If you read the first of my Changing My Life series, you’ll know that I’m using this subset of posts to discuss the steps I want/need to undertake or AM undertaking to better align my current self with my ideal self. These are personal, but I’m making them public because I’m interested in getting people talking and hearing new ideas on how to approach the issues at hand. In the case of this post, I’m interested in helping by expanding the conversation on a topic that has recently started to really intrigue me. Just a warning – this post contains quite a bit of language related to women’s health and feminine hygiene, so if you’re squeamish or inclined to find such topics indelicate or in some way insulting, please stop reading here.
Growing up, I missed the “birds & bees” conversation. My mom says that when I was a kid, I saw two cats having sex and asked her about it. She says that she explained it to me, but at the time I had this unfortunate habit of asking a question than immediately moving on to the next subject and ignoring the answer. Sounds about right. However, I know that she didn’t actually sit me down and talk to me about it in any serious way, because I remember lots of small, serious moments from my childhood, so this must not have been touched on with much insistance.
Either as a result of that lack of weight, or maybe just because I am who I am, I was never that inquisitive about my own body as a kid. As a grownup, I’ve talked to my girlfriends about how they discovered their sexuality, and almost everyone I know went poking around and exploring their bodies at a pretty young age. I didn’t. I just wasn’t interested. In a small example, I’d seen tampon commercials for years and had a vague understanding of what they were used for, but didn’t end up asking my mom what they were for until around 6th grade. When she explained where they went, I didn’t know what she was talking about. I’d just never figured out that there was anything down there. I know this sounds incredibly odd to many of you, but it’s just how it happened. I was an incredibly late bloomer in every step of my journey to become a woman.
So how did I avoid finding out about all of this stuff at school, you ask? I attended a private religious school from kindergarten through 6th grade, then transferred to public school. The kids in public school had a sex ed component to their health class in either 5th or 6th grade. We didn’t have one in private school. The closest thing I got was a full semester of HIV/AIDS awareness training in health class in 8th grade, which covered some of the basics of sex, but not enough to really catch me up on mechanics – especially of the female body.
In high school, we did have one class period that was all about sex and the female body, but they assumed that we had familiarity with our own bodies. Thus for me it was really confusing, and I was too ashamed to raise my hand and ask questions, since everyone else seemed to know what the teacher was talking about. In retrospect, I should have asked – they were probably just as mystified about most of it as I was. But I didn’t, and so I remained rather in the dark about a lot of things. I knew enough to keep me from getting pregnant – don’t have sex. They had told us about condoms and pills, but I knew that my parents would never let me get on birth control, and that girls were getting knocked up all around me using condoms, so it just seemed like a stupid idea to even chance it. Looking back, I’m SO HAPPY to have made that choice. I wasn’t emotionally stable enough in high school to deal with sex on top of romance. Life was hard enough – that would have put me over the edge.
So here I am at 31, having read up on all manner of sex & anatomy topics via the internet. I’m always brushing up on some “girl” topic, from libido issues & hormone regulation to body consciousness and girl power. Although I’m not even close to ready to have kids, I’ve been reading about pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing for years now. I like to be prepared (ha! like that can ever really happen). But recently, while reading an issue of either Spirituality & Health Magazine or Experience Life Magazine (I can’t remember which right now and can’t find it online), I ran across an interview with Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of the popular book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom.
As I read Dr. Northrup’s tips on understanding and taking ownership of our femininity, it struck me that even after all of my reading, I’m not as advanced as I’d thought. I’ve still been thinking of the signs of my womanhood as something to be endured, or even fixed, rather than things to be celebrated. This is a serious issue. Why can’t we love ourselves? Why are we taught that it’s somehow shameful to admit to being tired or weak on our periods? Why is medicine the first thing a doctor recommends when you mention “birth control” or “cramping” or “irregular cycle?” What are my other options? Why didn’t anyone tell me?
I take birth control pills to regulate my period and not get pregnant. I hate them, and I’ve hated them from the beginning. They make my stomach churn, and I always forget to take them on time. Worse, within a few months after starting the pill in 1999, I gained almost 20 pounds. Diet and exercise as I might, I’ve never taken that weight off, except for five months a few years ago when I went off the pill and dropped 15 pounds within a couple of weeks. Somehow, through all these years, I’ve just ignored the fact that hormones could be to blame, and ascribed the extra weight to other factors in my life. Maybe subconsciously it’s made more sense, since until a few weeks ago I didn’t think there was any way to go off of the pill, and what’s the use of realizing there’s no hope?
