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How I Learned to Love My Period

Jules Fortman
by Jules Fortman about a year ago in body

How my mentality shifted once I replaced my period products with a silicone cup.

On April 26, 2006, I had a near-death experience.

Or so I thought.

It was a regular Wednesday morning. I was a regular fifth-grader in a regular town, and the sky was its regular blue; I thought this would just be another regular day. That is, until I ran to the bathroom before catching the school bus. I never made it onto the bus.

Instead, the next 30 minutes were a blur of screams, blood, and tears. Dad nervously told me to wait on the toilet until Mom got home from dropping my brother off at preschool. She burst through the door and started crying, which made me cry even harder. Then I realized she was smiling; her tears were happy tears. I became angry, and screamed. What is there to be happy about here? Are you laughing at me? Why aren’t we rushing to the ER? Mom, am I going to be okay?

As she crouched next to me and explained to me what was happening, my mind reeled. I couldn’t fathom that this would be my life here on out. One week a month. A quarter of a lifetime? Even more confusing to me were two words Mom whispered and seared into my brain:

“Be proud.”

I can vividly remember what that week was like for me. I shifted in my seat every two minutes, fighting to find a comfortable position. I took stealthy peeks in the mirror to make sure I didn’t leak through, or that my thick pad wasn’t visible. I stuffed period products up my sleeves to go to the bathroom without casting suspicion. I wore oversized sweatshirts to hide my bloating. I felt discomfort, fear, and shame.

This continued once a week for the next seven years.

It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I began to understand what my mother meant when she told me to “be proud.” My college dorm room was shared with three other young women. I remember nervously shoving super-sized tampons in a drawer, my heart sinking when one of the girls caught my eye. “Hey wait,” she said, and I winced, waiting for my face to turn red. Her comment, though, surprised me: “I use that brand too!” Our first thing in common.

Society shuns public discussion of periods, as though they are inappropriate and gross and shameful. As if they are our fault. As if they are optional. For a very long time I carried that impression with me behind closed walls. I felt uncomfortable holding period products when I was alone. Luckily for me, that dorm room became a safe haven which would eventually completely reshape my mindset. If half the population experiences this, we might as well support each other through it, right?

I finally understood what there was to “be proud” about. Be proud of your body. Be proud of its capabilities. Be proud of its strength. The headaches, the bloating, the cravings-- these symptoms used to haunt me. I now see them not as consequences of being a woman, but as evidence of my body’s resilience.

I bumped into that former roommate on campus three years later, and lamented to her about my current “period problem”-- I leaked through my first tampon, and now the second definitely wasn’t in there right. She laughed, and divulged that she hadn’t had that problem in over a year. Her dirty little secret? Menstrual cups. I pulled out my phone, and after searching the internet for my best options, I found INTIMINA, a company that not only sells menstrual cups, but who’s messaging resonated with all of the thoughts and feelings I was having as a woman. I ordered one right then and there. I haven’t looked back since.

Eighteen brought me pride, but I have the menstrual cup to thank for freedom.

My mentality shifted again once I replaced my period products and their unnecessary waste with a silicone cup. I realized then that some of what I thought were symptoms of a period-- discomfort and leaking-- were actually just symptoms of using the wrong products. The flexibility of a menstrual cup gave my life more flexibility. I could wear what I wanted without fear of showing. I could work out and stretch and even have sex (INTIMINA makes a menstrual cup specifically for this!!) when I wanted. For me, the menstrual cup was the final piece to the puzzle. Any lingering shame or stigmatization was shattered.

At twenty-four, I am now a teacher and a cheerleading coach. I keep a stash of period products for any students whose Aunt Flo visits early, and I welcome discussion without embarrassment or awkwardness. I don’t want the young women I teach to wait as long as I did for confidence and peace of mind. More importantly, I’ve shared my love of menstrual cups with my cheerleaders’ parents. Those girls who took the plunge have shared how much easier stunting and tumbling are with their new best friend. They might find my obsession to be a little bit strange, but they also think the hype surrounding menstrual cups is well-deserved.

I never thought I would love my period. In fact, I didn’t think I would survive my first one. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve learned to associate my period with power; after all, none of us would be here without periods! With stigmatization and side-effects cast aside, my period is not a problem I have to resolve, but rather is a part of my day that I simply acknowledge.

I think that open communication can reframe our society’s mentality surrounding periods. I also think that communication needs to address what symptoms we’re no longer willing to put up with for the sake of tradition. Just because “it’s always been this way” doesn’t mean it always needs to be.

While I’m definitely not ready to have kids yet, I am excited for the day that my daughter gets her first period. I’m guessing I’ll cry happy tears, too. Sorry, mom-- you were right again.

body
Jules Fortman
Jules Fortman
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