FLOW: Let’s embrace the overshare
This blog comes with an overshare warning. That’s my thing this year. I figure if I make sure to overshare more than everyone else then others will feel free to share as well.
I am going to talk about my period. I’m going to talk about the periods of others. That’s what this is about. Periods.
I’ve had a regular menstruation since about age 12 or so, barring two pregnancies. I can’t fully recall if I were 12 or 13 but I was in Grade 7 and a competitive swimmer so you do the math and envision the scenario. (Hint: it was my Swim Coach who suggested that I could just wear a tampon. My mom threw a box of tampons into the bathroom with me. I figured it out eventually. I was aware that the entire world knew what was happening and pretended it didn’t. I wore the flush of shame and pride for days.)
Coming of age stories notwithstanding, there’s been a lot of disposable period products in my life.
It is estimated that the average woman uses 16 800 tampons across her lifespan. That becomes 24 360 if she uses Hormone Replacement Therapies. There are around 20 Billion pads and tampons disposed of annually. Most of these are products with some kind of synthetic component. They are laced with chemicals so they absorb, so they feel nice, so they smell like not what we smell like. These chemicals are linked with cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive harm, allergies. They are placed next to our skin, and inside our vaginas where we have mucous membranes, the most absorbent tissues of our bodies. They don’t biodegrade terribly well. They have plastic packaging. In short, while at age 13 I was so thankful for the invention of a tampon that kept me in the water and doing my sport, at 43 I’m left with consumers’ remorse.
I’m thinking a lot about this menstruation thing lately and I don’t know that there are easy answers. After the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in February 2019 went to “Period. End of Sentence.” a revealing documentary about women in India being taught to use a menstrual pad maker I observed a sudden rash of conversation about this topic. Suddenly visible on Netflix, and Global News were stories of Period Poverty. #periodpromise began trending on social media. In April, 2019, due in part to the fruitfulness of the Period Promise campaign, the B.C. government promised $300,000 to help all school districts in B.C. provide free menstrual pads and tampons to all students. Further, in partnership with the United Way and Blue Cross, is another $95,000 for a pilot project to provide women easier and more affordable access to menstrual products through the provision of supplies to non-profit organizations province-wide.
This is, in my opinion, an absolutely necessary initiative that leaves the taste in my mouth of “why did that take so very long to happen?”. These are simple products to supply. They work for most of us. They are so necessary a part of standard operating procedures for women of reproductive age that not having these products prevents girls and women from participating in education, social and work opportunities. If we are going to get where we are going we need everybody. So provision of basic human needs is a no brainer.
Still, I admit to feeling that, perhaps, we are not thinking broadly enough. If we are truly committed to saving our planet from the ravages of climate change all things that are large in scale help to turn the tide. I would argue that the scale of items being disposed of in the name of menstrual health on a daily basis is enormous.
There are, for those who are not aware, many products available that are reusable. These products are washable, made of cotton (pads and panties), or silicone (cups). They are more expensive on initial purchase, but you use them over and over, freeing you from a monthly expense.
What does using a reusable menstrual management system require?
Clean water. Privacy. A certain comfort dealing with your bodily fluids. Finances available for the not insignificant initial purchase or replacement of said products.
I am aware that not everyone will have these items at hand. Here, I come full circle. Back to the thought that we are simply not looking at this problem in a global enough, radical enough manner.
Our government (meaning Canada) makes clean water and adequate sanitation in all communities a priority. That these basic needs are not met in all communities is a perpetual shock to me. Next, community health centres have programs where girls’ menstrual health is addressed, for all girls of need, for education about menstruation including menstrual products. Through these programs access is provided to a reusable product of choice for women/girls who cannot meet the financial burden.
Let’s throw in that women who are leaders get to talk about their periods. And that jobs and schools recognize period days as days taken when biology calls.
I know; it’s menstrual utopia! As mentioned, it is a solution that requires radical reorganization of thought.
Back to the oversharing.
Last year, I heard of a company making Period Panties. I invested for myself and my daughter.
We love them.
I can get away with no disposable products used. While I own a menstrual cup I struggle a little with it. Childbirth left me with an anatomy that refuses to seal properly with the cup so mine leaks a little. It’s not much, but more than I’d like with panties alone. While I bought my Period Panties to be back up to the cup what I have found is that I don’t even need the cup. What’s more is they are comfortable! Bonus; that mild irritation by the end of the third day of wearing a pad or tampon – gone. Totally not a thing anymore.
My daughter is 17 and definitely uses my back up mentality during the heaviest days. I think that will change as the company I bought from just released a pair that will absorb 4 tampons worth. That’s impressive. I’m going to get her some, maybe for Christmas. Stocking stuffers anyone?
There is no magic here.
There is no magic here. Somewhere in these reusable products there is still a polyurethane lining of some kind. This will have to break down somewhere, sometime. But if I have them, take care of them and use them for the year that is estimated they will last well (maybe longer??) then in all that time, I’ve only “thrown away” one thing. Next to mine and my daughter’s skin is cotton. Nothing is inside against a mucosal membrane. There are no fragrance chemicals. Much here is satisfying, not the least of which is that there are far less moral compromises to make in the everyday management of the biological realities of this modern woman.
Full disclosure: I don’t get a kickback from the sale of any of the products mentioned here. Our world is in need of radical action. Our bodies are in need of protection from harm. This is one area where you can take both actions.
This is the official end of the overshare. Carry on, as though it happens every day.
About Gillian McCormick:
Gillian is a wife, mom and Pelvic Health Physiotherapist passionate about elevating homo-sapiens through rehabilitation, education and love. She is honoured to live, work and play in North Vancouver, BC. She is the Co-Host of Small Conversations for a Better World Podcast and an advocate for Clean Beauty. Follow Gillian @physiogillian Instagram and Facebook.