Up until this week, I used tampons when my period came around. The story about the (unplanned) change is here if you care. Tampons can cause TSS, toxic shock syndrome, which kills. On top of that, they’re expensive and such a waste of materials! If I’m throwing away 14 tampons, applicators, and wrappers over the course of my cycle, that means that over my lifetime I’ll throw away over 5,712 tampons, applicators and wrappers, based on 34 years of an active period. However, considering my family history, I might not hit menopause until my mid-50s, which puts me at 7,056 tampons, applicators and wrappers in the landfill for me, alone. Recently I heard about the menstrual cup, a device marketed in various shapes, colors and materials by at least 22 different companies around the world. According to Wikipedia, the menstrual cup has been around since 1932. It’s over 80 years later, and my local drugstore just started carrying a disposable version that is nowhere near as useful or convenient (given reviews) as the real thing. 80 YEARS. Are we just now hearing about it because we’re just now daring to really start talking to each other about subjects that used to be considered “shameful” and “taboo”?
I’m so disappointed with the way the world works right now, and I’m not going to take it any longer. Starting with my body, since it’s the one I’m in control of, I’m going to explore my options for living a less wasteful life, both physically and emotionally. I’m going to stop forcing my period to work under strict guidelines for time, length, and frequency (at least with hormones). I’m going to stop spending money on bleached cotton plugs that hurt the world and could even kill me. I’m going to talk about things that traditionally have made me ashamed or squeamish. Sure, I’ll put a warning at the top of these risque blog posts just to make other people comfortable, but I hope that if you’ve read this far, you’re similarly interested in adjusting your mindset to not be discomfited by such universally-experienced topics.
So what, concretely, am I doing to make changes in my life?
1) Reading up on menstrual cups, how they’re used, how to pick one, and what other people think about the experience. If you’re interested, I’d advise you to start at this incredibly thorough Menstrual Cup Forum on Livejournal. If you scroll down and look at the topics on the left, you’ll see all of the types of menstrual cups that people are using and sharing info on.
2) Purchasing my first menstrual cup. After reading tons of reviews, I decided to try the SckoonCup. They’re supposedly soft, but are also known for how they’re made – in one piece, instead of two – meaning that they don’t have seams on the outside, a comfort issue that worried me with other brands. Additionally, they come in fun colors. Other brands come in tons of colors, too, including the Meluna brand out of Canada, which has a sparkly cup that reminds me of my favorite Barbie shoes when I was little – so pretty! Not sure if it’s useful, but whatevs 🙂
3) Reading up on natural birth control, how to go off of the pill, and what to do next. I just purchased a book that I’ve heard is indispensible, called Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control. I’ve also purchased a copy of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. Even though it seems to be marketed more to the menopausal crowd, I don’t want to wait for 20 years to start loving my inner girl. I want to get a handle on this and work through whatever issues I have lurking around that make me feel less powerful. Time to celebrate being me!
4) Saving up to buy a fertility computer like the Lady-Comp. Fertility computers are widely used in Europe, and gaining more traction here. Basically, it’s a small device that you keep at your bedside to take your temperature every single morning. The computer takes and stores readings and helps chart where you are in your cycle, pinpointing when you’re most at risk of pregnancy. The Lady-Comp has been clinically tested and passes with a 99.3% accuracy rate. This accuracy rate is even higher when you add in the additional measures of monitoring cervical mucus and using condoms during ovulation. According to this really cool chart on Wikipedia, symptoms-based fertility awareness has a 1.8% failure rate under normal circumstances, while the failure rate under same circumstances for oral contraceptives is 8%.
5) Having the conversation about #3 and #4 with The Man. To me this is the most difficult of all the steps. It should probably be the easiest, but I’m scared to sit down and explain this stuff to him. It’s hard enough for me to read through and trust, and it’s MY body. It’s actually kind of ironic, but as a non-practicing Catholic, he has a healthy skepticism for any kind of “family planning” techniques. I’m going to have to have all of my charts, graphs, and other information at the ready, and even then we’re probably going to have some major bumps in the road as a result of the change in program, especially as my body readjusts after almost 15 years on oral contraceptives. But it is what it is. All I can do is wade in and hope for the support I’m owed.
So that’s where I’m at with all of this. Anybody else wanna chime in?