your actual body, but instead to talk about some of the ridiculous things about periods that we straight up don’t talk about in public. I did a wee check on advice for “The Period Talk”. Which is where we people with female reproductive organs get our initial info. It is pretty poor, tbh. Mine came from my big sister and really was “oh, that started already? Better tell Mum”. And I have to admit, I have given this talk twice myself, and abjectly failed to share some pretty salient pieces of information. I would like to take this moment to apologize to my uterus owning offspring for my failures. (Just the period related ones, though, the others can stay as an unspoken elephant in the room for now).
Did I tell you how much this shit is gonna cost you over a lifetime?
Vaginas come with no credit warning, but they have costs like you wouldn’t believe. Leaving aside the issues of contraception costs, time off work for vagina and uterus related illness and damaged clothing, I am just doing a super basic assessment of the cost of feminine hygeine products. Also known as Pads, Tampons and liners.
The average uterus owner has 450 periods over her life time. The average tampon needs changed, at a minimum, every 6 hours, though this is for safety reasons, and on a heavy day a tampon might only last an hour or two, lets go with six hours for our little test. If your period lasts for seven days, that is 28 tampons, every period. For 450 periods. So that is 12600 tampons. Disregard for a minute (I know, that lets just ignore it pile is getting really high and starting to block out the sun, but pretend you can’t see it anymore than we can see the impact of poverty stricken children on crime rates in fifteen years) the impact on the environment of 12600 tampons per woman everywhere in the western world, I am only interested here on the impact on the individual woman. So. How much is a box of tampons? Around about $10 for a 32 pack. So, that is a pack a period. So we are at what, $4,500 over our lifetime, presuming they don’t go up in price (newsflash, tampons are considered a taxable luxury item, so they probably will get more expensive. Sorry.). Well, that isn’t so bad, I guess. And, you get to pay in installments.
But wait. We aren’t done yet. Liners. If you use tampons, sometimes, they leak. So, lots of menstruators prefer to add a layer of protection from that in the form of a liner. I know. I am going to have to say the P word, and I hate that word, but it’s the name of the product, so I have to use it. A panty liner. A thin little pad of absorbent material to protect your outerwear from your body fluids. Assuming you change liners as often as you change your tampon, your gonna need a pack of those a month, at a cost of around $5 each. So, we just doubled down that number. We are already at $6750 in period costs. Remember we aren’t talking about the “hidden” costs here, just the upfront ones.
I started with Tampons, here, but actually, most early menstruators start out with pads. Why? they are chunky, uncomfortable, visible through your pants, you can’t swim with them on, and they are just generally a bit gross (….. but mostly, that is due to their association with lady parts. Because, due to them coming from lady parts, our periods are gross. Lady parts have no business being out in public, as we know, unless a mans eye is on them).
Suffice to say, pads cost a tiny bit less in cash money than the tampon/liner combo, but, come at a social cost. Still many women, by necessity (a heavy flow drowning them out, or a light flow making tampons painful to insert and remove, vaginismus, or a predisposition to Toxic Shock Syndrome), preference (not everybody likes cotton polyester blends in their vagina, just like not everyone likes penis in their vagina. Vagina, contrary to myth and legend, is not a one size fits all environment.), or the old fashioned idea that our vaginas aren’t for putting things in, unless they are penises, reinforced by the threat to young women of no longer being virginal (cause, you know, broken hymens and stuff, but lets be honest doctors out there aren’t even willing to say clitoris, but they will talk about our hymenal rings like they are literal gifts from god. No, seriously, there are people who think that our hymenal rings are a gift from god, and that breaking them with a tampon will cause him to smite us from his good girl book. Or is that Santa? Sorry, mythological punishers of children get all mixed up in my head sometimes).
Take heart, though, for there are alternatives!
Menstrual cups are reusable devices made of medical grade silicone, that can be cleaned and even sterilised between uses, and collect your menstrual blood.
Unfortunately, as you can see, they have to be placed, using your fingers, inside your lady parts. In your actual vagina. And we all know that putting our fingers in our lady parts is gross. Comments people have made to me when I have spoken of my menstrual cup use have included “Eeeeeeeeewwwwwwww” and “Oh, I couldn’t do that”.
The siting of a menstrual cup, whilst requiring you to touch your vagina, is not rocket science, and once they are in they can stay there till full with no risks of toxic shock and leaking is rare, well, it is for me. Most importantly, they are around $50 for 5 -10 years of use. That is a lifetime saving of several thousand dollars. Just saying.
