Print Edition - 2017-03-04  |  On Saturday

My cup of blood

  • It is as important to spread period positivity as it is to lobby for better menstrual hygiene products and practices for all girls and women
- Richa Bhattarai
For now we can at least spread period positivity—by making sure that no little girl grows up thinking periods are anything else than a normal bodily function, one that will one day make her a mother if she wants

Mar 4, 2017-No,” I thought to myself the first time I read about a menstrual cup. This must have been nearly three years ago, when I was on one of my surfing sprees to discover newer and better menstrual products.

I often think of myself as Yann Martel’s Pi—I am as much a hoarder as he is. The only difference being that he hoards food, and I hoard all the menstrual products I can lay my hands on. For both of us, the insecurity probably stems from adolescence. Pi has lived through near-starvation, and that anxiety leads him to cram food into cupboards and under bedsheets even as an adult. I have lived through dearth, too, specially that one time when I was almost locked up in a single room because I was menstruating during a ritual. There was no one to bring me sanitary products, and all I did was turn one red piece of cloth this way and that, until it chafed my thighs and scratched me in its stiffness. Years have passed since that pain, but I will perhaps never forget the shame, humiliation and helplessness I felt. Never again, I consoled my weeping heart, will I let you face this deprivation. 

So, this stasher was planning a hike, and wanted something better than the softest and most absorbent. I trawled through sea sponge and GladRags until I came upon a mention of a woman who talked about a cup. Now this had me intrigued. I went back to her blog and read all about the miracle product that would sit inside you and collect the blood as it dripped out of you, and all you had to do was tip it over once every twelve hours or so. What? I thought to myself. This sounds insane, almost like  futuristic—even the picture is just a transparent, upturned wine cup. Is it even hygienic? I couldn’t work out the basic mechanism of the whole thing. The cup user went on to praise the apparatus, saying it had changed her whole life. “Well, it certainly isn’t going to change mine,” I promised myself, because I hated the very idea of something so intrusive inside my vagina. I have never tried tampons for the same reason, and the mention of IUDs scares me too. Cups were out, out, out. 

But then I just couldn’t get the cup out of my life. Its reviews popped up everywhere, most of them calling it one glorious and fantastic product. I read of more improved and pliable and supple pieces, of women who would never look at another pad in their life. And most of all, the idea of greening the period, of making it more environment friendly, appealed to me. But still, when a friend generously got me a cup from abroad, I wasn’t ready. I actually refused to accept it in the first place, explaining that it would probably go to waste in my drawer. 

The next month, I hesitantly inserted it in myself. It took five tries to get it in, and I won’t lie, it was a hellish affair. I sweated and retched and almost gave up before working it out. Taking it out was another nightmare, I would actually be exhausted by the time I pulled it out, and vow never to repeat the process. The learning curve was very, very difficult. But then it gradually grew on me, and now I cannot do without my cup. It is my constant friend as I hike and trek, as I exercise and sleep. We are still not the best of friends, but I value the freedom one little thing has given me. And as someone once said, “You do not use a menstrual cup and keep quiet about it.” You shout it out loud and clear.

On a recent trip to Achham, a dozen young girls and I sat around, sucking on sweet-sour titauras and talking about our dreams. And then I asked them the question I really wanted to. “Do you stay out of your homes during your periods?” Immediately the room turned a bit colder. The girls looked furtive, glanced at each other, shrunk a little into themselves. 

The boldest one of them, an extraordinarily pretty tenth-grader, began, “Madam, earlier we used to stay in sheds, but ever since we received a two-day training about Chhaupadi…” It was as if she had learned it by rote. “Wait, wait,” I told her, “I am not your madam, you don’t need to be formal with me, I will not mind whatever you say.”

“Well…” the chairperson of a child club, the youngest in the group, began hesitantly, “Of course we have to go out to the sheds, there are Gods in the house, and how could we sleep under the same roof?” Is it better than before, I tried to know. “Yes, yes,” most girls nodded 

eagerly, “Now we are out for only five days, or even four. We attend school, our parents even let us drink milk and curd!” 

“And what do you use when you are bleeding?” I asked them. “Cloth… Aama’s saris…,” began a girl, “But we are going to be trained to make reusable cloth pads, my friend in another school already got trained and she says it’s so much easier!”

That made me happier than I can explain. Things are actually changing, one drop at a time. I read of a heartening project in Bhar-atpur, where menstrual cups were distributed among school girls, resulting in many of them reporting much more comfort during their periods. But there’s so much more to do, if we are to ensure that our sisters, especially girls and young women in rural areas, have access to the best menstrual products there are. This means intervention from the state, by waiving off taxes and duties and encouraging import of menstrual products. While that still seems like a far off dream, for now we can at least spread period positivity—by making sure that no little girl grows up thinking periods are anything else than a normal bodily function, one that will one day make her a mother if she wants. It also means that we stop associating period talk with any of this—dirty, unwanted, modern, western, feminist, squeamish, impure or too much information. It’s all much needed information!

And if we are lucky enough to have access to life-enhancing things like cups, I say, we spread the message and spread the love! This time, when I was all set to travel, not one of my girlfriends requested books, clothes or lotions. All they wanted were these gorgeous cups, because one small change can mean so much. 

Published: 04-03-2017 08:06

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