“We bleed so everyone else can live."
November 11, 2017 12:09 PM   Subscribe

posted by medusa at 12:22 PM on November 11, 2017 [9 favorites]

As a 32 year old women about to remove her IUD and experience a period for the first time in 10 years, I have been anxiously preparing myself for the first cycle and happily surprised by the new options and open discussion of periods now vs 10 years ago. I was originally planning to buy my old standby Tampax Pearls from back in the day, but now I’m looking into a cup and some Thinx. Times are changing and it seems good.
posted by samthemander at 12:26 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's always amazed me that menstrual blood is the most censored blood, given that it arises from a (usually) healthy process rather than injury. It's good to see it being destigmatized.
posted by sadmadglad at 12:45 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

as a woman soon to embark upon the next taboo life change (mentalpaws), its really awesome to see that the dialog has changed so much since I was a teenager. women have been shamed for their biology for too long. the same thing with menopause, we are not supposed to talk about it (ew yick!) but how else to learn or to support each other? I'm going to talk about it.
posted by supermedusa at 12:49 PM on November 11, 2017 [11 favorites]

Quint has a few more requests: “I invite them to include reusable products and non-binary kids in any teaching resources they create, to stop offering hide-away tins with their products and to say ‘menstrual’ rather than ‘sanitary’.”

Amen! I've seen the argument that "sanitary" could be replaced with "feminine", but men have periods, too.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:02 PM on November 11, 2017 [13 favorites]

This article also touches on my personal social justice crusade to make sure women (be they homeless or in need due to poverty) who do not have regular access to menstrual products gave access to them. Don't just donate clothes or food, please also donate pads and tampons.

I am personally tired of having to tuck my tampon in my sleeve when I'm out or carry my purse. I am learning to just smile, say as I pluck my tampon from said purse and leave the table, "Welp, gotta go deal with this bullshit. Be back in a mo."
posted by Kitteh at 1:07 PM on November 11, 2017 [19 favorites]

This is a great article. Though I think one aspect of period shame is missed.

I have endometriosis. Because we don't talk about periods, most people don't know what it is. We are told that pain is normal and to keep it to ourselves. I didn't know that my pain from day 1 or missing school wasn't normal. I briefly talked to doctors, but just sort of got used to it.

Once I was aware of endometriosis, it was because some other person had it and I didn't think it described me and my pain. Oh boy was a wrong.

And the fact is that AT LEAST 1 in 10 people who mesturate have endometriosis. I think it's much higher. It's severely underfunded and people, especially doctors and surgeons are supremely uninformed to the point of causing harm.

So this brings me to my favorite period anecdotes. These are long, but I've had a lot of period growth in my life.

I was bullied about starting my period "late" by 14. Like, would come home sobbing wishing for my period. When I started my period, my "mom" wanted basically next to no responsibility in parenting (my dad and I moved out about 6 months later.) So my dad (always a Mr. Mom type) took me tampon shopping. He really helped me pick out the best fit of pads and tampons. Most people's dads would ignore it.

Yet, he still brushes me off when I talk about my period now, even though it's important as it's part of my disability and chronic illness and I'm still recovering from surgery. I push him saying, "I'm your kid, you bought me tampons, it's my period, get over it." (Granted, he doesn't like any discussion about bodily excretions.)
My husband gladly gets me tampons and pads and talks about my period. To him it's no big deal, but I remember the first time I had to ask him to buy me tampons. Oh boy was I nervous. Even though he never seemed grossed out by women's bodies! (I got a yeast infection and leaked medication onto him when we were cuddling!!!) But at the same time, I'm still MAD that society has taught me to treasure a man who buys my tampons. Yet it should be the same as buying toilet paper.
Then there's when I realized I was OVER period shame. I was in the ER about a year ago in extreme pain while on my period. Again, suspected endo. I gasped when my stomach was pressed. I wasn't ashamed of why I was there. I know had I done the same thing years earlier, I would have answered questions about my period but felt embarrassed.

