Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rethinking my Approach to Menstruation

After my second miscarriage I was surprised when my menstrual cycle triggered some intense emotional reactions, causing me to relive some of the feelings from that difficult time.

However, there's something good that's come from that experience. I realized that using pads during menstruation was part of what triggered my emotional reaction and brought up those feelings, and I've decided to approach menstruation in a different way.

When I was young my mother showed me how to use disposable tampons. She didn't let me use pads because she'd had some really bad experiences with them when she was growing up. She told me about having to wear an elastic belt to hold her pad in place, and it was obvious she'd hated it. I was given the impression that tampons were the best thing ever invented for menstruating women. I remember reading the warnings on the box about toxic shock syndrome, but my mother had never taken the time to explain any of that to me and I casually brushed it off. I figured what was best for her was also best for me, and I went on to use tampons for many years.

The first time I ever used a pad was after giving birth for the first time. It was such an odd thing to let the blood flow onto something outside of my body, and it was definitely awkward trying to keep the pads in place. If the flow demanded a larger pad it felt as though I were wearing a diaper, and I started to understand how my mother must have felt as a teenager. Not knowing about any other options however, I used whatever I had access to at the time. I continued to use disposable tampons, and pads were reserved for postpartum recovery.

As I got involved in blogging and started reading other blogs, I began to learn about some strange menstrual practices of other women. I discovered that some women actually use reusable cloth pads and washed them between uses. While the idea was intriguing, especially the concept of saving money and minimizing waste, it wasn't enough to cause me to change my own practices.

I also learned about menstrual cups, and that was the strangest of them all! To insert a flexible cup into one's vagina to catch the menses seemed bizarre! I posted about menstrual cups on my blog, more with a sense of odd fascination than a serious consideration.

Then a family member got a DivaCup and raved about how wonderful it was! I thought it was a little weird, especially when she invested in a cup for each of her young daughters, to save for when they would need it. She even got two other family members to try menstrual cups, and they seemed to love them just as much. It started sounding more like an interesting idea to me, and less bizarre. However, the initial cost of the cup was an issue for me. In the short-term it was less expensive to buy a box of tampons or a package of pads than a menstrual cup. Plus I couldn't find a cup at any local store. I'd have to order it online, pay shipping, and wait for it to arrive. It seemed like a lot of effort for something I wasn't sure I wanted to do.

Then I had two miscarriages. I had to use a lot of pads and look at a lot of blood during that time. I watched for blood clots and tissue to make sure that my body was appropriately flushing out what was no longer viable. It was intense.

Then my period came, and it all came flooding back. Changing pads, checking for anything unusual that might indicate a problem, paranoia and fear. It was connected to the pads.

I didn't like tampons. I didn't like pads. Neither seemed appealing in any way to me.

I considered using cloth pads, but I didn't want to spend money on something I could make myself and at the same time I didn't really want to do the work of making them myself. Plus, how would cloth pads work any better for me than the disposable type? The only difference would be that I was washing and reusing them. All the same annoyances were still there, and there was emotional trauma linked to them either way.

I finally seriously considered a menstrual cup. I'd done some research about cups back when I'd originally blogged about them. I knew there were many brands to choose from, and which were the most popular. Some prices had changed since I'd researched them before, and some newer companies had popped up on the market, but the basic information was still the same.

I posted on the Mamas and Babies facebook page and asked for input from the wonderful women there. I got so much helpful information, especially the personal experiences and reviews from those who had used menstrual cups. There were very positive responses along with some helpful tips about where to get a good cup, which brands to trust, and most of all how to use them successfully.

In my search I also discovered the option of reusable sea sponge tampons. I almost ordered a set because the price was lower than any of the cups I'd found, but I waited to make sure I knew exactly what I wanted before purchasing. I found out that the sponge needs to be changed as often as a disposable tampon, and that like disposables they can leak. I'd heard that menstrual cups only need to be changed every 12 hours, and that if used properly they don't leak at all. The sponges were recommended for use for 6 months, while the cups were recommended for a year. I also read that a menstrual cup can potentially last up to 10 years. There was also a rumor that the sea sponges, while completely natural and replenish-able, were potentially toxic because of the polluted nature of our earth's oceans. In the long run I would save a lot of money by making a relatively small investment in a menstrual cup now.

