It’s a cold wet day here in the west of Ireland and exhaustion clouds my mind. Thankfully it is Friday and tomorrow I may rest and recover after the week. It’s that time of the month, moon-time as some call it or as others refer to it, ‘The Curse’.
As a female, I grew up believing that it was something shameful, something to keep hidden, to never talk about, the worst part of becoming a woman. This is for the most part, the nature of western society and its attitude to menstruation. Over the centuries it has become taboo in many countries, including my own, Ireland.
I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking about this and realise that far from being a source of shame, pain, inconvenience and disgust, it is the very heart of what makes us female, the essence and the wonder of a woman’s ability to bring new life into this world. It is the most natural and normal of things.
We are connected to the moon and like the moon, the tides within us wax and wane. The ebb and flow of our lifeblood, for that is what it is, blood and cells that can give rise to new life, is a critical part of who we are. Even if we never intend to have children, which should always be a woman’s personal choice, our cycle effects our mood, hormones, immune system, energy levels, and the health of our female reproductive organs…
If we pay attention to our cycle, it can warn us of possible health problems like PCOS, Fibroids, cervical cancer…Our cycle tells us when we need to rest and restore ourselves, to slow down and breathe, instead of the constant rushing of the modern world.
In the past, I learnt to be ashamed about this fundamental part of being a woman, I learnt to discretely dispose of the monthly pads and to never mention it, particular outside the home. I tried many versions of the Contraceptive pill in my twenties and suffered horribly with the side effects of clinical depression, constant episodes of thrush, serious weight gain…
Almost seven years ago, I made the decision to come off all types of the pill. It took about two years for my cycle to go back to something resembling normal but the side effects ceased and I felt like a different person.
I switched from using conventional pads to Natracare, an organic cotton brand which felt much more breathable and comfortable. In the last few months, I have tried other options like using a ‘Moon cup’ but found it too painful, although many people swear by them.
I am now using reusable cloth pads which I sourced from eBay but if you are good at sewing, you can even make them yourself. They are more expensive but if you keep an eye out for auctions online, this can cut the cost. The advantages are numerous, you don’t need to worry about getting to the health shop to buy disposable pads or in emergencies having to use plastic highly scented pads; conditions like thrush disappear, you feel more relaxed and like you are wearing nothing at all. They come in many lovely and fun colours and are usually made of organic cotton or bamboo fibres, which are soft, breathable, unscented and naturally antibacterial.
With Cervical cancer on the rise and widespread use of the Pill, disposable plastic toxic pads and even more dangerous tampons causing toxic shock syndrome, I believe it time to say Stop. It is time to start treating our body like a temple, to actually listen to what it’s saying and to take time to honour our body and the rhythm and flow of our cycle.
The last few months, as I gained confidence in using and cleaning reusable cloth pads has been a revelation. At first, I wasn’t sure how best to wash and store the pads but after trying out several techniques, I feel more adept. The best way to clean your pads if you are at home, is to soak them for a few hours in a mix of baking soda and vinegar, then pop into a lingerie net wash bag and put in your washing machine as normal but on a low temperature and gentle spin. If your pads are made of bamboo, it is best not to use fabric softener but a little vinegar in the softener drawer of your washing machine will do the same job. Air dry on a clothes horse. You can use a drier but it will cause the material to harden and ball much quicker.
If you are not at home, the best way to look after your pads, is to bring a small waterproof bag with you. When you need to replace them, if you can, run it under the tap for a minute or two to moisten it and then fold up [there is a handy press stud on almost all cloth pads for this purpose] and place in your waterproof bag until you get home.
If you want to wait until you have enough to put on a full wash, a clean storage box, or even an old ice cream tub, can be used to store the used pads until washday. Make sure to wash thoroughly first, then place in your box with a mixture of bread soda [to remove the stains] and vinegar [to kill bacteria] and cold water. It is very important to not use hot water as this sets any stains.
Now, you’re probably thinking, that sounds like a lot of trouble to go to, just to make the world a better place or to cut down on the billions of plastic based sanitary pads thrown away each year but once you are in the habit, it only takes a few minutes and makes such a difference, to you and the planet.
One of the fascinating things about using cloth pads and relying only on oneself to look after your cycle and all it brings with it, is an immense sense of empowerment. I feel like I’m reclaiming my female body for the first time. The shame and embarrassment have gone as I come to terms with who I am and who I am is a woman in a woman’s body. My cycle is no longer threatening, scary, unknown, embarrassing and awkward but an essential part of me and that which connects me to all things.
Honouring my cycle honours my connection to Gaia, the natural world, the divine feminine mystique. Creating a sense of sacredness to my cycle has changed everything, my entire world view.
It is time to cast off the shackles of shame, patriarchy, sex based discrimination and stigma and embrace our true selves. Only then we will find within us the power to become all that we could be and to make the world a better place, not just for women but for all life on this planet we call home.