Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Keep an Open Mind and an Open Wallet

I am not a shopper. If I could afford a personal shopper, I would have one. It is just too irritating to wander store to store and haul several different sizes back to the dressing room with you (because if you only shop once every 2-3 years like I do, clothing manufacturers can change “size” dimensions on you and it is not reliable to just pick the same size number that you have in your closet). And that’s just clothes. Then there are the hundreds of other items you need: groceries, tools, jam jars, towels, a bike helmet, etc.

And THEN there are “personal” items. I mean men-strew-AY-shun (as our middle school nurse pronounced it) supplies. My personal favorite solution has been to order in bulk from Gaiam. Except that a few years ago they stopped carrying their unbleached pads. Between having a baby and having about 5 boxes already stocked up, it has taken until now for this type of shopping to become an issue.

(Incidentally, I believe it was the unbleached pads that led to my older son’s birth being treated as a “mec birth.” When I got to the hospital late in transition, the triage nurse asked what color the amniotic fluid was. I was, as I said, late in transition, and not in the mood to explain that “well it was hard to tell because I’d also urinated at the time it broke so the toilet paper didn’t reveal much and then I had on dark undies and by the time I thought to put a pad in I wasn’t in the mood to discern the color” so I grunted: “Check the pad.” Which was still attached to my undies lying in a corner of the triage room. She said “oh – it’s a little yellow.” And so Avery was born with a pediatric team in place and whisked off to the cart to have his breathing (despite his loud, lusty wails) assessed. When I got home I realized that even tap water will appear yellow when poured on unbleached fibers. But that’s water under the bridge, so to speak)

In my mind a suitable menstruation product should meet several criteria:

1. Avoid waste.
Think of all the time that goes into making and individually sealing a pad or tampon that gets used for a few hours and then thrown away. Reuse is always an important consideration.

2. Promote the body’s natural processes.
Toxic shock syndrome had largely faded from the spotlight by the time I was an adolescent. Nonetheless, something has always seemed wrong about stuffing a fibrous mass in the vagina to absorb (and in effect block) the flow of blood. I guess tampons have been around in one form or another since the beginning of civilization. And women seem to use them without ill effect. But, okay, they’re just not for me. That includes sea sponges.

3. Avoid chemical exposure. Manufacturers claim to have removed the elements of the bleaching process that produced dioxin. But I’m not enough of a chemist to know whether I should trust that and whether anything that uses a chlorine bleaching process is safe to put in or around one’s vagina.

4. All the usual concerns
Coverage. Portability. Discreetness (especially with two young boys in the house, one of whom equates any blood to serious injury and harm). Comfort.

So what am I left with? The best options seem to be reusable pads or a menstrual cup.

But, honestly, both put me slightly outside my comfort zone. In fact, my former neighbor and I had a discussion about this very topic four or five years ago. We agreed that it made sense and yet we were uneasy at the thought of the storage, cleaning and care of these products. And she had home births and I was a midwife wannabe.

Which is further evidence to me of how out of touch we women (Western Women? American Women? Middle-Class White American Women?) are with our bodies. What cultural messages have we received that make it perfectly acceptable – barely noticeable, really – to put bleached cotton in our vaginas starting at age 13 but leave us unwilling to use a little rubber cup? Or make the use of a disposable pad fine, but not so for a cloth one that we’d have to clean.

Is it the difference of having a white tube for tampon insertion and a pull string for removal versus possibly having to touch ourselves inside and out? Is it an issue of being able to minimize our bloodiness by throwing out the evidence instead of confronting it?

I’m guessing feminists have already written on this (something to dig around for another day), but an argument could easily be made that the mainstream menstruation products make it easy to ignore (that’s the generous description; a militant would say “are designed to rob us of ”) this amazing and significant symbol of our femininity.


Blogger Julie said...

Here's an update from the former neighbor. After I switched from disposable to home-laundered cloth diapers, the idea of cloth menstrual pads and the cup became more appealing (or should I say, less unappealing). I experimented with both The Keeper and Glad Rags.

The Keeper was a total dud. It was extremely uncomfortable and it leaked constantly. And the thing itself is nasty: it's this stiff, brown rubber thing that looks like a plumbing fixture. But I will confess that I got a thrill out of "confronting my bloodiness." It really is amazing & powerful to see this little cup filled with your own menstrual blood. So maybe it wasn't a total dud after all.

I had somewhat better success with Glad Rags. They are comfortable and easy to use and wash. The problem is, they don't seem to absorb as quickly as disposable pads, and often I find myself either walking very gingerly, or racing to the bathroom.

So now I vacillate between the Rags and tampons, and when I get disgusted by one, I switch to the other, usually every other day. I wish there was a better solution.

10:50 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

Former Neighbor: Thank you for the update! I'd wondered if you'd ever gotten braver than I. And I appreciate the consumer review of the products. Interestingly, I got an e-mail from someone else who uses GladRags, so perhaps I'M in the minority here on the discomfort scale.

I think the obvious answer to your dilemma is to invent a better solution. You could create the next big thing (and I would buy it, especially if I wouldn't have to GO anywhere to do so).

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know I'm late but I just found your blog and love it. Anyhow, Luna pads absorb better than Glad Rags :) You can find them on-line (no shopping!)
I do prefer Glad Rags cause they are not as bulky. And no I don't work for either company.

Keep up with the cool blog.

2:21 AM  
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