I was a late bloomer, then again, by class X you’re not just late, you are way overdue. I waited out the taunts and incessant teasing about being ‘immature’ and PG-13. And without warning, on the morning of a preliminary exam I rushed to school thrilled to announce I was an equal, “I got it!” I hissed to anyone who would listen. I flunked my Trigonometry that day (as expected), but I was ready to sail through life as an adult.
It was not so much sailing as much as it was a decade of dread – carrying a wad of pad between my legs, inner thighs chafing against the chemically bleached plastic mesh, as my uterus fell from grace throbbing with debilitating cramps. I looked up the meaning of hysterectomy when I was far too young, and as the years gathered around my waist this ordeal did not get better. I don’t mean to sound like a victim, I understood the miracle and purpose of this inconvenience that is greater than me, but it was just a tedious ordeal.
Flash back to my first sanitary napkin that stuffed my panty like a bolster a sheikh could lean on while sucking his hookah pipe and watching my belly dance, with all my faith resting on wings – the next big thing. In the decade that followed napkins evolved, flatter, longer, doused in a synthetic scent and wrapped in pretty flimsy colours. But what could ease the monthly trauma – in a better case scenario we’re talking a week – of moods swings, exhaustion, ripe new pimples, frenzied eating, bloating, and sensitive breasts, till the cycle begins, after which we stress about chafing, staining, changing, cleaning.
I was delivered by a medical grade silicone chalice that sits snug as a bug in my rug – the divine menstrual cup. I wish I didn’t make it sound so evangelical, but woman-to-woman, the cup is your friend who gives you a reassuring pat telling you she’s got your back, and sends you on your way towards a responsible, happy, and carefree period. Apprehension is expected and normal as long as you know that the cup’s playing on your team. – unlike this rant which probably did more harm than humour – your concerns are justified, but if you could only imagine the possibilities.
When I was introduced to the menstrual cup in 2014, I knew instantly that my third world drudgery had got its shot of sweet first world liberalisation. I bought the She Cup at Rs. 700, conducted a clumsy trial run and waited (!) I waited for my period that month. The cup was a soft pink, with a tiny knob at the base allowing me grip and making sure I always find it.
Using it took some effort and understanding before I gained expertise. It required me to be bold with my body, so using your fingers to explore the region and getting familiar with the folds and crevices is a good place to start. (On a side note, even if you have no intention of using the menstrual cup I’d still urge you to go through this step.)
Once I learned the finer aspects of my body, inserting the cup was not an entirely alien experience. There are standard tried and tested ways to navigate the cup into your vagina, videos and tutorials to be found online, and my favourite, trial and error, to help figure what works best for me. I followed the classic U Fold till I found that the Push Down Fold was way smoother. Once you release the cup inside it will unfold and hold firm in a vacuum within the walls of your vagina. It is recommended to run your finger around the base of the cup to see if it has unfolded correctly, and I follow up with a couple of Kegels’ to make sure it is breathing fine inside. If you are worried about it getting lost inside, just stop and consider for a moment that our bodies are engineered to push out a baby or two, a tiny cup is a mere pop.
With the menstrual cup you are able to gauge your flow and over the first few cycles you will have figured out just how much you bleed and how often you will need to empty your cup. In the average case by day three you can go up to ten hours without having to think about it. The first time I removed the cup I saw at least 3 ml of thick healthy blood and in that quiet moment, like sock to my stomach, it reinforced the privilege of my period. The overwhelming power that comes from the knowledge that I am a receptacle for life.
I could shower and sleep naked, go swimming, receive oral sex, wear a thong, run a marathon, and do splits, while my cup is busy. There was no sopping weight dragging me down a sewer of self-consciousness. I could do this all with a tampon, you think, not without the one in a million chance of toxic shock syndrome or the monthly purchase as opposed to a one time investment in the cup which could easily last me up to ten years. And spillage, you ask? All it takes is a little care when you are trying to remove it, and eventually with some patience and practice it becomes a sweet summer breeze on autopilot.
Stripping off any exaggeration I am able to say that once the cramps have passed I forget that I am on my period. I have also been freed of the burden of disposal, and the guilt of having someone else deal with the mess of my menses. I didn’t want to handle the disgust of my own used napkin and had no qualms making it someone else’s problem. Along with it the weight of a mountain of used sanitary napkins piling up in a landfill has been lightened on my shoulders; in the cup I found an unbearable joy that I feel the burning responsibility to share.
Of course, not all of us have it so smooth, our bodies are all rather different, and discussing all these differences in glorious detail are the women on Sustainable Menstruation India – a Facebook group that is looking out for you. Women trying against all odds to acclimatise to the cup. The group is also a resounding, encouraging testament to taking charge of your body and the environment, and that is a kind of empowerment that we can never have enough of.
Using the cup is a beautiful experience for a woman – simple, sanitary, and sustainable – and if getting your period is the crossover from girl to woman, the menstrual cup is an affirmation of that responsibility and being in charge of your body. Of accepting the kinks and curves, touching, learning, and embarking on a journey of self-discovery.