I had to get a transvaginal ultrasound. It was a sweet older lady, but I wouldn't have cared if it was a young dude either. I said, "Oh, by the way I'm on my period." And she said "Okay, I'll grab a pad for under you." When we were done she discretely cleaned the wand and gave me plenty of tissues. Again, I felt STRONG. (The fentanyl may have helped.) But I felt that I had finally gotten over BULLSHIT period shame. Again, years ago, in a medical setting I would have felt embarrassed about the whole thing. NOT. ANY. MORE.
That lead me to my discussions with the guy who works at our apartment office. He's nice. 30. We chat a lot and get along well. I had mentioned my other health problems over time. Then about 7 or so months ago, I talked about endometriosis. We had an AMAZINGLY fruitful discussion. Apparently a woman he knows might have it, so he started educating himself the week prior. I gave him more info, how my symptoms were, and a surgeon's name and number. At the end I said "Wow, it's cool that I can just talk about periods with you!" and he replied "If you can't talk about this stuff, then you're really immature."

I visited the office after surgery and further discussed it, and surgery, with him and the couple of other women that work there. One was talking about how she was almost crying every few minutes because of PMS, and we all just smiled along with her. I don't think I've EVER had a job working with a man where I felt that way.
Lastly, I had endometriosis resection surgery and appendectomy 5 months ago. After surgery I was bleeding. My husband held my hand on the toilet as we asked a nurse to get me a pad. Again, I would have been so embarrassed to be on a toilet bleeding in my youth, but NO fucks were given this time.
I've started talking a lot more about periods. I give period updates on instagram since I have followers who also have endometriosis. I'm a proud supporter of wearing Period Panties and occasionally show them off.

I'm DONE being ashamed of the way my body naturally functions. DONE hiding my severe pain and illness. DONE pretending like it's something I can't talk about.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:10 PM on November 11, 2017 [55 favorites]

Don't just donate clothes or food, please also donate pads and tampons.

In the US at least, cash donations buy more (and new/unexpired) clothes and food than you can donate dollar for dollar, but a lot of available funding for emergency/homeless/vulnerable populations specifically prohibits purchasing menstrual products, which also can't be bought on food stamps.

PLEASE donate menstrual supplies to your local orgs, or call and ask them if they have a special fund or Amazon/etc wishlist (which may come with matching donations) for doing so.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:31 PM on November 11, 2017 [24 favorites]

I started my periods in the mid 90s and through sex ed in school was exposed to a lot of "periods are beautiful and the Moon Goddess uses menstrual cups" type liberation, I think as part of an attempted backlash against period taboos. As someone with intensely painful periods I found it incredibly alienating, and it did a lot more to silence me about my periods than my own mother's approach of "here is some hot milk and ibuprofen and I'll make your favorite food for dinner." It sounds like this group is doing good work, especially the social justice aspect, but I hope they are aware that for many people, periods are like bowel movements: we all know they exist, we just want to clean up the mess with a minimum of fuss.

On preview, Crystalinne's point about endometriosis is spot on. We repeatedly undertreat women's pain (periods or otherwise), and it's a hard sell to get a girl to feel positive about her period when it means she's going to pass out every time she stands.
posted by basalganglia at 1:36 PM on November 11, 2017 [18 favorites]

In All Things Freedom Uterine
posted by lazycomputerkids at 2:19 PM on November 11, 2017

Sorry for the double-post...

A relatively early consciousness of periods came from my mother when we were watching a National Geographic special, and a village in Africa (which nation I can't name because like 99% of Americans what I know of it fills a thimble) was shown and she pointedly criticized in a manner so familiar to me: They never talk about how the women deal with their periods. I'd like to know that. I was ten or so.

When I was seventeen, 1984, preparing affirmative cases for my high school's debate team, a partner discovered that in Britain there had been proposed legislation for using dysmenorrhea as a legal defense for murder after medical surveys had determined 5% of women suffered it. We took that case to what was then one of the largest forensic competitions in the US at Northwestern University. And to briefly explain: Such partnered debate relies heavily on prepared sources narrowed by a yearly national resolution that was, that year, dealing with criminal law. So we anticipated the relative obscurity of our case had an advantage, but, man, were the responses surprising and instructive.

