PREPARING FOR MY PERIOD:
1. Calender: When that my period starts I mark the five days of bleeding on my calender with an “X”, and then count 28 days from the day that my period started and write “P28” to mark the due date for my next period. My menstrual cycles are about 28 days long on average, however they vary anywhere from 25 days to 31 days long.
2. Red paper-clip reminder: Sometimes I attach a red paper-clip to my handbag a few days before my period is due to remind myself to put one of my menstrual cups in my handbag to take to work (in case my period starts when I am at work & not at home). The red paper-clip also reminds me to take the herbal supplements in the days leading up to the start of my period (see below), and to put ibuprofen and pantiliners in my handbag to take with me to work the next day (if I have run out of them at work).
3. Herbal and Vitamin Supplements (for menstrual cramps): I write the dosages/instructions on the bottles to remind myself how much to take & when to take them. (a) Niacin: I take one 100mg tablet of niacin each day for the 10 days before my period is due (when my period starts I continue to take 100mg of niacin every three hours when I have painful cramps). I’ve read studies that say you should take 200mg daily (not 100mg daily), but I get hot flushes if I take 200mg during the day – therefore I’ve decided to stick to just 100mg doses daily. It appears that niacin tablets are a particularly important method of reducing period cramps – however some of the fo llowing supplements might help to. (b) Ginger Root: I take one 550mg tablet three times a day for 2 days before my period is due, and then for the first 2 days of my period. (c) Vitamin E: I take one tablet (400iu) each day for 2 days before my period is due & then for the first 2 days of my period. (d) Magnesium: I take one 250mg tablet of magnesium for 1 day before my period is due, and then for the first 2 days of my period.
DURING MY PERIOD:
4. Yuuki Menstrual Cups: I use my soft Yuuki menstrual cups throughout my cycle. I empty it every 12 hours (or sooner if it is full), rinse it out with hot water, then reinsert it. If I have to empty my menstrual cup when I am at work I just wipe it out with toilet paper and then reinsert it. I have two Yuuki menstrual cups. The first one was purchased in 2010 and has been used every month since then, so it has become more soft/flexible over time (thanks to regular boiling/sterilization) and is also quite stained. The new cup was purchased about two months ago (May 2014) and is a bit stiffer to use (and therefore a little tricky and uncomfortable to remove) however it opens up easily when it is inside me.
5. Pantiliners: I often use pantiliners on the day or two before my period starts, because I never know when it’s going to come. After my period starts I continue to use pantiliners for the first 2 days and nights, as a back-up for my menstrual cup. If my menstrual cup leaks a bit (e.g. if it gets too full) the pantiliner will catch extra blood… hopefully! I use Libra and Carefree Pantiliners. I particularly love the Carefree Long Liners – I can’t feel them when I am wearing them, and they are big enough to catch all the leaks from every direction!
6. Black Undies: A week or so before my period is due I check to see if I have enough pairs of black undies in my drawer – if not, it’s time for a laundry wash! I wear black undies on the days leading up to my period, and during my period. In fact, black undies are great for any time of the month. I’m not sure who invented white undies… they are a woman’s worst nightmare! I like all of my stains to be hidden by dark fabric, thanks.
7. Black Cotton Shorts (for bed): I wear black cotton shorts to bed (or black leggings), under my nightie, when I have my period. My sheets are white and I very much want them to stay white. I have had the misfortune of staining previous bed-sheets with my menstrual blood (and nighties, and underwear, and couches… sorry!!). The combination of menstrual cup + black undies + pantiliner + black cotton shorts gives me a sense of security. I can fall asleep more easily & not feel anxious that I’ll wake up to stained bed-sheets in the morning! Experience has told me that (a) a blood stain is very difficult to remove from fabric, and (b) Trying to remove a blood stain from my bedsheets or nightie in the early hours of a cold winter morning – before I leave for work – is not something I want to do again!
8. Ibuprofen (for pain relief): When I have cramps I take ibuprofen every 4 hours or so. Sometimes it helps a bit, other times it doesn’t seem to help at all.
