As in my period. Of all the questions I get via email, the ones about my period are the ones that surprise me most. Not that they should. Most of the people who read this blog are women of menstruating age. Those are just the facts. For better or for worse, here’s my approach to managing my period in a way that feels good for the planet, and mostly, good for me.
When I entered middle school, my mom sent me off to school with a zipped cloth pouch full of period supplies for just in case. Unbeknowst to me, it would be years before this late-bloomer could put any of it to use, but I kept the pouch on the top shelf of my locker for years anyway. It was filled with panty liners and disposable pads, a plastic bag, and a clean pair of underwear. I also seem to remember an illicit dose of ibuprofen and quarters for calling my mom from the payphone.
Luckily for me, on the day my period first arrived, I was at home. My older sister, Cait, heroically tried to save me from the tyranny of the inch-thick disposable pad by sitting with me and a mirror on my bedroom floor, teaching me how to use a tampon. An hour later, when my cramps began to kick in, I figured the pain in my abdomen was a sign of Toxic Shock Syndrome and that I would soon perish. I swore off tampon use for the next year.
Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about managing my period.
Here are a few ideas for approaching feminine hygiene with a nod toward the environment.
I admit that I haven’t embraced going totally tampon-free, but I have committed to using applicator-free tampons. At the risk of getting graphic: It’s really not that hard to push a tampon a bit deeper in there, you know? (On the other hand: dealing with the cleaning et cetera of a product like a Diva Cup or Luna Cup while working out of the house feels like a little bit harder.) When I buy tampons, I look for organic brands that use 100% cotton instead of the chemical-filled cotton/rayon blend that traditional tampons often include. I’ve most easily been able to find NatraCare in local pharmacies, but Honest Company, Seventh Generation, and Organyc are other available options. (I’m waiting on Lola to introduce an applicator-free option to their product line. Fingers crossed!) Best part about applicator-free tampons? They take up 1/3 of the space in the cabinet!
I’m a new convert (and huge fan) of the period underwear companies that have been cropping up lately, like Thinx and Dear Kate. When I first mentioned them on this site, I received a few quips from folks who said that their version of period underwear were black cotton ones that had gone slightly raggedy. I get it. At first pass, it might sound like another company trying to sell women something to fix a problem that doesn’t need fixing. But in the case of these, I don’t think that’s the case. I’m an honest-to-goodness devotee. Since giving birth, my period flow has become a little more unpredictable than it was before. Where I’d never needed them before, I suddenly began to feel like I needed panty liners, just in case. And then—TMI, alert—I started soaking those too. I felt like a pubescent teenager, unsure of how to handle my new “friend,” which you’ll agree is the very worst euphemism for your period there is. Enter the period underwear. They never leak and they never make me feel like I’m sitting in my own blood. In fact, they’re entirely cute. (I bought this pair for starters. And then bought three more of these.) I wear them without a tampon at the beginning and end of my period and with one in the middle. They’ve hugely cut back on my tampon use and virtually eliminated accidental leaks. In serious love.
I’m not above taking a pill to help alleviate pain associated with menstrual cramping, but I also rely on two basic methods to manage my pain.
The heating pad: I have a rice-filled pad that was a godsend during the last months of my pregnancy and my biggest comfort when I have my period. (Hint: as long as it doesn’t have a metal zipper, you can fill any cotton bag with rice and microwave it to make your own. Thick, arborio rice (or a similar chubby rice) works best, I’ve found. If you don’t have a microwave, and if you’re prudent, you can put the bag on a pie plate and put it in a warm (and carefully watched) oven.
Walking: I used to be convinced the only way to feeling better when I was suffering from bad cramps was to fall asleep with a heating pad. But while I still swear by a heating pad, I usually use it while sitting upright working. Instead of putting myself to bed when I have cramps, I make myself get up. A walk—even a short one—does more to help me feel better than just about anything else.
What about you guys? Tried and true tips? Strong opinions? Disposable-free eco-champs out there?