As I did some more searching I found the best price for a menstrual cup was on a website that I order homeopathic medicine and other supplements from fairly regularly. By including a DivaCup with my next order I would save on shipping costs.

So I've placed my order! I'm getting a menstrual cup, and I can't wait to try it! I find it so ironic that I'm actually looking forward to that time of the month, particularly after it had recently triggered emotional trauma. I think the difference is that I'm taking charge of it rather than letting it control me. I'm identifying what I need to change, and making those changes. I feel this is part of my healing, and I'm really looking forward to a healthier me.


  1. Yay for your DivaCup! I use The Keeper and have been for about 2 years now. I can't say it makes my period any more fun or enjoyable but I do feel better that I'm not out buying and buying and buying and wasting and wasting and wasting.

    When I first got it, there were some things I had to do and learn. First, The Keeper (I don't know about others) had a long stem attached to the bottom of the cup for whatever reason, I have no idea. It's not used for anything and it's not even needed. I cut the damned thing off all the way up to the cup and it's better for me having done that.

    When inserting it, you have to get it all the way up at your cervix to create a seal or it will leak. Sometimes, you can create too tight a seal and especially if it's your first couple days of bleeding and you cramp heavily, you'll notice even heavier cramping immediately after inserting the cup. That means your seal is too tight. Just remove it and re-insert it.

    There are a few ways to fold the cup to insert it. I used to use the C curve when I first got it but my fingers would slip and I'd often lose grip on it and wouldn't be able to insert it well until after a few tries. What works best for me now is the "7 fold". Just google it and see what works best for you.

    When it comes to cleaning it, if I'm at home, I wash with soap and water after each emptying. If I'm out somewhere, sometimes I take baby wipes with me and wipe it out. If not, I just use toilet paper and wait til I get home to really clean it. After my period is over, I boil it and put it away for next month. When it's time to use it again, I get it out and boil it again, just to be sure it's clean.

    I've had it leak a time or two but never in public (luckily), which I attribute to improper insertion and during my first few days of bleeding, I can't go 12 hours without changing it. I can go maybe 3ish hours until it's time for me to empty it. I've never let it get filled completely to the brim because I'm not comfortable with that because if it leaked, that'd be a BIG, embarrassing mess. I usually let it get a bit over halfway before changing. I don't know it's a bit over halfway before I change it but I know how much I bleed generally on which cycle days and know how long I can go before emptying. After the first couple heavy bleeding days, I can go the full 12 hours without changing.

    Also, sometimes laying down, no matter how well you've got it positioned, it will re-adjust itself and can leak. So whenever I nap during the day, I get up and make sure it's properly positioned before going anywhere.

    All in all, I'm very pleased with it. There is no product out there that is guaranteed to withstand leaking, only have to be changed twice a day no matter what or never be a hassle. For me, its' the best of what's out there. My daughter is 8 but when her time comes, I'll be getting her one as well if she wants to use it.

  2. I second a YAY for menstrual cups. I thought it was really bizarre at first, too. After a lot of research I settled on the Luna even though it was a bit more expensive. I also cut off the stem because I could feel it poking me. Now my only problem is getting some muscle tone back after 7 kids. I only wear the cup at night because if I wear it during the day I can feel it sliding down. Very uncomfortable. I have to say, though, that I love not leaking on the sheets on my heaviest nights or getting up in the middle of the night to change my pad.

    So if any of you have had success strengthening those muscles such that you can comfortably wear a cup during the day while you're walking around, etc, please let me know how you did it. Was it kegels or something else?

  3. Bonnie, I think I found this somewhere on a few months back but I read this thing about how only doing Kegels can have the opposite effect that you want them to. It can tighten muscles but they only tighten muscles on one side of the pelvic "sling" and can actually pull everything forward. What you need is an exercise that strengthens the muscles on the other side as well and you do that by doing squats.

