Two ’embarrassing’ period stories
This post about two of my ’embarrassing’ period stories was inspired by #HappyPeriod, #thehomelessperiod, easyperiod, THINX and many many others for doing what I always wanted to do but didn’t dare- talk about periods openly and find ways to make them easier to deal with every month.
These are just two stories that came back to me quickly, I have hundreds more. I used to think of them as mortifying, as if I had failed as a woman. Now I realise that they are funny and pragmatic and just everyday stuff. That makes my life so much easier; I hope you can feel the same way.
I am lucky enough to be able to afford sanitary products, PAINKILLERS and whatever else I might need to manage my period. Not everyone is in that position.
In fact, BBC News put up a video this week about ‘Period poverty’ and the difficulty of those in the UK on low income or living in homelessness who can’t afford sanitary products. This is a problem around the world. If you would like to help and donate to this important cause, there are links at the end of the article. Thank you.
In October 2006 I handed in my MA thesis on American literature and moved immediately onto a PhD programme. I was going to be writing about a handful of 1970’s experimental American writers, none of which you’ve heard of. I had spent the last year steeped in theory- postmodern, post-structural, feminist (all 4 waves), queer, African American. I was humming with righteous indignation and academic buzzwords. I was certain that not only had I yanked off my rose-tinted glasses, I had thrown them to the floor and danced on them. I was nobody’s fool.
Along with this new clarity came an invigorated sense of my female body and the unwritten rules that fought for dominion over it. I stopped washing my hair with anything but water, I stopped shaving my legs, I stopped wearing makeup. Some of these experiments in self-possession stuck- I still love not wearing makeup- but the others, unfortunately, never seemed to suit my body. After six months my hair still hadn’t acclimatised and got progressively more greasy, my hairy legs were constantly itchy no matter what I wore. I decided that for some habits ‘informed choice’ rather than ‘symbolic fuck you’ was going to have to do.
During this period of self-discovery, I bought a mooncup. For anyone who doesn’t know, a mooncup is a kiwi sized rubber cup shaped like a boob. It’s made of safe foldable rubber, it can contain up to 12ml of liquid and it’s life changing. At least, it was for me. Unlike other sanitary products, it is reusable (wash with soap and water) and carries no risk of toxic shock or other potentially harmful chemicals. I still have the same mooncup today, which means that I haven’t bought any sanitary products for a decade. Even better, when using it you can’t feel a thing- no more dry tampons, no more waddling round with nappy like pads. Revolutionary.
I can’t recommend mooncups (or any of the other excellent brands) enough. However, they can take a while to get used to. I struggled to fold the cup before putting it in, it kept popping open. I was cautious about not pushing it up too high inside me, sometimes it leaked. After a couple of days though, I felt like an old hand.
Until, I couldn’t reach it. I was working part-time in the University Careers Centre at the time and went to the bathroom because I needed to empty the mooncup and pop it back in. In the middle cubicle, I bent double and felt for my the cup. Couldn’t feel a thing. Much like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when Kate Capshaw delves up to her elbow in bugs, I bent further and worked my fingers higher. I could feel the knobbly end of the cup, it was almost within reach. But not quite. Five minutes of digging around I was panicking. Ten minutes of trying every angle, I looked like a surgeon after a difficult operation and I was desperate.
Gingerly, I wrapped my hands in wads of toilet paper, sat on the closed lid and took out my phone, which at the time was a blocky plastic Nokia. I rang my best friend, profoundly embarrassed, it took me ages to get to the point. With pure selfless friendship she offered to come to me with various tools to manoeuvre the cup out. Babbling with gratitude, I agreed. Then I sat and waited. No smartphone to distract me, keenly aware of how long I had been in this bathroom stall. Several people came in and out, I froze, hoping they wouldn’t notice me. Eventually, the door creaked open and my friend hissed, ‘Are you here?’ Dizzy with relief, I cracked open the door and peered out teary with happiness. She didn’t even glance twice at my tissue wrapped hands but instead matter-of-factly handed me a Bic pen, an ice cream spoon, and a chopstick. I disappeared back into the stall.
So… if ever you are in a stuck-cup situation, I can recommend a Bic pen for gently leverage, a good friend to deliver the tools (and the jokes) through the bathroom door and no shame. I wasn’t going to let this tricky moment deter me from a sanitary product that makes my life easier, this was excellent problem solving, not an embarrassing moment.
Another classically ’embarrassing’ moment I had with my period was at a very important job interview. Classic period
horror human story.
I was two months away from finishing my year of teacher training and, like everyone else on the course, I was madly applying for teaching jobs. As part of teacher training in the UK, you have to complete a second year of training on the job in a school. This means that when you apply for positions you have to convince them that not only are you the best candidate but they should also put in extra effort to pair you with a mentor and free you up for several hours a week to complete observations, self-reflexions and various other tasks to show your continued development as a teacher. Luckily, teaching has a culture that believes you should invest in new teachers even if they decide to move on to a different school, so most welcome newly trained teachers. Still, getting a job interview is competitive.