9. Naprogesic (for period pain relief): Sometimes I take this about every 4 hours or so for period cramps as an alternative to ibuprofen. It works about as well as ibuprofen does. Both naprogesic and ibuprofen are NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) therefore they cannot be taken together.
10. Hot water bottle: My hot water bottle is my best friend when I have period cramps. It gives me comfort & some relief when I have painful cramps, and it can help me get to sleep if I have cramps when I am going to bed.
11. Sunbeam Electric Heat Pad: I use this when I wake up with cramps at 3am in the morning. It’s a great alternative to a hot water bottle. I don’t have to get up, go downstairs, wait 5 minutes for the jug to boil, then hop back into bed. Instead I just need to plug this heatpack in and turn it on. It’s not as comfortable as a hot water bottle (and it doesn’t feel as safe – I have to be careful not to lie on it, and I don’t like to fall asleep while it is still on). However it gets very hot and works well to relieve menstrual cramps. It’s a bit big (I would prefer a smaller sized heat pad).
12. Toiletry Bag (for work): When I am at work I keep my pantiliners in a discrete brown “Singapore Airline Givenchy” bag in my desk drawer (passengers get given this bag on Singapore Airline flights, in addition to a complimentary toothbrush, a tiny toothpaste tube, and a pair of socks). If I walked to the bathroom carrying my pantiliners in my hand (and not hiding them) I would feel embarrassed & like I was doing something socially inappropriate – especially in a professional office workspace. So I toe the ‘menstrual taboo’ line, usually, and hide all evidence of my menstruation when I’m going to and from the women’s bathroom – as do all the other women in my office. Feminine hygiene product packagings are the opposite of discrete. They are made from feminine PINK and PURPLE colours (and they have images of flowers, gemstones, and butterflies on them). Maybe if there was a comfortable medium I would feel less embarrassed taking my pantiliners in my hand (without hiding them) and walking to the office toilets? I don’t know.
13. Disposable chemical heat pad (for period cramps): These are kind of useful for when I am at work and can’t use a hot water bottle. I wear them under my clothes. I actually bought the “shoulder pad” versions, which are the wrong shape – however they were the cheapest I could find (about $1 USD each). I stick them to the underneath side of my shirt/dress. The chemicals are activated when exposed to body heat and air, and the pads start to heat up. The heat is supposed to last for 8+ hours. Unfortunately the ones I bought didn’t get very hot at all (they only got mildly warm). NB. When I am at work I often use a hot cup of tea instead of, or as well as a disposable heat pad (resting the side of the tea-cup against my lower abdomen provides a lot of warmth/heat!)
14. Television: I like to watch TV when I have period cramps – infomercials are a great distraction if I wake up at 2am with cramps and can’t get back to sleep (I know that I will still have to go to work the next day, but at least I’m learning about the wonders of the Thin Lizzy 6-1 foundation powder or the “Snuggie” sleeved blanket!)
15. Toilets: Where would I be without them? I am constantly going to the toilet when I have my period (I seem to need to urinate every hour or so, and I also like to check on my menstrual cup and pantiliner). When I have painful cramps at work and am finding it difficult to concentrate I take a lot of toilet breaks just so that I can have a bit of privacy in the toilet cubicle and not have to think about work stuff (I don’t have to ‘look like I’m doing something important and earning my salary’ when I’m on the toilet seat). A picture of the toilet cubicle at my work is to the right (you can see the white rectangular Initial feminine hygiene unit to the side of the toilet – it has a sensor so I don’t have to open the lid manually, I just wave my hand over the sensor and the lid opens by itself).
16. Clean Running Water and Soap: I am so blessed to have access to clean running water (and to plentiful water) where I live. All I have to do is rinse out my menstrual cup under the running tap, reinsert it, and then wash my hands. With soap.
