Ending Period Shame: Starting a New Cycle

I was thirteen and still sitting on the toilet in a daze when I heard the swoosh-click-whirr of our rotary phone. I listened to my mom squeal out the news to my grandmother.

Good grief, Mom. Could you pass a girl something to mop up this blood? Grandma can wait a few minutes.

That was the last time my period was framed as a thing of wonder.

Until 13 years later when I discovered Lunapads. I dragged along two reluctant, but curious friends to the Lunapads warehouse in Vancouver. I needed to make sure it wasn’t some elaborate internet joke before placing an order.

I walked away with a starter kit and a shift in thinking. My friends, who had also been lured by the flannelly goodness, each left with their own stash.

Sure, there was something unnerving about the idea of washing a bloodied pad. But co-founder and sewing maven, Madeleine Shaw taught me there’s also something powerfully sacred involved. Having to deal intimately with my own blood forced me to tune in to my body. To consider and appreciate its parts and systems.

Using disposable products all those years allowed me to maintain a harmful disconnect. It perpetuated shame and embarrassment.

A few years after I started using cloth pads, I placed a second order and it came with information pamphlets. I mustered the courage to leave the pamphlets in the staff washroom of the school where I worked. I also sent out an email inviting interested staff to inspect my new, never-used products.

After school, I passed a group in the hall chatting about their disgust with reusable sanitary items. I think I embarrassed them when I stopped to say, “Hey, I can totally understand how you’d feel that way, but it’s actually pretty cool and empowering!” One woman couldn’t believe I had sent the email to all staff—male and female. “This isn’t something men should have to think about!”

I lacked the ovaries to stand up for myself and shuffled back to my room. I was in the middle of an “It’s okay! You’re okay! You’re not disgusting!” self-peptalk, when a colleague in her early fifties entered my classroom in tears, holding one of the pamphlets. She squeezed me hard and thanked me for sharing the information.

She told me her periods had been a source of discomfort and pain since she was young. She said the Lunapads were going to change her life. I danced a little jig and pulled out the Luna stash from my desk for her to oogle.

While I was frustrated with the women who shamed me, I was also thankful to be in a place where I no longer believed my period was gross and something to spare the world from.

Last week I celebrated twelve years of reusable period products by stocking up with my third round of goodies. This time I brought them home to share with my ten-year-old daughter. I invited her into my bedroom and spread out my products on the bed. I placed each one in her hand as I explained its purpose. We talked about the arrival of Emma’s first period and what she can expect.

“When it happens, we’ll make a trip to Lunapads and I’ll introduce you to Madeleine and Suzanne, the women who changed how I feel about having a period.”

“Mom, it’s kinda gross when you leave your pads soaking in the sink.”

“Sure, fair enough. But you and dad are safe and besides, what’s a little blood to the family that farts together? If you think about it, it’s a pretty cool thing my body is doing. It doesn’t have to be gross.

But you know what I love most about Lunapads and the DivaCup, Emma? It’s been twelve years since I’ve created any waste. Before I found out about Lunapads, I threw away multiple pads and tampons every day for a week a month. It’s a good feeling to do something great for my body and the earth.

Some day you’ll have a bloody pad of your own to wash in the sink!”

Isn’t the exact period conversation I imagined someday having with my daughter, but I think it’s a great start to a healthy body image.

I’m not going to tell you I feel particularly in love with my period or celebrate its arrival each month. But I love that Lunapads sparked a desire to talk more openly and create spaces for others to do the same. To stop feeling shame and embarrassment. To teach my daughter that her body is beautiful and complex.

“The best thing you can do for your vagina is to stop using conventional feminine hygiene products. Tampons and pads are full of perfumes, chemicals and materials that can cause internal abrasions as well as irritate your vagina. The non-absorbent, healthcare grade silicone of The DivaCup is reusable and leaves no trace or residue after use. Plus it’s comfortable and when inserted properly does not leak.”

I alternate my Lunapads with the DivaCup. What the DivaCup website says above is true for cloth pads: they’re safe, reusable and comfy.

People! Listen up—those disposable products are bad news bears. Make the switch. Your body will thank you.

If you’re still not convinced, Period Talk is a great resource for “Questions and answers for those seeking better periods!”

shannon-croppedShannon has written on the web since 1998 when you could make a grilled cheese sandwich before your page loaded. At Truthfully she writes about vulnerability, courage and mental health. At Data With a Soul she has the entire web on a spreadsheet. Before content strategy, Shannon spent nine years teaching small humans.

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  • Shawna

    Hats off Shannon, thank you for sharing this. I have a diva cup but have never heard of the lunapads, you’ve inspired me to look into it. I love how you make me think about the sacred angle of it. Entering womanhood should be empowering. It is very ‘red tent’ of you.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Hey, thanks Shawna. I highly recommend looking into Lunapads. Let me know what you decide or if you wanna talk about it more!

      • How does the past last do you have to change the same amount of times like you would with regular pads?

