I was “lucky” and was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to getting my period. My mother sagely exclaimed that ‘I was a woman now,’ and handed me this atrocious book about how our bodies worked. My mom used pads, and therefore so did I. I honestly don’t recall discussing alternative or periods with anyone at that time, especially any peers. Those were sparse at that time as we had just emigrated from the UK. Funnily, I don’t even remember talking about periods with my best friend at the time.
What I do recall is crippling cramps and heavy, heavy periods during my teen years. I remember missing school and curling around a hot water bottle to alleviate the pain. I recall being terrified of leaks and hated slinking away to the washrooms to clean myself up throughout the day. I hated the sense that I was supposed to hide something that was totally normal and pretend that it did not affect me in any way.
I cannot imagine a child younger than that immature 13 year old having to deal with the physical and emotional issues that surround menstruation. I hope that – as a mother – I am able to prepare my two girls (3 and 8) to manage their own entrance into puberty and ‘womanhood’ in a manner that will make it far easier to endure.
The one thing different in our house is that our family is very open about our bodies and what happens with them. The bathroom is not a private place unless you remember to lock the door. Thus I get a lot of questions about what I am ‘doing in there’ and have found that being simple and honest has been the best for both my girls and my son. Mostly my answers are greeted by ‘ewwww’s’ but that is fine. These little discussions usually lead to bigger talks from my 8 year old when she is ready to sit down and talk on her own time about the changes in our bodies.
One fairly new question has been about the cloth, reusable pads I am now using. I am very fortunate to be friends with the ladies behind Lunapads and a free sample from them was the start of my ‘reformation’ to the more ‘natural’ side of periods. This has been a bit of a slow journey for me. I recall years ago at a craft fair buying a cloth pad and gifting to my girlfriend more as a gag than anything. I don’t think she ever used it.
I think my light bulb moment hit when I also had FINALLY tried cloth diapers for my third child. Here I was happily washing and scrubbing the end products from my offspring, why then, was I remotely hinky about my own ‘end products’ to put it politely? What difference would it make to be washing cloth products for me?
The decision to switch to the cloth pads also coincided with deciding to never ever use birth control pills again. I had come to realize after getting through pregnancies that I really liked knowing my body and its rhythms. Being able to know how I was supposed to feel without chemicals telling my body what to do was very liberating for me. Why then – I thought – would I keep using something artificial like disposable pads (or tampons), things that were totally unnatural and potentially unhealthy.
Switching to cloth pads has been amazing for me. By the end of my monthly cycle my labia and pubic bone would feel red and raw from the disposable pads. I would hardly be able to wear one at night for the itching and discomfort. For me, there was no alternative, I wasn’t used to tampons, had tried and never been happy or secure with them. The cloth diapers were something that just had not occurred to me and I can’t believe I endured so many years without demanding a change. For me it took the experience of four pregnancies and the laying out of my vagina for a cast of thousands to see, prod and poke to realize that it was up to me to take control of my body and how I wanted it cared for. I wanted something soft and nontoxic up close and personal with my vagina.
This thinking was crucial to me fully realizing myself as a woman and what that really meant. So much of what we think is the ‘norm’ is purely marketing on a cultural scale. We are told to hide our periods and mask our natural scents, cover our faces with makeup, shape this, fake that….all by companies who have no thought but to make money and make us buy our products.
I don’t want that for myself or my kids. I want my children – the girls and the boy – to understand what their bodies are supposed to do and supposed to feel like. They need to feel comfort and joy in their selves without shame and without pressure from our commercialized culture. It took me 42 years to figure it out; I want to ensure that it doesn’t take that long for them.
Kerry Sauriol is the Vancouver mom behind the blog Crunchy Carpets. She has three children and sundry pets and tries to balance it all and keep her sanity. Her blog focuses on the juggling act called parenting. In her case the act of juggling a preschooler, two burgeoning ‘tweens,’ and keeping them all out of therapy when they are older.
Kerry has spoken at Northern Voice, been seen and heard on CBC, and featured in the Globe & Mail. Beyond children, her other passion is social media and she runs a social media management company called SAHMedia. You can find her on Twitter at @CrunchyCarpets.