Monday, 24 June 2013

Lets talk. Period.

How do I start? Let me start from the start. As a girl steps into womanhood, life changes in many ways. For me, there were many changes that irritated me and the least of the bothers was physical discomfort. I was not allowed to play as much as before and playing with boys was severely restricted. For someone who grew up playing mostly with boys, this was a big change for me. And then, I was not prepared psychologically for this normal and healthy aspect of life!

I had only heard murmurs and whispered gossips. In 'those' days, there were even family functions held to mark the 'event'. When asked about these functions, I was told it was her 13th birthday or 14th birthday or something similar. I just couldn't understand why someone would want to suddenly invite so many friends and relatives for a birthday party! Maybe it was the beginning of women being seen as objects! Needless to say, there was a big fight on this issue. I couldn't think of calling everyone home for something so private. No amount of Dairy Milk chocolates, interesting books and pretty dresses would convince me to have a 'birthday party'. Yet, my family did some puja and invited people home. I was fighting and crying the whole day :(

For a long time, I silently suffered physical discomfort and pain - everyone has to, there is no choice! I comforted myself by saying maybe this is nature's way of preparing women for childbirth and other hardship. I even took tablets on a couple of occasions, against my principles.  I missed a major portion of my swimming classes. I missed many outings. I painfully realized I was a girl!
For getting rid of the physical pain, my mother read somewhere about a simple home remedy of eating pomegranate - and it works like magic! 

Some things changed over a period of time through exposure from various media including one of my favourite TV Shows -  Blossom (the smart protagonist was played by Mayim Bialik who has played the role of Amy in The Big Bang Theory, where she is intolerable actually). In one of the earliest episodes of Blossom, there is a reference to her first period and things are weird. Not having her mother close to her makes it even more uncomfortable. She talks to her granny and the granny says that in her youth, people were made to stay far away from home! I realized that all cultures must have evolved in the same way!

For many years, I had fights and arguments with my mother about taking a head bath at whatever odd time of the day, in the name of hygiene. What has hair got to do with menstrual hygiene? At one point, I even wanted to cut my hair real short. And then, I hated washing those soiled clothes and dry them where no one could see - as if I had created some crime. I was not allowed to do much work at home because I was not supposed to touch clothes or items in the kitchen. I was not allowed to go to temples or participate in religious activities. Not having to do household work and the religious restrictions are the only things I liked ;)
By the way, Goonj, an organization striving to address the basic need of clothing has been providing, through its ‘Not Just a Piece of Cloth’ initiative, a much needed physical product and also spreading awareness on this taboo subject.

Things have changed a lot now, however, it has its disadvantages too. Now that I have switched to reusable cloth and cloth pads, I can safely argue against the huge marketing of use-and-throw plastic napkins. In fact, in one episode of Big Bang Theory, Sheldon tries to reason to Penny as to how she could save money by buying in bulk! A better alternative would be stop using use-and-throw pads altogether and switch to either a menstrual cup or reusable cloth pads.

Well designed product in a well designed package
Menstrual cups are supposed to be very comfortable, but I have not been able to get used to them. Mounting ethical and environmental concerns made me switch to the traditional cloth. My aunt who works in an Anganwadi introduced me to bandage cloth - she was introduced to it as part of her work. The Government is actually doing good work, but we fail to acknowledge it. 

The switch wasn't smooth and easy. It took months to unlearn the bad habit of many years :(
For a few months, I gave the pads in a separate bag to the BBMP waste pickers. For a few months, I tried burning the plastic pads near my place - I knew it was wrong, but I wasn't strong enough to make the switch. I started using cloth when at home. When I went to Munsiari, I told myself - enough is enough. I do not want to spoil the beautiful Himalaya and decided to use cloth always even if it was going to be uncomfortable or clumsy.
As they say, "You cannot cross a chasm in 2 small steps." Once I made this decision, I felt free.

Water-proof travel pouch
Back in Bangalore, I was tested once. I was under stress and my dates got messed up and I wasn't prepared. I was in the heart of the city and I had to make a choice. I am glad I went to the nearest Khadi Bhandar and bought cotton hankies to serve as pads instead of buying the plastic ones at a medical store. I passed the test :)

About 8 months ago, I got introduced to Eco-Femme and their very practical and very well designed travel pouch to carry soiled pads. I wash them, dry them and reuse them.

After discovering that urine was a good fertilizer for plants, the next thing in line had to be menstrual blood. I guessed that Blood, being synonymous with life, might be good to use it for plants. Many people store umbilical cord blood for treating over 80 illnesses as it is a rich source of stem cells. So something that is capable of giving life must be naturally good for plants. Just as I was thinking along these lines, I had a conversation with Shamala and she said she had already been using the wash water for plants! So, that is exactly what I do these days. I identify the weakest plant in the garden and nourish it with water used to clean used pads.

It has been over an year since I switched to reusable cloth and pads and ever since, I am having happy, guilt-free periods.
Washed and sun dried
I want to thank 4 beautiful ladies for being my inspiration.
My aunt for providing me the option of cloth, Sejal for introducing me to menstrual cups, Meera Rajesh for introducing me to Eco Femme and Shamala for making me realize that chum water is indeed good for plants.

Here is a list of resources on this subject.

menstrupedia - a friendly guide to healthy periods
goonj - a voice, an effort
the alternative - reducing the monthly plastic
she-cup - affordable menstrual cups in India (costs Rs. 695)
Eco-Femme - option of rural (each kit consisting of 3 pads and travel pouches costs Rs.200) and international pads (starts from Rs. 215) 


parijata said...

Hey, I have been reading about menstrual cups a lot these couple of days. I feel that it might not be very comfortable, but it looks like it is very convenient. What are your thoughts on that?

Lavanya K said...

Hi Parijata. I haven't used cups. You can check with Sejal who has used and written about it.