I've been menstruating for almost 30 years now. I got my first period at my cousin Rachel's wedding in August 1987. I was really excited for the big day because Rachel was my oldest, fanciest, prettiest cousin, and she was marrying like, the cutest guy I'd ever seen. They were so beautiful, and I got a special outfit for the big day: a mint green and black heathered matching sweater and sweater skirt set and a big floppy black felt hat. It was going to be so amazing.
Fast forward to the big day and the unthinkable happened—I had blood in my underwear. God, the shame. I couldn't tell anybody. It was bad enough I was getting close to bra territory, a garment I only started wearing after the gym teacher called my mom and told her I should be wearing one. (Female-bodied people learn early and often that our bodies are problems for other people.) Even worse, every person in this enormous Catholic family was there—all twelve of my mom's brothers and sisters. The idea that the zillion people gathered for this affair would know my vagina was bleeding was simply intolerable.
So I did what 12-year-olds with their periods have long done: I wadded up some toilet paper, shoved it in my underwear, and squeezed my legs closed for the next few days, praying to a god my mom and dad had already taught me not to believe in to keep the blood in my pants and off the back of my skirt.
The next 30 years have been punctuated by periods at 29-31 days intervals, and I remember only a tiny fraction of these 360-plus bleeding sessions. There was the period that started in my 8th grade social studies class. I peeked between my knees, saw the dot spreading under my skirt, and had to back out of the room, sliding across the wall to the bathroom to try and figure out a way to hide it. Or the one where I wore a big ol' pad to the pool only to see it floating away from me as I played in the deep end. Jesus.
I'd pretty much mastered keeping the blood under wraps by high school, and the next 20 years were just box after box of tampons. I was a Tampax girl since that's what my mom used, but I briefly sampled Playtex because I heard they opened like a flower, and then grad school budgets pushed me to generics, where I stayed until I discovered the Instead Softcup. My sister told me about them, disposable latex rings with a little baggie attached that you folded, shoved into your vagina, and emptied a few times a day. The box said to change them twice a day but I used one per cycle to save money and plastic; when I worried about what germs I might be leaving in my vagina all day I remembered all the other stuff people stick up there and was like, fuck it, it's fine.
But I was still throwing away plastic every month. Everything changed three months ago when my twin sister told me about her Lena cup. She's a marathoner, and this is apparently a very popular menstrual solution for athletes. I ride my bike to a bus to get to work, so I figured it might be right for me. I ponied up the $25 and waited impatiently for the last week in February to try it out. What if that was the last $25 I ever spent on my period, the last thing tossed in a landfill in the name of hiding blood?
And it is. I'm three months in, three cycles of trying to figure out how to get this silicone cup up my vagina and around my cervix and back out again. Almost 30 years after the first time and I'm on the best vagina field trip of my life, and I'll never go back. This thing is, as the kids say, the tits.
I was really nervous the first time up, so nervous that my ladyfriend made me a motivational poster and hung it on the bathroom mirror to inspire me. I got the thing in there pretty easily, but then I wanted to take it out, just to make sure I could.
I couldn't. There's this little "tail" on the end of the thing that you aren't supposed to pull, but there I was, squatting over the toilet, fingers shoved up my cooch, pulling on that thing as my heart rate soared and I yelled "I CAN'T GET THIS THING OUT" and started crying before squatting on the bathroom floor and finally pushing/tearing the thing out as blood spurt all over the bathroom. Turns out the thing works with the power of suction, and pulling on it makes it harder to pull it out.
So I did what every self-respecting 40-something does when she's got something stuck in her vagina: I asked Facebook what to do. And I got a lot of answers. It turns out many, many people with vaginas have moved to these reusable cups. Greta said to pinch it, my sister said to pinch it, and the chorus cried out: PINCH IT. So I pinched it, and out it came.
When three months later I suddenly couldn't get it in quite right, it was another flood of great advice: Daniel said to work on my kegels, Fae and Mej said to twist it, Victoria said to drop it, Amber said to pull it out a bit and then push it back in, Mo said to just cut the tail off altogether, and Elizabeth said to trim it. Three months later and I know so much more about how my vagina feels and where stuff is, I'm having actually useful conversations about menstruation for the first time, and I can take it out and put it back in with one hand while talking on the phone. Now this, this is the feminism I needed back in 1987. Oh, and if you menstruate, get one of these cups. Steep learning curve, but so worth it.