When I mentioned the word ‘mooncup’ in passing in a Facebook post a while ago I received a couple of messages from female friends, some encouraging, one enquiring if this was my latest crusade.
Menstruation is not something we talk about really. But each month, half of the population will for almost 1/3 of their life bleed. Their body will renew. For some women it will barely register on the pain threshold. For others, it can be severely debilitating with days spent in bed, racked with nausea and cramps, devouring steak and spinach (aye aye Popeye) in order to restore their iron levels. I don’t believe the spectrum of menstruation between women is truly acknowledged, never mind by men!
Not only is this natural bodily function necessary to ensure the survival of the human race, we women also pay for the privilege of acquiring the necessary implements to absorb the bleeding. We are also taxed a higher rate of VAT for purchasing these ‘non-essential items’ (yes that is how they are currently categorised). A petition about the VAT rate was put before the Government two years ago and it was announced in March this year that the Government is now taking steps to reduce the VAT rate which has to be approved by the EU. Apparently ‘tampon tax’ has even been used by some politicians as an illustration in support of a Brexit… the power of a period. I’m all for progress and applaud those ladies who waved tampons at George Osborne in protest but as a matter of principle I do not see why we should have to pay for tampons and other sanitary care items at all. In the UK, we offer healthcare exemptions for those over 60 years old, for pregnant women, and condoms are provided for free for when you ‘choose’ to have safe sex (I get that there are wider cost and health benefits in promoting safe sex). But, sanitary products are necessary, they are part of ensuring a woman takes care of her health each month, not bought or demanded through choice and the cost mounts up month by month, year by year. And embarrassingly I admit that I hadn’t even considered the cost implications for women on low incomes before I carried out research for this blog. Harrumph…that bee is firmly back in my bonnet!
I remember when I got my first period. My mum welcomed me to the fold of womanhood and guided me through the myriad of sanitary options. I bashfully told a couple of my friends in school that it had happened to me and the next day, waddling in to school with what felt like a nappy on, I found a sticker on my chair displaying a large arrow and ‘insert upwards’. My ‘friends’ had found a label from a delivery… a bit of light playground bullying and nowt compared to Carrie. My younger sister on the other hand never divulged when she became a ‘woman’ and if she hadn’t had a baby then I’d never have known for sure. Such are the different ways in which we deal with the simple functions of the body.
In India, I studied pregnancy yoga and with that entailed an exploration of a woman’s body, sex, pregnancy and childbirth from a physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual perspective. So not just a hospital, stirrups, and an epidural. It was the first time I had really considered the true wonder of the female body, the power it holds and symbolises (whether we can or can’t have our own children or choose not to). I felt proud of my mother and my sister. I felt thankful and inspired. And I felt in awe of my own body of what it does each day never mind what it could do in pregnancy and childbirth. I came home brimming with enthusiasm about my new found goddess love and one day embarked on an open conversation with my sister about my period. She screwed up her nose, dry wretched, and promptly changed the subject. The woman is 31. She has a child. But she’s still my little sister. And when I told her about this blog she added in her defence: “well I did have Nate through the sun roof!” I’m proud of her even if she still can’t talk about periods.
My sister illustrated that many of us, myself included, are sometimes scared to get to grips with our own bodies. Friends of mine in the past have been squeamish about the thought of non-applicator tampons never mind a mooncup! But before tampons and disposable sanitary towels were invented women had to re-use cloth rags. There was less waste and less man-made chemicals involved and just because we now have access to disposable tampons doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider other options.
I decided to try out a mooncup as I’ve been reading about how tampons are full of chemicals like bleach and leave residual fibres in you. I would also prefer a more environmentally sustainable way to care for my body which the mooncup provides. And so it became time to explore a new frontier of sanitary healthcare.
The mooncup (to my surprise) is readily available in Boots, in Southport, and therefore I safely assume it is available EVERYWHERE in the UK. It comes in a pretty cotton bag with a pink ribbon (as if we needed the gender stereotyping reassurance that this was a purely female designated product…) It looks like a little funnel and you have to boil the thing to sterilise it first. As I was doing that the other day my dad came home and asked if I was boiling eggs….. My dad used to buy my tampons, he’s also been married twice, has three biological children, two female step-children (and a partridge in a pear tree), he currently lives with me and my alleged PMT so he’s not unaware of menstruation. After supervising the rolling-boil, he merely raised an eyebrow and advised me to cool it down before inserting. Thanks Dad.
I’m currently three days in to trying my mooncup and yeah it took a bit of fumble to figure it out the first few times. I used a few yogic breaths to relax and a deep squat just like I encourage my pregnant ladies to do in Prenatal Yoga (“That’s Yoga!”) But already I am a convert. Tampons be gone. Cost wise it’s more expensive up front but once you’ve bought one that’s all you’ll ever need.
In prepping this blog I came across a TED talk on menstruation by Aditi Gupta from Mumbai,India: https://www.ted.com/talks/aditi_gupta_a_taboo_free_way_to_talk_about_periods. She discusses that in parts of India menstruation is a taboo – that menstruating women are refused access to temples for worship and that some young girls think they are dying when they get their first period because they have never been told about it, not by their parents or at school. I’m grateful I grew up in the UK, with money, an education and a mum and a dad who were both open about this natural process. But I still think we supress discussing the natural processes of our bodies whether that be pooing, weeing or menstruating and it is another example of how we, men and women, can be disconnected from our bodies, from what we truly need. Quite often we just rush to medicate, shut off any pain because we can. I used to take a contraceptive pill which stopped my periods altogether, for years. I loved it. Until I went to India and realised this was just another way I had distanced myself from the messages my body is trying to send me. One of the main reasons I realised I was broken with stress and anxiety and had to make some changes was because my body started failing me and I was sobbing in the doctors surgery repeatedly at only 31 years old.
Fear and judgement of the unknown, of something different, stops us from progressing and stops us connecting to our bodies. Just because we have regular access to disposable tampons and sanitary pads and that’s what we are used to does not necessarily mean that they are the best, safest and most sanitary product we can use.
So, the message I appear to be offering again is to encourage you to connect with your body, to think a little more about what you do with it and do to it. And men, I encourage you to think more about your body for yourself but also to consider the women in your life, and what happens to their bodies each month and also before, during and after pregnancy. I believe we would all be a little less fearful of pain, injury, pregnancy and childbirth if we saw our bodies differently and tried to listen a little more to what is going on. Maybe we’d even have more compassion for ourselves and would treat our bodies more kindly and with more respect. Perhaps then we’d also do the same for others around us.