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Tampons? Cups? DIY Pads? What's a Grossed-Out Green Mama's Best Option?


There’s no question about it: motherhood has definitely gotten me in touch with both my DIY and all-natural sides. Since becoming a mom, I’ve eschewed chemicals in favor of homemade cleaners, attended countless mama-baby yoga classes, started composting (with the intent to, one day, grow my own organic vegetables), and even sewed a pair of reversible toddler pants. Being a mom has also gotten me in touch with my bodily-function-badass side; projectile vomit? No problem. Poop? Lots of poop? Piece of cake. But when it comes to periods—as in, surfing the crimson wave (little nod to Alicia Silverstone, another mom gone green) – my Earth Mama inclinations fall short. I’m all for connecting with the feminine power and the moon and the ancients and all… but having my period grosses me out. And, now that I’m a mom it already takes forever to get out the door in the morning, having to think about bringing my own sanitary supplies makes being on the rag a serious drag; If I wasn’t a b*tch about my period before I became a mom, I sure am one now. (Proof: hubby has a pediod-tracking app on his phone, and pre-games by packing the freezer full of coconut ice cream -- to help me stay happy while Aunt Flo is in town -- then makes plans to get himself clear out of the house).

As much as I want nothing to do with my own period while it’s happening (I pretty much just try to disassociate for those several days each month), I’m meanwhile forever curious about creative, alternative approaches to personal health and wellness. I suspected there’d be a big crossover between natural mom and natural menses action, too, when I first noticed many eco-friendly diaper manufacturers also make eco-friendly tampons and pads. Clearly, moms are in the market for more natural choices around their personal, period-related care.

There’s a reason for this. For those of us who feel a twinge (or more) of concern around tossing disposable diapers into landfills right and left, it’s hard not to notice when we do the same with our sanitary products. In fact, an average woman will dispose of 16,800 tampons or pads in her lifetime. And – fun fact -- according to the Center for Marine Conservation, over 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along U.S. coastal areas between 1998 and 1999. That’s a lot of nasty! Having kids also frequently initiates new levels of concern over chemical exposure – and for good reason. Turns out vaginas, like the babies they bear, are highly sensitive and absorptive; exposing them to regular doses of dioxin and other nasty chemicals via conventional tampons and pads is… also gross, and potentially very harmful to mommies’ health. (Conventional tampons also tend to leave a lot of little fibers behind in our lady-parts, where they cause annoying irritation before making their way back out).

So what’s a busy, baby-toting, regularly bloodied woman to do? Our society’s not exactly set up for us to check into menstruation huts for a week at a time while our elders take care of the kids. We do have some options, though. Some of the bravest among us make DIY pads (or buy some reusable pads, pre-made), then bleed, wash, rinse, and repeat. I’m proud of my newfound sewing skills and all, but I don’t have this project in me. I’ll be interested in your feelings on this, but pads just haven’t been a part of my vocabulary since I learned to wield a tampon. Some people say organic tampons don’t work as well as conventional ones, but that’s what I’ve been using. They’re not always the most comfortable, and they carry with them all the usual tampon annoyances like remembering to change them, occasional leakage, and creating an ongoing expense. Doable: yes. Ideal? No. I tried a Diva Cup for a cycle or two; I had friends in college who loved these things more than life itself and swore they were the inside secret to menstruation emancipation. I got mine to fit right only once during the total of ten days or so that I made attempts. I did indeed forget about it all day long on that day (you only have to change them once every twelve hours—a busy woman’s dream), but the rest of the experiment was, er, messy. So I went back to the tampons. I’m considering giving the cup another go, though. Its promise, for me, was left unfulfilled, but that one brush with success really was a different kind of experience – far less annoying than a tampon -- and one I’d like to have again. Like, every time I have my period.

I actually called up the Diva Cup peeps this past week, and when I described my experience, I received detailed instructions on other ways I could try ‘folding’ the cup in order to insert it more easily. Plus, I heard a bit more about the product, which doesn’t leach any nasty chemicals, boasts a 99% success rate among its users, and has a large and vocal pro-Diva Cup following – lots of moms included -- on Facebook; ask a question there and you’ll get a host of helpful answers from other women using the product. As far as usage goes, “it can take a few cycles to get the hang of it,” said Carinne (who runs the company with her mother, its founder). “It takes a little practice.” Fans will tell you that this practice makes for a perfect product—no leakage, no hassle, and a just once-a-year replacement purchase (cuz it’s a hygiene product and all). Sounds amazing, but it remains to be seen whether I can make it work. I like that the company’s providing an alternative choice beyond the $300 billion disposable period-product industry, though, and that they’re big on empowerment and education. (There are other menstruation cup companies serving similar purposes, too.)

I’m still looking for my perfect natural period-product fit, so to speak, and although the whole subject gives me cramps and a headache, I think it’s pretty cool that moms are taking such an interest in alternatives to mainstream tampons and pads. In fact, Diva Cup saw a boost in new users after the recent moldy tampon incident, so I guess there's some good that came of that, right? (Women seeking options).  I’m curious about what you all think about your periods, and how you manage them amidst the busy realities of parenting life. Do you make your own pads? Buy organic tampons? Rock a cup? (HOW?) Hide in a hut? If you have daughters, do you plan to talk to them about using natural products when they get their periods? Let’s get our TMI on up in here! Tell us what’s working for you, or what’s not.