I felt my way around the bed and staggered to the bathroom, still drunk on sleep. My naked heels touched the cold tiles and the toilet cover batted the tank in the dark. I winced, feeling the wetness graze my skin as I pulled my underwear down and flung it straight into the garbage. With a damp rag beneath my hand, I washed my blood-smudged thighs then peeled the wrapper from yet another unforbearing tampon, before stumbling back to bed. I was so tired of this shit.
It wasn’t just the trashing of spoiled underwear every month. It was the stained sheets. It was the stealth moves to the women’s washroom at work. It was the awkward moments mid-stretch with male trainers. And it was most certainly the tiresome exercise of standing in the Shopper’s Drug Mart aisle, piecing together the required assortment of regular, super, super plus and ‘active’ protection without hemorrhaging dollars from my spending budget.
Cramping my style
I’m 40, almost 41. So, like the sport bra situation, I should have a handle on this by now. And for the longest time, I did. Every 27-28 days I was prepared for one day of utter exhaustion followed by mild cramping, salt and root beer cravings, and six days of uneventful menstruation. Now my periods arrive 27-35 days apart and include two days of unrelenting flow. I’m achier and moodier; it’s like being 14 again.
According to every site I googled, including a Redbook article, “Irregularity is the new normal.” Even my naturopath, Dr. Lanigan confirmed it: “There’s a significant hormonal change that occurs in women as they approach, and into, their 40’s. Women may experience changes in flow and symptoms during menstruation and PMS, among other shifts. In practice, women often tell me that their symptoms are similar to when they first started menstruating.” So feeling like I’m 14 again is totally normal. Super.
Over the years, I’d heard vaguely of a cup that could be used in place of pads or tampons. In my ignorance, I totally associated this with nature-loving hippie women. In my mind, messy-haired brunette hikers were squatting tree-side every two hours to pull blood-filled cups from their vaginas. (So wrong, I know). Dumping cups, dumping tampons – they both seemed like an inconvenience to me. Then I got the facts straight.
While scanning the price stickers beneath the usual Tampax and Playtex packages at Shoppers one day, my eyes strayed up to the top shelf. It’s like my woman’s intuition was begging for another option. For the first time, I zoned in on that pretty purple box.
The Diva Cup is “a reusable, bell-shaped menstrual cup that is worn internally and sits low in the vaginal canal, collecting rather than absorbing your menstrual flow.” According to their website, women are choosing the cup over tampons and pads because The Diva Cup is:
⦁ reusable and eco-friendly,
⦁ free of phthalates, colour and dyes (deeming it safer than tampons), and
⦁ comfortable and durable
But of all the benefits, it was the promise of “12-hour leak-free protection” that raised my brow. Oh my gosh, can you imagine? Changing just once in the morning and once at night – that would be heaven!
Everyone and their mother
When I mentioned my Lole White Tour predicament in an Instagram post this past summer, I was shocked to learn how many of my friends had already gone Diva. There was Ava, a 40-something nutritionist. Kay, a 30-something yoga instructor and student of Chinese Medicine. And Donna, a fitmom and mother of three*. Okay, so maybe they’re all a bit granola, but they’re all everyday extraordinary women I like who share compelling comments.
“Honestly, the most secure I’ve ever felt was with the Diva Cup…which reminds me, I need to go get a new Diva Cup!, chimed Donna.
“I’m all about the Diva Cup…now that I’ve finally got the hang of it. The first few months (emoticon)…Don’t be afraid, it’s worth it”, added Ava.
I suspect Kay’s veteran advice will prove to be most helpful when I do take the plunge. Kay painted a practical picture of having to remove, empty, clean and re-insert the cup in a public bathroom. She suggested carrying a water bottle with me, so as to clean my hands and cup without leaving the stall. “Ya, you don’t want to do that”. The solemn drop of her eyelids and shake of her head as she said it, hinted that she spoke from experience. “But theoretically, with 12-hour protection you could avoid that altogether, and just change at home in the morning and evening, right?” I clarified.
“Yes, theoretically”, Kay replied.
More in store
I decided to do it. I decided to try The Diva Cup.
I left the gym, darted through the two-way parade of chatty millenials on King Street, and headed into Shoppers. Beyond the Beauty Boutique was the familiar feminine hygiene aisle. With last month’s recon findings fresh in my head, I went straight for the top shelf: one size-two Diva Cup (designed for women over 30 who had birthed a child). But wait, what’s that beside it?
Left of the purple box was a bottle with identical branding, that I totally missed during recon. I held the bottle of DivaWash at arms distance until the small print came into focus (which reminds me, I need to do recon on reader glasses). “Use to wash your DivaCup, face and body”. Between the lines, I read, ten dollar soap. Hm, I must confer.
