I was in the office loo, panicking. I could feel the seconds ticking by, and I knew that many minutes had passed since I got in. I wondered what my colleagues were thinking about my long absence. But I was most worried about how to pull out the menstrual cup that was stuck inside me.
I cursed myself. Why did I have to try this on a working day, of all days? Sitting ungainly, squatting in the air a few inches above the toilet, I wondered what to do next. Should I go home? But what will I do going home? Should I go straight to a gynaecologist? I remembered a scene from Sex and the City in which Carrie gets her diaphragm stuck inside and one of her friends has to pull it out (and I just got a manicure, her friend grumbles). I felt ashamed to have brought things down to this level.
You see, I’d been toying around with the idea of switching to an eco-friendly means of menstruation management for many months. I was upset with the amount of waste being generated, month on month. A colleague from postgrad days had started a company called Boondh, procuring and selling menstrual cups, and she had begun spreading awareness about it. That pushed me a little closer to the idea of buying a menstrual cup. She then joined forces with a few other similar organisations and with Feminism in India, they ran a campaign ‘The Pad Effect‘. The campaign explained that there was a gender-caste angle to the unsustainable method of sanitary waste disposal too – it was mostly women from historically disadvantaged castes who would sort the waste, often with bare hands. This tipped me over the edge.
I ordered a teal menstrual cup from Boondh. It came in a pretty cotton pouch, with instructions on how to insert and remove the cup.
So the morning of the office loo episode, I was excited; I’d got my period for the first time after buying the cup, and I spent a few minutes in the morning figuring out how to fold and insert the cup. I managed to push it in, but I could feel it inside (which, from my extensive research, I’d figured was not to happen, but what the heck – I was trying this for the first time!) To protect against leaks, I also used a panty liner and carried extra pads. I excitedly announced to my colleagues that I was officially a menstrual cup user (and by this time the cup had settled in so I couldn’t even feel it) and talked about what a wonderful concept this was. A couple of hours in, I decided to see how much the cup had filled. I knew one could keep it in for eight hours without any concern of it overflowing (for a regular flow day), but I still wanted to just see how things were.
And that’s how I found myself in the loo, unable to pull it out. At first, I tried to find the small stem at the bottom of the cup to grip it and pull it out. I found it in a few seconds, but it was lodged in so deep that I couldn’t get a strong enough grip to even begin moving it.
I wondered why I didn’t consider an easier means of sustainable menstruation management, like cloth pads or biodegradable pads. Argh! I spent a few more minutes standing up, sitting down, and trying various other things in the hope that it would slide out. You know, just come out like a baby, but without all the pain and agony and life-changing-ness.
And that’s when I remembered that I have to use a wholly different set of muscles! The little pamphlet in the Boondh bag said one has to push like they would during bowel movement.
Bowel movement! A wave of relief swept over me as I realised I had cracked the code. Tada! The cup neatly slid down the vaginal canal, and I could easily grip it and pull it out. I wanted to cry out of happiness.
I looked into the cup. It was barely a quarter full.
Sheepishly, I emptied it, washed it and pushed it back in, relieved that I know what to do now.
And that, folks, was how I became a regular menstrual cup user (except during the periods immediately following my surgeries). These days, I am able to insert the cup and forget about it for many hours, and there are very few leaks, so much so that I might stop using panty liners as a backup soon (or invest in eco-friendly versions of those too).
So in the interests of sharing with my little world what I learnt from my experience, here are a few things that I hope push you to consider adopting the menstrual cup for your menstruation management.
- Read, read and read. There are many menstruating people who share their accounts of learning to use the cup – not only in the West but many in India too. There are many tips and videos on how to insert and remove it, and how it works. Knowing that others had a similar learning curve and struggled with it in the initial days helped me enormously in staying on track and continuing to use the cup despite the initial discomfort and fear.
- Understand how your genitals work. I know several friends who are on the lookout for eco-friendly menstrual management options, but the idea of pushing something up the vagina makes them uncomfortable. We worry that it will get lost in there (and despite working in the field of sexual and reproductive health I panicked too). But note that the cup doesn’t go so far in that you can’t pull it out (it works like a tampon, but I have never used tampons so this is just hearsay!). But more importantly, the vaginal canal is probably the most interesting machine in the body – if it can push a baby out, a menstrual cup is easy-peasy!
- Don’t freak out thinking about the size of the cup vis-a-vis the size of where it goes into. The cup, made of medical grade silicone, is flexible, and will ‘pop out’ after you insert it folded.
- There is hardly any ‘mess’. The idea of sticking your fingers up when you’re bleeding, or seeing a whole lot of menstrual fluid, is discomfiting to many of us. I’m not queasy about such things, but I was also worried about how messy it would be. Honestly, it wasn’t! The cup doesn’t fill up as much as we expect, so the fluid will mostly never spill on to your hands when you pull it out. And we’re used to bloody mess ever since we started menstruating – spills on the bathroom floor, leaks, and so on… this is just another such thing! I found it really interesting to note how much I actually bleed on a day I feel my insides are melting out through my vagina… it’s honestly not much! (I’m lucky on that front and I recognise that not all of us are)
- You don’t feel it inside (once you figure out how to insert it properly). I swear. A few days ago I was practising the shoulder stand asana during yoga class when I remembered that the cup was inside. Practising yoga when I was using sanitary pads used to be a little uncomfortable, with the pad chafing against my thighs. Some say you could go swimming with the cup too! I haven’t tried yet, but I found it effortless to go running or practise yoga when using the cup.
- It’s quite easy to be prepared for a period with the cup. You’d need to sterilise it in boiling water before and after the period, so it’s easy to do that and put it in a ziploc bag or a cloth bag and whip it out when your period begins. There are many people who have shared how they have managed to use the cup even when travelling. I haven’t done that yet, but I think I can manage well with tissues and hand sanitiser even in public toilets!
So I’d really recommend menstrual cups if you’re looking for a sustainable menstrual management option and aren’t afraid of experimenting a bit with what goes inside 😉 All it takes is a couple of cycles for you to get used to managing your period with the cup. Besides the fact that it’s convenient and worry/hassle free, it makes me happy about doing my little bit to reduce waste.