People who are comfortable talking about periods, read on. People who are feeling icky, pukey, sickly and so on, build yourself a time machine and go back to the last century. We’re talking about the menstrual cup in graphic detail. It’s a silicone cup that you insert inside the vagina during your period. The cup collects the blood and you empty it out every few hours. After the internet, I don’t think any invention has touched my life so much.
I knew about the menstrual cup at least six years ago but I kind of blotted it out of my mind. The idea of inserting a foreign body into my vagina did not appeal to me at all. I wasn’t Miss Steele from Fifty Shades of Grey, I told myself. It sounded painful and unnecessary. There were somewhat efficient pads that were available in the market. Much more comfortable than the bulky diaper-like ones we wore as schoolgirls. Though I’ve never managed to wear pure white pants and leap into a train while on my period, I was a satisfied customer of sanitary napkins. So I ignored all the articles that came out in praise of the menstrual cup and stuck to buying my packet of touch-the-pickkall every month.
Over time, the menstrual cup became increasingly popular. Sane women I knew claimed that the cup was the best thing that had happened to them. People claim that about all kinds of things - green tea, laughter therapy, Patanjali products – so I wasn’t that sold. However, I started feeling competitive. I’m mental like that. If so many women were brave enough to stuff a silicone cup into their vagina, why not me? The menstrual cup, in my mind, attained the same status that bungee jumping had had in my teen years.
A couple of friends and I decided to give it a try. I bought mine off the net for Rs.750. That might sound expensive but if it worked, I wouldn’t have to buy sanitary napkins for eight to ten years! I opened the package with great expectations. It was a small, innocuous looking thing and I wanted to try it immediately. One of my friends had also received it and we decided to try it on in the same afternoon in our respective homes. See, this is why girlfriends are important. They’ll be game to give you company for all kinds of things – from radical haircuts to stuffing things into your vagina.
I thought it would be good to practise and become comfortable with handling the cup till the time my next period began. My schooling had taught me that if I did the same trigonometry problem a million times, I’d get it right in the exam.
It’s much easier to insert the menstrual cup when you are on your period because there’s sufficient lubrication in the vagina, as I found out later. When I first tried to insert the cup, I had this sudden paralyzing fear. It brought back memories of childbirth and the extreme pain that I’d suffered during my internal exams all through my 26-hour long labour. I was terrified that this was going to hurt as much.
The cup has to be folded correctly and then inserted into the vagina with a swift and steady movement. But I was too anxious. I fumbled, I let it fall, I hoped that a powerful suction from the vagina would suddenly pull it in. I was in tears. I wanted to chuck the damned thing into the dustbin. Then, by sheer dumb luck, the cup went in. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t even feel it inside my body!
Then of course, I had to pull it out and I somehow managed to do that though it h.u.r.t. In the meantime, my friend reported that she hadn’t managed to get the cup in. And that she felt sore and chaffed and would basically like to kill someone even if it was a very cute bunny. Her mother, apparently, wanted to do an archanai for her in the temple because she was convinced that my friend had lost it! We consoled each other and decided that it should be easier when we had our period.
It wasn’t. This time, I managed to insert the cup squatting on the floor of the toilet, with my daughter banging on the door, demanding that she be allowed inside. I could barely think and the cup went in without too much of a problem. But getting it out was a nightmare. I just couldn’t find it! I imagined that it had gone up so far in my vagina that it was going to emerge out of my nose. I panicked. I had visions of walking into my gynec’s clinic, shame-faced. I forced myself to calm down and began feeling the walls of the vagina cautiously. Ah, it was still there, firmly lodged. I took a deep breath and pulled it out. It hurt like hell and I decided that I was going back to using pads. This was simply not worth it.
So the menstrual cup was relegated to a corner in my wardrobe. It lay among all the things that I did not want but had spent too much money to buy. But remember, I’m a competitive person. My brother got into IIT. How could I fail the menstrual cup test? After a few cycles had passed, I felt reasonably recovered from my cup trauma to give it a shot again.
This time, I was calm. I was turning thirty in a few weeks and I was feeling worldly-wise. I followed the instructions that had come with the cup and it was no problem at all. I wondered why on earth I’d made such a mess of it the last time around. I knew the answer, of course. It was the phobia that so many of us, especially women, have about getting to know our own bodies. The revulsion towards menstrual fluid that permeates our brains even if we may have modern views about menstruation itself.
Since then, I’ve never bought a pack of sanitary pads. The cup feels like a part of my body. I’ve done intense exercise, travelled, slept, and lived life a lot more comfortably when I’m on my period than ever before. And it’s not just me. When I asked around in an online forum about how the cup had changed their lives, the stories came pouring in. One woman told me that she had waded through the Chennai floods while wearing her cup and couldn’t imagine what she would have done if she’d been using sanitary pads!
The common thread in all these stories was how easy it was for us to forget that we were on our period. Something unimaginable when we were using sanitary pads. The menstrual cup retains the blood inside your body, so the fluid does not stink. You hardly ever stain your underwear. It has completely changed how we approach our period and what we do on those days. And ooh, some of these women even had help from their partners who manned up and helped them in inserting/removing the cup when they had starting trouble!
Every woman I know who is a menstrual cup user is frantically trying to convert others around her. Don’t worry, sisters, we are not from Tupperware. Neither are we insidiously selling insurance policies. We aren’t getting paid to do this promotion. We just want you to discover the cup for a sole reason: it’s freakin’ amazing.