A red-lipped ‘Bettie Page-meets-Katy Perry’ consultant greeted me from behind the cosmetics counter. “Did you find everything you were looking for, today?”
“I did, ya.” Holding up box and bottle, “Do you know much about this product?” I asked with a hopeful intonation. Her posture immediately straightened and her eyes brightened. “I love it. I recommend it all the time”, she burst!
What followed was the perfect one-on-one question and answer period:
Me: Do I need the wash or can I save the ten dollars?
Brooke: Save the ten dollars. Use a gentle soap and follow the instructions to sanitize it at the end of each cycle.
Me: How often will I need to buy a new one?
Brooke: I know someone who’s had hers for 12 years.
Me: Oh wow!
For as long as I was there, Brooke continued to share her personal tips and insights. She echoed Ava’s advice, suggesting that it might take a few cycles to get used to. She, however, was the first to mention other brands of menstrual cups. Should I find removal tricky, a natural health store may carry a brand with a longer tail. Noted.
Then, there was a whole other angle that I hadn’t considered until then. Brooke described an almost romantic notion of connecting with one’s own body. She really was like a pin-up girl cheering for women’s health and female empowerment.
Forty dollars and 400 Optimum points later, I left Shoppers with my head held high and my little secret of the Diva sisterhood stashed away in my tote.
Any Day Now
I was six(-ish) days away from menstruation and stocked with my DivaCup plus, my last ten tampons which I kept for back-up should things go awry. Oh my gosh, I may never buy tampons again! (#girlgoals)
Thank goodness it didn’t start on day 27. I wasn’t prepared at all. My DivaCup was still stashed away unopened in the plastic Shoppers bag. I dashed out to an audition that morning and had tossed a couple tampons in my purse just in case.
Back home that afternoon, I couldn’t seem to find a quiet moment to open and read the package in privacy. And by night, I was too exhausted to think or absorb anything new (also, why I haven’t fully gotten into the new Netflix series, Luke Cage). Okay, I’m definitely doing it tomorrow.
I felt my way around the bed and hurried to the bathroom Saturday morning, eager to become part of the DivaCup sisterhood. Locking the door behind me, opening the box and unfolding the instruction sheet over the toilet was totally reminiscent of early adventures in home hair colouring – minus the plastic gloves. I peered over Fig.1 and Fig.2, deciding on my method of insertion. Fold Option 1 it was.
Folding and inserting the cup was easy. Then the silicone vessel took on a life of its own, escaped my fingers and was sucked up inside me. Next I was supposed to grip the cup (not the tail) and rotate one full 360 degree turn. Um, yeah, that wasn’t happening. I thought about taking it out and trying again but the cup was vacuumed far enough into my vagina that I couldn’t reach it. I tried grabbing the tail but it was too slippery. Shit.
I tried to relax my pelvic muscles. Nothing. I tried to bear down and push it out. Nothing. So I decided (by default) to leave it as is, throw on a liner and hope for the best. The rest of the day I was absorbed in hosting a kickass seventh birthday party and forgot all about my period and the jammed cup.
Thirteen hours later, I gave it another go. I got low in a full birthing squat (hey, all that mobility training paid off!), took a deep breath, reached in and got it! Aaaaand – inside was a small amount of bloody discharge. Hooray!
I lay still before opening my eyes Sunday morning. I didn’t feel like I was laying in damp cotton. This was good. When I drew my underwear down in the bathroom, the liner attached was unstained. So I got low, pulled the cup out, and sure enough, it had collected about 1/8 oz of blood. I swear it was like waking up and finding a quarter from the tooth fairy.
What happened later that day was a less pleasant surprise. After just three hours I emptied a full cup, then again in three hours more! What happened to the dream of 12 hour protection? Googling “how often do you change your DivaCup?” led me down a rabbit hole of menstrual cup articles. Not only was there flow, grip and softness to consider (huh, who knew?), but other brands on the market, like Mooncup, Lunette and MeLuna.
Days 30 – 33
When the work week began, I had my first experience emptying the cup in a public bathroom. Thank goodness for Kay’s supreme advice. The rest of my cycle went on fairly successfully. By my fifth day of flow, I was emptying my DivaCup just twice a day and the promise of freedom was fulfilled.
So would I do it again? Definitely. This girl’s gone Diva.
Do you use a menstrual cup? If so, what advice would you share for new users?
Considering a menstrual cup for the first time? What concerns or questions do you have?
Here are a few personal truths I learned along the way. Enjoy!
*Some names have been changed.