        • LunapadsCS

          Hi Nickia! On average, you should only have to change your insert about as often as you change a disposable pad. This can vary from person-to-person, though, as all bodies and flows are different. You should definitely read through our Tips and Advice section to find out what types of products we offer, how they work, and how to choose the ones that work best for you: http://lunapads.com/tips-and-advice

  • Thank you for this! I don’t really understand the idea of periods being shameful. The day mine first arrived, my mother asked me if I was sure I just wasn’t wiping well enough. Can you imagine the *embarrassment* at 12 being asked a question like that? My parents then acted like it was a thing of horrible inconvenience to them, as if my sisters and I had our periods on purpose to make them spend money on pads. (We weren’t allowed to use tampons until we reached 16. I’m not sure what magically changes at 16, but whatever.)

    A few years ago, I ran across Lunapads and the idea of reusable menstrual cups. At first I thought, “Eww…No.” Then I thought, “Well, this may actually be interesting.” Finally, my husband and I agreed that they were worth a shot. Better value? Possibly better for my health? Better for the environment? Sure, let’s try it. I was hooked immediately. Many of my very hard period symptoms vanished. I realized all this time, my extremely difficult periods were a result of my reaction to the harsh chemicals in pads and tampons. I will never go back.

    • Shannon Fisher

      I don’t understand why your mom didn’t understand your period? Man, that’s rough. I wanna hug you!

      I love that you got your husband in on the decision/conversation. Dudes who are willing to talk about this stuff are the bomb.

      • Yeah, I don’t quite get it either. Their attitudes about bodies was weird. Even though my husband and I only have sons, we try to be a bit more body-positive.

        And my husband is pretty awesome. We’re very open with each other and recognize there is no need to be ashamed of things that are not shameful.

  • Tarnished

    I never understood the shame – I felt pride that I was the first of my friends to reach menarche, but past that I accepted it in a very matter-of-fact way and not a reason to be embarrassed.

    First hearing about menstrual cups I didn’t respond with ‘ew’ and found it really confusing why other women did – upon discovering cups my life changed as not only was I now able to leave the house with my super-heavy flow and not stuck with constant infections…but the thought occurred to me ‘If I didn’t know about this, what else don’t I know about?’. That thought lead me to study sexual health, and in turn helped me overcome a history of childhood and teen sexual abuse.

    When I switched products I also came into the menstrual activism community and my period switched from matter-of-fact to ‘YEY!’. Now I see time and time again in other women when they rid themselves of that shame they come to feel more comfortable with their periods, and even LOVE their periods. Get rid of the shame and you have a far easier time of things.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Wow! This is a powerful story. I’d love to hear more about it.

  • Ashley

    I haven’t had a period regularly since having my daughters, but it started yesterday at work. I teach music to mom’s and babies, and had nothing with me as it was unexpected. I was embarrassed to have to ask for something, and was mortified when I was handed a tampon.
    So I sat on the toilet with this thing in my hand, wondering if I remembered how to use it, thoroughly disgusted with it and with myself. I could feel it inside until I got home, and the first thing I did was take it out. GROSS.
    Hate tampons.
    Love lunapads.

    • Shannon Fisher

      Have you tried the DivaCup? It’s also fabulous. And yes–yay for Lunapads!

      I have a funny first-time tampon story.

  • Pamlet

    What a wonderful post, Shannon! I won’t have to have that conversation with my boys anytime soon, but hopefully their future gfs & wives will informed, empowered & proud users of Lunapads!

    • Shannon Fisher

      Oooh, but you could teach them how to talk to women about their periods. How to be cool about it!

  • Ivory

    Awesome story, thanks! For the soaking you might look into getting one of those metal trash cans with the plastic pail inside. I fill the bucket with water and put the whole thing under my side of the sink so that it doesn’t gross out those lacking a uterus in the house :-)

  • K84Katzen

    Early on, I used to soak my used Lunapads, but for the past couple of years, I’ve just been rinsing them out in cold water. Afterwards, I wring them out, and then hang / drape them around the top of a red mesh laundry bag (which I ordered from Lunapads website a few years back) that I hang on the back of the bathroom door. If company comes over, I’ll make sure none are peeking out. ; )

  • HansenCourtney

    I would love to be this open about the period subject, I am dreading the convo with my daughters! I would love to try lunapads but dont have the expensives :(

    • Anna BerrieBlu

      check out a local health food store…many carry cloth pads. then you could buy one or two to try.

      i’m also broke. so i’ve bought a few pads at a time and gradually moved away from disposables. or, if you’re interested in a cup, check out ebay. i bought one there for about $12.

      if you have a sewing machine, and passed jr high home ec, you could sew yourself a couple pads. i’ve made some – although, if you’re a heavy bleeder, i can’t recommend the “waterproof” diaper fabric that joanns carries. fleece may be a better, although bulkier, option. if you don’t have a heavy flow, it would probably be fine.

    • Valerie Finnigan

      Lunapads are actually not as expensive as disposable pads and tampons in the long term. They end up paying for themselves. As for my daughter, she has the (at times, dubious) fortune of having a health care professional for a mother. So she got dispassionate, accurate,and objective clinical information on what to expect. (Okay, so not entirely dispassionate, as I took her school to task for presenting puberty and menstruation as something “gross” and embarrassing.) Then we had fun shopping online for her own products, with her picking out fabrics and such, so she was stocked up and well prepared when her day came.

      • Lisa

        You rock, Valerie.