I now work with teachers largely from English native-speaking nations, and among them (to generalize), it's Brits who are averse to casually discussing all things menstrual. Canada and New Zealand are pretty good about it. But Brit males typically respond as though it's impolite. I've only worked with one South African, a woman, so...
posted by lazycomputerkids at 3:01 PM on November 11, 2017

So I had my husband read this. He's not an idiot - obvs from my post about him above.

He came in part way through and said "I'm not finished reading the article, but what's a cup?" And I said, "Oh, you sweet sweet man." I had talked with him about cups before, but not in depth and I think he just didn't think about it. So I showed him how it works on WikiHow.

Then he said, "You know, we NEVER learned about this stuff in school! Why didn't I learn anything about this?" And I guess, they like literally never talked about periods in sex ed, because classes were split up. And he's not old. He's 30 and I'm 27. I know the systems aren't better now. So again, the poor sex education system and we MUST do better at educating children and especially boys. He thinks they shouldn't have split up the class at all. That it was just "This is men's stuff and you don't need to learn the women's stuff. It's not useful for you." And as a kid, you don't think anything about it.

He also saw the linked article below this one about Nepal outlawing exiling women on their periods and was astonished, whereas I'm like "yeah.... this is what we deal with."

And he also just encouraged me to splurge on a menstrual cup (the Lena according to a quiz I took). I've avoided it due to endometriosis, but since my periods have been changing post surgery, then he highly encouraged me to try one.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:04 PM on November 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

It's just yet another way the medical system fails women. I only realized that I had PMDD a few years ago when I finally put it together that all my suicide attempts happen 4 days before my period and still had to fight to get it taken seriously. As well, I didn't know the amount of pain that leaves you on the floor and bleeding through your clothes and blankets was a sign something could be wrong by until I read Askme. I'm 42 and been having those symptoms since I was 13 and even my childhood doctor ( a woman so not all males) said it couldn't be that bad. So much of uterus owning people's health stuff gets dismissed as either exaggeration or something we must bear. You shouldn't have to learn of health issues by the whisper network.
posted by kanata at 4:08 PM on November 11, 2017 [14 favorites]

I'm in the process of possibly donating a kidney to a guy I know. We have to work out timing of tests and such, and urine tests can't be done while menstruating. Therefore, he now knows more about my cycle than literally any one else in my life at the mo. I was a little bit uncomfortable with it in the beginning but then I was like...You're going to have a body part of mine. There will be blood involved in that, too. You can deal with knowing when I'm menstruating.
posted by greermahoney at 4:35 PM on November 11, 2017 [17 favorites]

I just saw this recently...I hope it's suitable for the thread.
posted by uosuaq at 4:36 PM on November 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

I also love this. I'm a professional mother in my late 30s, and I still rarely talk about this stuff. It's crazy! Also, I'll praise my cup, a fleur cup. I spent $20 6 years ago, and I never need backup. Amazing!
posted by Valancy Rachel at 4:56 PM on November 11, 2017

posted by TedW at 5:09 PM on November 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm very fond of my little cup, though I don't brag about it as much as I used to because i want to be sensitive to women who find them unworkable. But I think I am going to find a local group that donates period supplies and put them on the monthly roster of groups my church gives to.
posted by emjaybee at 5:33 PM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

TedW, I sat here for at least 27 seconds saying "who died?"
posted by greermahoney at 5:38 PM on November 11, 2017 [9 favorites]

Will be sending this article to my granddaughters.

...a lot of available funding for emergency/homeless/vulnerable populations specifically prohibits purchasing menstrual products, which also can't be bought on food stamps.

No paper products. What bullshit, because half of the human race needs menstrual products, and everybody need toilet paper. Gotta keep the poor humble and ashamed.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:30 PM on November 11, 2017 [14 favorites]

"Don't just donate clothes or food, please also donate pads and tampons."