Then there are washable pads, basically, extra fabric between your lady parts and your pants, to absorb the bleeding. They are washable, reusable, and reliable… but they can be expensive to start off with, and definitely add to the laundry list. However, they also come in funky colours.
Then there are fantastic new period undies, designed to be worn during menstruation, without any other product, if you so desire. And they look quite pretty! Reviews are pretty good on these, so they may be worth investigating…. but they come at a cost, and I would imagine they would need replacing regularly.
Last but not least, there is the option of free bleeding. I feel like this is something that needs no further explanation, and I am going to move directly onto the next warning I wish I had discussed more with my uterus owning offspring.
I should’ve warned you about the shame.
Every person who has once been a teenager with a period remembers the fear of being “caught” having a period. Tying your jumper round your waist before heading to the bathroom, throwing out your favourite new white jeans with a sad resignation, being teased about your mouse tail at swimming day, desparately asking another girl if she “had anything” on that day when you got caught out, and then having a flattened Tampax tube secretly slipped into your outstretched hand with all the secrecy and covert over the shoulder glances of a bad drug deal on a street corner. Every high school has a tale of the girl who got blood on her seat that one time, and every bed has a permanent red mark that lingers long after the D you got in math that one time.
But what is shocking, is that it is STILL like that even when you are a grown ass woman of forty. With your close girlfriends you will baldly state the facts: “My period has started, before I expected it, and I am not prepared. Are you able to assist me?” But, if you happen to get caught out away from your lady circle…. well. It is straight back to covert tampon exchanges with whispered code words and jumpers around your waist. I think that time of the month is a really bad piece of false advertising. Uteri do not necessarily work to our predetermined schedule. Sometimes a period arrives on it’s designated date, but more often, it is as stop start as catching any flight that you really needed to be on time. It is early, late, feels like it’s coming than all goes away, starts on time but then stutters at the end…. periods are not good time keepers. They don’t understand “waiting till lunch break to use the bathroom” or “but I have a date!!!”. Imagine how little respect the uterus of a trans man has for his desire to be seen as the man that he is. Or his need to not get “caught out” with an unexpected visit from Aunt Flo.
I really did not warn my offspring about the pain.
I am a lucky lady. I didn’t understand.
I have a 28-30 day cycle, with a 3-4 day bleeding week. I get mittelschmirz around day 15 of my cycle, followed by being horny as heck for a few days. Then I get vaguely moody, leading into being a bit shouty, and boom, arrives the period, almost always at 3am. Which, while irritating, is comforting, because usually at 3am I am at home, with full access to heat packs, paracetamol, and menstrual products. I have mild cramping on the second day, and then, I am all done bar the shouting, which is usually around day 26 of my cycle. I thought, due to the fact that women don’t discuss the details of their periods much anywhere at all, that this was normal.
This was not the case for one of my offspring, who has given me permission to talk a little about the early days of her menstruating career. She started her periods with horrible pain, so bad that if she wasn’t near home, and painkillers, she would vomit, sometimes for days. She bled for weeks at a time sometimes, and other times only spotted. She had no ability to predict anything. A period could be a day, or a fortnight. it could come once in three months, or every two weeks. It was hell. And her pain, was so much worse because it was minimized and called “period cramps”.
Her agony, which was eventually diagnosed by surgery as a serious symptom of endometriosis, was blamed on anovulatory periods. It cost her days in school, days in work, jobs and friends. It ruined milestone events like her school ball and first overseas holiday. She was accused of drug seeking, treated as lazy and dramatic, and ignored in emergency rooms. I should have warned her better, but how do you warn someone about something like that?
The thing is, what I really should have warned my children about, was the additional burden of having a uterus. Because that pile of things we didn’t talk about back there? Those are the costs of being female. Contraception, not just the cost of it, but the decision making, the health risks, the managing of it’s failures, the growing of offspring when required, the birthing of offspring, and the health impacts of that, the fact that due to all of that women do 50% more of the work of running a home than men, the reduction in opportunities for career advancement that face women who have time off for babies, or are affected by endometriosis. The shame, the pain, the gross factor of it being gross not because it is blood, but because it is coming from our vaginas. These are the true costs of Auny Flo’s visits. And I really think that as well as getting tampons off the luxury tax list, we need to start cutting out some of these costs too.