Diving Right In
I don’t really know how to do anything half way; my style is just jumping in with both feet. So, let’s get taboo!
Puberty, periods, blood- oh my! Yeah, we are going there.
Dun Dun Dun…
I was ten when I started my period. I was given all the books and diagrams; and taken to a class at the local women’s and children’s hospital to talk about my body and all the miraculous changes that were about to occur with it. They had a little table set up in the back with condoms, diaphragms, dental dams, douches, packs of birth control, tampons, and pads… All extremely foreign objects to me at the time, and most of them concerning reproduction. Only two things on the table involved period health. We know them, we loathe them, we are dependent upon them. Pads and tampons.
And so it begins…
I don’t remember one thing from sitting in that class or reading those books. What I remember is getting my period for the first time while camping with my family and my mom handing me these giant front-to-back pads. Y’all know the ones. The ones that feel like wearing a diaper and make you sweat in places you didn’t know could sweat. (YIKES)
I was stuck with pads because my parents were worried I would develop TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) because a man that my father worked with had that happen to his daughter. According to the Mayo Clinic website, “Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections. Often toxic shock syndrome results from toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, but the condition may also be caused by toxins produced by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.Toxic shock syndrome has been associated primarily with the use of super absorbent tampons.” Since some products have been pulled, the incidence of TSS has declined; but we will get more into that later.
So, I was given only one option when it came to period care; giant pads. Which for me meant I felt uncomfortable for a quarter of the month, couldn’t go swimming during my period; and refused to wear a bathing suit with a pad. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you live on the coast, it can be really awkward and inconvenient. I would just have to make do until something better came along.
A step in the WRONG direction…
I was 12 years old. Mom finally said I could wear tampons after wearing pads for two years. I had my bright pink Playtex box in my hand, size slim (which they don’t even make anymore.) I opened the box, thought I heard angels sing, pulled out one of the plastic containers and the giant instruction pamphlet. Studied the pictures and read the directions and studied the pictures again. With determination in my eyes and a steadying breath I inserted the tampon.
Ok, up to this point, everything seemed to be going ok. And, as I am sure you can guess, it takes a huge turn sideways (figuratively speaking!). See, my 12-year-old brain reasoned that I could lose this tampon inside my body, so the most logical thing to do was to tape the string to my underwear so it wouldn’t get lost. So that’s what I did. I taped the string to my underwear, pulled up my pants and walked out of the bathroom confidently (about three confident steps).
I immediately realized my huge mistake! In the course of pulling my pants up, the tape stuck to my shorts, so every step I took I felt a tug on the string. By step three, the tampon was almost out, and I decided that maybe tampons just weren’t for me. (I equate pulling out a dry tampon to scratching a fork across a dinner plate. It is really uncomfortable, annoying, and for some reason the feeling lingers long after the experience is over.) I went back to the bathroom, slapped on a good-old, diaper-sized pad and didn’t pick tampons up again for a while.
What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?!?
I’m sure everyone with a period has a crazy or embarrassing story to tell. Regardless of the classes and books, my knowledge of feminine care was just dismal. That was what I had to work with.- That was what we had to work with. – And we are the lucky ones! Our mothers/grandmothers probably started out using folded towels for pads or just staying home. At the time, our mothers thought they were giving us the world when they handed us a box of Playtex. They were giving us freedom to live 1/4 more life than some of them got to. We had the freedom to go to school, live our lives, play sports (just like all those bright white commercials we see on tv).
But what they didn’t know, was that those tampons hold more than just cotton. In fact, we actually had knowledge of what goes into making something that we actually insert into our bodies! Crazy, right?! And we still don’t! According the the Food and Drug Administration, tampons and pads are not under their jurisdiction since they are not consumed. So sanitary product companies do not have to disclose what goes into their products. That bright white cotton bundle can hold bleach byproducts, asbestos fibers, and other substances you would not expect. (The Mayo clinic has, I think, four articles on tampon safety if you would like more info). What’s crazier is there are women all over the world who still don’t even have these options.
It could be worse, but we can do better!
Things like menstrual huts, periods of being “unclean” and being banned from school for the duration of the period are the realities many women and girls face around the world. Unacceptable doesn’t even begin to describe it. So up until this point, it has been a battle of “it could be worse”. Fortunately, there have been huge advances in feminine healthcare in the past few years. Female-led companies have spearheaded the research and development of safer products and options. Not only are these amazing companies developing safer products for our health and the environment, they are bringing these advances to underdeveloped countries as well. Two quotes came to mind when I was beginning to research these companies and advances. The first being “A rising tide lifts all boats,” (author unknown); and the second is a famous quote by Maya Angelou.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
That is what these amazing companies are doing: they’ve learned how to better the industry, and now they are taking initiative to improve it. And if you are reading this, you might be taking steps to do the same. So, let’s dive in, and get educated!