Whenever I notice the menstrual products on sale (or I see a good coupon!), I grab an extra couple packages and donate them to the women's shelter I'm a supporter of. They are always badly needed and much-appreciated. It's not much when you add on a package or two to your monthly grocery bill, especially when you catch a good sale, but over a year that's two dozen packages of supplies. That's a lot!

(If you are a period-getting woman who has children, they also always need diapers and formula -- some women avoid leaving an abuser because they're afraid they can't afford diapers and formula. Save half-boxes when baby outgrows them, donate formula samples, every little bit helps. Swim diapers are a HUUUUUGE hit, they don't get donated much and they're kinda expensive.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 PM on November 11, 2017 [13 favorites]

”It couldn’t be more different from the last bit of menstrual education I received, when I was 12 and the “Tampax lady” came into my school in her navy blazer and gave out freebies.”
My menstrual education was comprised of this book, specifically this 1978 edition, supplemented with whatever I could dig up in whatever old-fangled medical reference books I had access to (Mom and Dad never could resist those “mystery boxes” at estate auctions.)

It never occurred to me until now what a boon the menstrual cup could be for poor people in Third World areas, who would have trouble getting hold of disposable products even if they could afford them, or tons of extra work hauling water to wash cloth products every few weeks.

Don't just donate clothes or food, please also donate pads and tampons.

When my mother managed a homeless shelter, she always kept a box each of tampons and pads in her office. Her organization didn't pay for them, but she just couldn't stand to see someone go without.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:08 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Meant to add - I went to five different grade schools, so it's possible that one or all of them did some kind of formal education about periods and I just missed it by being at the wrong school at the wrong time.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:15 PM on November 11, 2017

I am with Crystalinne in Team Endometriosis; I'd read about endometriosis when I was about 15, and my thought was "wow, I can't imagine how awful it would be to have pain and bleeding even worse than I do" - that automatic minimisation had kicked in, and if period pain was pathological it must be worse than what I was experiencing.

Also as a side note, I can't use either tampons or cups because both worsen the chronic pain from the endometriosis (apparently everything is stuck to everything else inside my pelvis, so I suspect this is why) - so I'm of the 'one size very much does not fit all' school of period products.
posted by Vortisaur at 1:17 AM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Vortisaur, that's the only school that makes any sense. I love my cup but they're not for everyone. It's another option, and it's one that I'm glad to have found at 40... I so wish I'd found it earlier!

For me, tampons make my cramps worse... no one ever told me that that could be the case. I used them for more than 25 years. When I started using a cup, cramps because faint and distant if I got them at all.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:00 AM on November 12, 2017

Oh man. I'll never get the day I realised I was doomed and that issues around menstruation were my own problem to deal with. I had been suffering from a number of chronic but cyclical issues, including pain, dangerously high levels of depression and gastro-intestinal chaos, all clearly related to my period somehow. My doctor told me that my symptoms were consistent with endomendometriosis. Eureka! Diagnosis! What do we do to make my life livable?

He kindly explained that there is a very high frequency of endo amongst women in general and that it's found in most autopsies of undiagnosed women. In his professional opinion, the fact that it is so common can only mean that IT IS NOT A DISEASE BUT THE NATURAL STATE OF THINGS. I hadn't actually killed myself yet so my life was in fact livable, but I was welcome to antidepressants if I wanted them.

Flames. Flames on the side of my face.
posted by Eumachia L F at 2:56 AM on November 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Eumachia L F , How awful of an experience! I can tell you first had that it IS a disease. I have the surgical video of lesions being removed to prove it (And hey, if anyone wants to see it I have a link I can DM.) I'm still recovering and my period is still changing but it's been DRAMATIC! My period has been regular (and shorter by 10 to 20 DAYS where I used to get PMS that whole time) for the past 6 cycles, it's lighter, less pain, less PMS. It still sucks a lot, but it does NOT have to be the state of things. Uhg.... Flames indeed.