17. Rubbish Bins & Feminine Hygiene Units: If I am at work I dispose of my used pantiliners in the white rectangular Initial feminine hygiene unit in the toilet cubicles in my office (the lid lifts automatically when I place my hand over the sensor). If I’m on my lunchbreak & go to the local shopping mall I dispose of my pantiliners in the black cylinder-shaped Sanipod feminine hygiene unit (I need to manually lift the lid on that unit to use it, but it does have a cute shape). I don’t really know where my pantiliners get taken after that… probably to a landfill somewhere. If I am at home I have to be very careful about how I dispose of my pantiliners because the bin our bathroom doesn’t have a lid (I put my pantiliners in a plastic bag so that hopefully our dog won’t smell them… when she can smell them she likes to drag them around the house & tear them up!)
18. Hot Showers and Baths: I need to keep clean! And the hot water feels really good when I have painful cramps. I am fortunate to have access to a hot shower, and to privacy when I am cleaning myself. A lot of poor and/or nomadic women around the world don’t have much privacy in their lives when dealing with menstruation/toiletry, or when washing themselves. I went to India several months ago – in the slums (and on the streets) in Kolkata there were a lot of public water pumps where I saw Hindu men washing themselves, however I never saw any women washing themselves at those pumps. I’m not sure how women wash themselves in the slums. And for the women/girls that live on the streets with no roof over their heads it must be very challenging to manage menstruation, wash their clothes, and stay clean.
AFTER MY PERIOD:
14. A pot to sterilize my menstrual cup: I usually sterilize my menstrual cup by boiling it in a pot on the stove for 5 minutes. I try to do this late at night after everyone else has gone to bed, usually, for privacy’s sake, for the following reasons: (a) if my brothers see what I’m doing & ask about it, and I tell them the truth (“I’m sterilizing my menstrual cup”) I’m scared that I will blush! I blush easily. That would be very embarrassing for me. (b) I don’t want to have to explain to my brothers that the pot they use for cooking noodles is the same one I use for sterilizing my menstrual cup! I wash the pot afterwards and it’s completely clean, but still… I wouldn’t want to make my brothers uncomfortable about using the pot again. Although they probably wouldn’t care. However I can just imagine their noses crunching up in mild disgust if I told them what I was actually doing (I doubt they know what a menstrual cup is, either). All in all, I imagine a mildly awkward conversation that I don’t really want to have. So far – if any brother has walked into the kitchen while I am boiling my menstrual cup & enquired about it – I’ve just said, “I’m sterilizing something” (“What?”) “Just something”.
15. A microwavable container (e.g. a reusable coffee cup): I can sterilize my menstrual cup by putting it in a microwave-safe container (submerged in water) and microwaving it for 5 minutes. The Yuuki menstrual cup company have a green microwavable container, but I tried using that and it didn’t work (the container wasn’t big enough, the water overflowed when it bubbled, the lid didn’t stay on, and the menstrual cup was only partly submerged in water after I had finished microwaving it). Some reusable coffee cups are microwave-safe, I think I will try to use one of them next time.
16. A Washing Machine, Hot Water, and Washing Powder: At the end of my period I usually do a load of laundry so that I can clean my ‘period undies’ as soon as possible. I am privileged to have a washing machine – I can just pop the washing in, put the laundry powder in, and press a few buttons – then voila! the machine does it’s thing. After the washing machine has finished the spin cycle I hang my washing up on a clothes horse in our garage for a couple of days until it is all dry.
Sooo… that is the list of the things I use each month for my periods (there seem to be a lot of things)! When I first made this list I left some obvious ones off the list – things like toilets, clean running water, washing machines, and hot showers (and privacy to clean oneself) – these are things that I take for granted, but they are not available to many poor (or nomadic) women in other parts of the world. In the developed world most people have constant access to sanitation/cleanness, privacy, and plentiful flowing water. Women who don’t have access to things like privacy & flowing water must find it a real challenge to deal with their menstruation. I feel very privileged to have access to things like clean water, privacy, and good sanitation when dealing with my menstruation. In fact, I am very privileged to have access to most of the things on the above list – many poor women in the world today don’t have access to underwear (or they have very few pairs of underwear); don’t have access to menstrual products (e.g. to disposable sanitary pads) or else cannot afford them; and don’t have access to hot water bottles, heat pads, or pain relief medication.
What about you – what things do you use each month for your period? What things help you manage your cramps, and what things help you deal with your menstrual blood?