The other thing to know is that applications and interviews for teaching positions are epic. The applications are usually booklet length and require detailed essays on why you are a perfect fit for their school. My main reason at the time was because I wanted to pay rent and, if possible, not battle with self-interested management. After weeks of filling boxes (and then reformatting boxes), I had four interviews lined up. Two for jobs I didn’t really want, one at a school out of my league and one that seemed perfect.
The perfect school was my penultimate interview. I liked everything about it as soon as I arrived in reception. Everyone was dressed nicely but not too fancy or too old fashioned, the Deputy Head shouted ‘cheerio’ to a parent before coming to meet me and then asked me if I knew any Ruby on Rails and what one book would I save from destruction. Such a mish mash; I knew I would fit in.
Teaching interviews, as I said, are epic. You and the other candidates start with a tour of the school guided by one of the high flying students. You all fight to seem friendly, professional and knowledgeable in front of a 15 year old who drags it out to miss more class. Then you have to teach a ‘sample’ lesson to a group of giggly merciless teenagers whilst being watched by various teachers and Deputy Heads. Then lunch. You all fight to seem friendly, professional and knowledgeable in front of your potential colleagues who hurry it along so as not to miss biscuits in the staff room. Finally, you have up to five interviews with different groups in different rooms hidden away down corridors- the management team, the pastoral team, the Head of Department, the Chaplain, and finally the Head Teacher.
As usual, I thought I was doing okay, not really wowing anybody but quietly holding my own, which, as a quiet person, is mostly what I aim for. I had walked all around school without tripping, my lesson seemed to go well, I had managed to bond with some teachers over lunch by sharing stories about odd opening gambits on Tinder. I was now stood in the staff room making coffee for these teachers when, my potential boss, the impossibly stylish Head of English discreetly tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Could I speak to you outside quickly?’, she whispered. I was terrified.
As we stepped out of the staff room into the wide main hallway she put her arm around my shoulders and guided me towards Reception. Lanky teenagers parted to let us through. I was certain she was going to steer me straight out the door and ask me to never ever come back. What had I done? I accidentally said ‘keep it on the down low’ jokingly to a student when I forgot how to spell ‘millennium’ (two ‘n’s!) in my lesson, was that it?? As we neared the front entrance, under the watchful eye of the year 11 boys, she swerved abruptly to the right and directed me into the women’s bathroom.
‘I don’t think anyone noticed,’ she said. I stood and stared. ‘But you have something on your skirt…on the back of your skirt.’ She grabbed me some paper towels from the dispenser and began to wet them under the tap. I spun round and clutched my skirt, twisting it so I could see. Bang in the middle, level with my crotch, was a fried-egg-sized dark red splodge. Clearly blood. Fuck. With all my nerves I hadn’t noticed my period starting and seeping onto the thin fabric of the silk skirt I had bought especially for this very important interview at the perfect school. The Head of English, Alex just smiled at me, handed me the damp paper towel and said ‘None of the men noticed, you can be sure none of the students noticed. Happens to all of us. It will come out, I’m sure. Otherwise I have a cardigan I can lend you to wrap around your waist.’ I was mortified and I laughed.
The bloodstain did come out, turns out it wasn’t silk, just polyester, which saved it and the rest of my day. I did get the job. And I did love the school and all the amazing teachers who worked there. Impossibly stylish Alex, remained impossibly stylish and well put together no matter how busy we were. She became a friend and someone I hugely respected, starting from that moment in the bathroom when we were just two humans dealing with human stuff.
#HappyPeriod provides menstrual products to anyone with a period that has low-income, is homeless, or living in poverty. We believe that no one should go without menstrual care. Everything we do, we believe in ending the stigma and breaking the taboo surrounding menstruation.
If you’d like to share a period story and join a community, then you can do so using #happyperiod on Twitter and Instagram. You should also follow wearehappyperiod , easyperiod and THINX on Instagram for constantly inspiring photos and art about periods.
As well as liberating people to discuss periods, #happyperiod work hard in the US to donate sanitary products to anyone with a period living on low income, living in homelessness and poverty. Please donate what you can to their cause here.
#happyperiod also make sure to draw attention to the important issue of discrimination against trans people who have periods. Again, donate as much as you can to their cause.
thehomlessperiod is a British petition and fundraising initiative urging the UK government to provide sanitary products in homeless shelters. Read about their work and how you can help here.
You can also read about ways to donate sanitary products in the UK here.
easyperiod is a subscription service for sanitary products. They deliver chemical free cotton sanitary products to your home and donate 5% of the cost to ZanaAfrica Foundation which helps to supply girls in East Africa with sanitary products and teach them about reproductive health.
THINX was founded in 2011 and, after 3 years of research and development, launched its amazing ‘period pants’ in 2014. Their approach to periods and desire to find better solutions are very much appreciated. I don’t own any of their underwear yet, but I’m saving up for a pair! If you own some, let me know what you think.