I remember in high school feeling that I must just be one of the weak ones. That I clearly couldn't deal with my period the way others could since I'd miss at least one day of school each month. But it was the lack of knowledge and open discussion about periods that left me without help or realization that something was wrong. I remember feeling such SHAME that I couldn't deal with the pain or stomach issues.

None of my GI doctors ever mentioned Endo. They told me I had IBS and threw pills at me. (Turns out my gallbladder was crap, even though it tested normal, I have stage 2 endo, POTS, and IBS. Not to mention the early signs of acute appendicitis during endo surgery.)

It's infuriating that we can't talk about this basic fact of life. It literally costs lives. I wonder how much better I may be now if I had surgery years ago. How much more life I could have lived, even with my other illnesses.

Literally all because I had been taught that something my body did naturally was shameful, and I had to tough it out or shut up.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:19 AM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh gee, I can't say how glad I am that some of the stigma around periods is finally ending (at least in some countries). I got my period when I was about 10, and it was horrendous. My mom, an alcoholic, didn't say anything to me so I had to rely on stuffing paper towels/napkins/toilet paper/PAIRS OF MY BROTHER'S OLD GYM SOCKS in my underwear. I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I even kept the used ones in a plastic bag in my bedroom so I could run outside to put them in the dumpster at night. My period was also horrendously heavy, flooding through my pants and onto chairs and unpredictable (I think, I didn't know how to count days or keep track) that I ruined the two pairs of jeans I had and would spend hours scrubbing them in the sink and we were too poor to buy any more. Thank god flannel was in style because I could tie my shirts around my waist and hide my stained jeans. A few years later, I got into taking pads and tampons from friends and the families I'd babysit for. (I mean, I'm sure they didn't mind, it was just a few but, man, was it a revelation to have a normal-sized pad that absorbed and didn't bleed through). I was also lucky to have a friend whose mom was cool and bought her pads with wings and stuff and she'd let me have some...but they were poor too, so I never really took more than one or two.

Fast forward some years and my college roommate was super cool and into feminism and had a cool mom that she called by her first name. I'll never forget when she casually asked if I had any tampons, and even went so far as to say, "I'll be back in a minute, gotta change my tampon" and I was totally floored that it wasn't some horrible hush-hush thing. We even kept a box of tampons on top of our mini-fridge. It was as rebellious and righteous to me as getting a tattoo is for other kids. And honestly, this is one of the big things that made me want to work in women's health and become an NP and midwife--to normalize the perfectly normal things that our bodies do, and to empower other women to not be ashamed of what's happening with their bodies (Ehm, why is it so funny and charming when men belch and fart in movies but periods are so taboo? Why is it okay to show scenes of real and imagined violence, with blood everywhere, but fake blood in a pad commercial is so awful?), and to help them to feel safe in asking questions about what's normal, what's not, and getting treatment when necessary/if desired.

I'll also add that, now, as a clinician, one of the things that breaks my heart to hear--but I hear multiple times per day--is "I'm sorry." This takes the form of, "Sorry, I'm on my period," "Sorry, I haven't shaved down there," "Sorry, my legs are so ashy," "Sorry, I know my X is kinda long/short/thin/fat/etc," "Sorry, someone told me my cervix is in the wrong place," etc. And to that I say a big nope. Nope, no sorry necessary, this is your body and you never, ever need to apologize for your body or yourself. If there is something I'm worried about, I'll let you know and try to help you fix it. And if there's something you're worried about, let's talk about that. But no one should ever feel the need to apologize for the way her body is put together--whether it's monthly bleeds, pubic hair, leg hair, dry feet, whatever.

