The end of my imaginary pregnancy started the beginning of a new adventure; menstrual discs.
As most women can attest, periods are the worst. Even when they aren’t terrible, they are still inconvenient. Sometimes you’re bleeding to death and struggling with what product to use to stem that flow so you can pretend to be a normal human being in public, even though your uterus is probably falling out and you’re ruining another pair of underwear. Sometimes, your period is playing hide and seek. So you think it’s probably over, but then SURPRISE, another pair of underwear ruined. If you’re lucky, you may just get something consistent and manageable, but in any event, you’re sticking something into your body, pasting something to your clothes, wearing underwear with things sewn into them, or some combination thereof.
Another thing most women can attest to, especially if they are in the 40+ crowd, is that things that used to work, will stop working at some point and you’ll need to get creative.
I used to be on birth control, even though I was in no danger of getting pregnant, simply to keep my insane periods in check. For several glorious years, it worked. It was amazing. I didn’t even have a period. Then, apropos of nothing, this bitch came roaring back and she was making up for lost time.
When I had my first period in 6th grade, my parents were divorced and I was living pretty much full time with my dad. I was not alarmed by my period, I knew what was happening and why, but I was not prepared, and neither was my dad. My grandmother stepped up, dug through her things and found some ancient sanitary napkin / belt combo with snaps and shit. The pad was at least a foot long and several inches thick. I cried at the injustice of it all and waddled around uncomfortably with all of this nonsense crammed into my tiny adolescent crotch.
I have no idea what conversation transpired between my parents that day and I have no real concept of how much time elapsed between that first pad trauma and seeing my mom, but the next thing I remember clearly is being at my mom’s house and getting a tampon tutorial.
I guess I should be grateful to have received some instruction on the matter, but frankly, that was more traumatic than the pad situation. I’m a pretty smart person, and I had a decent grasp on reproductive anatomy, even as a child. My mom was a midwife after all, and an oversharer. I had a story book as a child about orgasms, so yeah. I was educated. I didn’t need a visual, but despite my protests I got one anyway. My dear mother dropped trou and hopped up on her exam table (she saw patients at our house) and proceeded to show me how it was done. It was like that scene in A Clockwork Orange where that guy’s eyes were forced open and he couldn’t look away, no matter how much he wanted to.
As you can imagine, this made me cry, because, Jesus…Mom.. Really? At this point I wasn’t even worried about the tampons. I wondered if I would ever be able to scrub this image from my mind. Sadly, that answer was no.
Ultimately, I took the box of tampons and locked myself in the bathroom and figured it out, as most girls do. Despite the associated trauma, the comfort level was far greater than what I had experienced with my grandma’s dinosaur pad, so from that point on I was a tampon user.
This worked fine until my body betrayed me. For the time between the onset of that betrayal and the advent of the pill, I had to adopt usage of a pad in addition to the tampon. Luckily, pads have come a long way and they weren’t AS terrible, but it still felt gross and was not ideal.
After the complete failure of the pills, I tried to go back to tampons, but they just didn’t work anymore. Even on days where they should have been sufficient, my flow just kind of bypassed them, so I ended up having to adopt pads full time. This sucks, because in addition to feeling gross, they also make an already sweaty crotch even sweatier, adding to the gross factor and just making everything generally dank and unpleasant.
I decided to try period underwear. These are ok, I suppose, as a back up for another method, or for someone with a very light flow, but you encounter many of the same feelings of grossness as you would with a pad, though with maybe less bulk. They have also made me super curious about the bleeding patterns of other women, because the pad thing that is built into these panties runs alllll the way up the back, to the waist. I’m a period veteran, but I have never in my life experienced a need to have anything absorbent that close to my lower back. All my action happens in the front, you know, where my vagina is located. It’s mysterious. For the sake of argument, let’s say this feature is useful. It’s also a heat trap. So you encounter the same sweaty crotch issues, except this time they extend for the whole of your butt crack as well. WTF. Furthermore, these things are supposed to be environmentally friendly, because they are reusable, but it takes 700 gallons of water to rise them out before they go in the wash. Then they have to air dry, and air drying clothes leaves them kind of crunchy, and no one likes crunchy underwear.
Enter the menstrual disc. I bought these when I was still on my last period because my daughter said they were great. They are supposed to essentially act as a cap over your cervix, catching the blood before it can enter the vaginal canal. This would be ideal if it worked, because I could go back to wearing no underwear, which is what my vagina prefers. She wants to be freeeeee!!
Sadly, this was not meant to be. There are definite pros to the disc, and I will use it again, but it is NOT safe for use on its own.
First of all, in order for this thing to be effective, you have to get it in there right. If you’re a long time tampon user, you’ll have to fight against your instinct to cram it up there that way, like I did the first time. Nope, it goes in the opposite way. Basically when it feels like you’re trying to shove it up your own ass from the inside, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
It’s a disc, so a circle, but you pinch it into a figure 8 to jam it in your hoo, then once it’s in there it opens back up into a circle, but you have to fish around for the lip of the thing and jam that edge behind your pubic bone. I’m sure there are classier and easier ways to make all of this happen, but for me, the only way I could manage it was to squat like a frog and cram half my hand in there. My poor vagina was so confused and offended.
Anyhow, once it’s up there, you don’t feel it anymore, so that’s a relief, but since I’m a new user, there’s also a deep distrust. Like, “is this thing working, or did my period stop? What’s happening up there??”
That led me to the next thing I learned, which was ‘dumping’. While the product says it’s good for 12 hours, it really only means you can safely leave it in place for 12 hours. It doesn’t mean it can collect 12 hours worth of bodily fluids. Maybe for some, on some days, it can. But for me, that was not the case. So you have to empty this thing intermittently without taking it out. Here’s how. You sit on the toilet and bear down like you are trying to poop. Since one side of this disc sits against your bowel, this action causes the thing to shift, breaking the seal. You lean forward and, sploosh, empty the cup. From here, you’re supposed to sit back up, do a couple kegels and pop this thing back into place. Hilarious.
This may work for some, but I do not have the hang of it. I can do the dump part, no problem, but getting it back into place was not so easy. I tried the kegel trick, but I was just squeezing the thing, not shifting its position. So I had to go back into the frog position and manually jam it back into place. Fine, except this time, there’s blood everywhere.
On a heavy day, I had to repeat this process at least once every hour or so. I went through a lot of toilet paper and hand soap. Furthermore, since each time the dump takes place, blood enters the vaginal canal, you have to have on some kind of protection, a pantyliner at minimum.
The other major flaw with this is that squatting naked in a public restroom is far from ideal for both sanitary and modesty reasons.
The upshot is that I will add this product to my arsenal, but modern technology has still failed to come up with a solution to this basic issue that half the population deals with. Unless you count burning the lining of your uterus or taking the whole damned thing out.
But at least dudes have medication for boners.