  4. Maybe I am the only one but I actually have an issue with inserting ANYTHING (baring human body parts - while bathing or during sex for example) into the vagina during menstruation.

    It may not be a particularly scientific and biologically accurate line of thinking but I have always thought that the menses needed to be "released" as it were. Therefore anything that kept them inside the vagina for any substantial amount of time was counterproductive at best, if not potentially incredibly harmful in the worst case scenario (toxic shock syndrome, for example).

    I know the cups are made of silicone but still I have concerns about the LENGHT OF TIME this foreign material is inside of your body especially during this time of hormonal and physical change (the changing position of the reproductive organs, such as the cervix for example, during a normal menstrual cycle).

    Anyway these were just my musings... Needless to say I am a big cloth pad advocate :)

    I'd love to know if any of you have similar thoughts/concerns.

  5. Anonymous,

    You raise some interesting questions, and I honestly hadn't really thought about it. Because I was raised using tampons inserting something vaginally was not a strange concept to me. However, there are risks involved with tampons because they absorb more than just menses. They also absorb vaginal fluids that are important to reproductive health. As far as I know, the menstrual cups do not do this. Because they don't absorb and only catch what flows down (the menses) they don't hold the same risk. The menses are held in the cup and aren't coming into contact with the vaginal wall either.

    As for it being made of silicon, if a woman wants to use a more natural substance she can use the Keeper which is a menstrual cup made out of rubber. Of course, anyone with a latex allergy wouldn't be able to use it, but it is a more natural material in comparison to the silicon. The medical grade silicon is resistant to bacteria, so it's helpful in preventing infection that might otherwise result from having something inserted vaginally. It's also sterilized before and after use, by boiling.

    I'd be interested in hearing from other women who may share the same concerns you've expressed.

  6. Great post. I just wanted to say I'm using my Diva Cup right now, and I love it. :) I've been using it for about 1/2 a year now. I find that I need to use a thin pad for "just in case" I leak the first couple days of my period, since my flow is heavier. Otherwise, no pads or tampons! :)
    I do wonder, however, if I would have been able to use the Diva Cup before I got married and thus became sexually active and stretched out a little. I never used tampons before I got married, unless absolutely necessary, because they hurt to put in/take out.
    Hope you enjoy your diva cup!

  7. I just realized that I posted an earlier comment about the Diva Cup, and totally forgot that what triggered this post for you was dealing with a miscarriage. I wanted to send you hugs and hope that, in time, if you want, you get a pregnancy that sticks.

  8. I LOVE my Dive cup. My period just came back after 12 months pp, and I had the Diva Cup ready, even though I had never used it before. It was THE BEST THING EVER. I had NO problems with leakage- none. It was easy to take out and put in, IMO. I have been telling all of my girlfriends about it, even at the expense of seeming crazy. Hopefully you will love it also.

  9. I absolutely love my Diva Cup. I don't think I could ever use anything else! I hated buying tampons and pads, and then having to throw them away. I tried cloth pads, and they would definitely be my 2nd choice! Super cute and soft, but I had to wash them and all...But the Diva Cup works amazingly leaks ever! Never feel like it's in. I highly recommend it! And my cycles are so much shorter/lighter than with the tampons (filled with chemicals) that I used to use!

  10. I Love my Diva Cup! I had some trouble with it at first.. It would leak and I thought I was putting it in wrong and not making a seal. Turns out I just had to put it in before my period started and I was fine! (this won't work for someone whose period is irregular, I guess) Now I leave it in for 24 hours no pantyliners needed and only change it once a day while in the shower. Just take it out, rinse it, pop it back in. That's the only time of day I have to think about my period and its AMAZING. Such a change.

    Also, I realized my flow is much less than I thought it was! I think I would have to leave it in all week for it to fill the cup all the way up.

    Some issues: It makes my pee come out as a really slow trickle, which is annoying sometimes. Also, I had a friend say she couldn't use the Diva Cup because it was too big. I know other brands are slightly smaller/larger so it might take some looking around.