Of course, this is never the fault of the woman, but the unrealistic expectations and shame society puts upon all of us. There's a pervasive idea of the manageability of women; that we should be unruly, clean, prim, and proper (and why should they be able to control their fertility, so let's just ban contraceptive coverage and abortions). We shouldn't have periods because they're gross, and when we do we should control them tidily and out of the eyes of men whose dainty sensibilities might be offended. Yet at the same time, we should also be fertile baby-making machines. Interestingly, the only non-pathological times women don't menstruate are pregnancy (valued by society, but in many ways stigmatized) and menopause (not valued by society, and also not okay to discuss and referred to in hushed tones as "The Change"). The rest of us, menstruating but not gestating, are told instead to cover up and hide the monthly cycle that is part and parcel of our species and evolution. And even worse, because we're told to shut up about it, we are too scared to ask questions when something doesn't feel right. I've had several women come to me with uterine and cervical cancer because they didn't think they'd be taken seriously when they reported heavy or irregular bleeding; or teens who've been almost kicked out of school for truancy when really they had endometriosis and just needed medical help but were ignored for whining.

So yes, give me all the fake blood on pads you can, give me clots and grapefruits and black underpants. Give me tampons soaked in water, tampons soaked in red food coloring, and photos from women who menstruate and keep on with their lives like the marathon runner or the artist who dared to sleep in light-colored pajamas in the OP, or this midwife who was too busy catching babies to change her tampon but nevertheless got flak for her indignity in sharing her plight. Enough of controlling women's bodies, how about we work to control the flow of guns that cause so much blood in our newspapers, televisions, and movies?

Stepping off my soapbox, gotta change my pad.
posted by stillmoving at 3:52 AM on November 12, 2017 [74 favorites]

Stillmoving, I want to favorite your comment x1000
posted by basalganglia at 4:58 AM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

^^^Me, too.

Flagged as fantastic.

stillmoving, I am saddened by what you endured as a young person who wasn't given the tools or information to deal with (in your words) "the monthly cycle that is part and parcel of our species and evolution."

I am moved by your commitment to informing and empowering the women you see in your practice.

And I am enraged to hear that people are being diagnosed with CANCER (sorry for shouting) or are facing EXPULSION FROM SCHOOL (ditto) because their symptoms have been hand-waved away as too trivial and/or yucky to deal with.
posted by virago at 9:19 AM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

One big disappointment I had with Home Comforts was that it didn't dedicate much time to specifically dealing with blood stains and cleaning up blood. This is a material that the majority of the adult population between 15 and 45 has to deal with for about one week per month ... and it was described with about as much detail as dealing with bubble gum.

WRT the cup ... after I got a horrific UTI, I got a lovely lecture from my doctor about how some women's insides aren't configured for menstrual cups. So there's that to deal with on top of everything else.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 1:05 PM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

a lovely lecture

Yeah, sounds great! Did they have any sound advice for what to do or just a general, "Your body is probably bad." kind of thing?
posted by amanda at 10:32 PM on November 12, 2017

Did they have any sound advice for what to do


Basically, she recommended I avoid using menstrual cups. There's not much else anyone can do.

Which means that, yeah, I accumulate more waste due to tampons, etc., but it's better than risking another infection every month.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:33 AM on November 13, 2017

I've heard from other people with the same issue. Some of them fixed it by doing more/better washing of hands and cup (including better rinsing to avoid soapy residue), a different cup with a smaller or softer rim that pressed less on their urethra, and/or making sure they emptied their bladder completely every time (by leaning backwards or forwards while peeing, or by removing the cup before peeing).
As always, Your Vag May Vary.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:57 AM on November 13, 2017

My infection was not minor, and there are products other than cups available on the market. In general, I'd rather not play games with my health just so I can be more ecologically friendly, and *please* do not encourage anyone else to do the same.

I am saying this as a caution against treating cups as a catch-all solution in developing countries, however. I could easily have had permanent kidney damage without access to the appropriate antibiotics.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:22 PM on November 13, 2017

Like I said above: I love my cup* but they're not for everyone. There is no menstrual product that works equally well for everybody.

*mostly for reasons of health/comfort/convenience
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:06 AM on November 14, 2017

« Older Lest we forget   |   Mews of the Day Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments