S. visited my apartment for the first time this weekend.
A friend called before S. came, and asked if I was "scrubbing everything," to which I responded "my apartment is always clean, thank you!" And it's true. The apartment is (thankfully) always clean and tidy, and so I only needed to do a few things like scrub the water spots off of the sink spigots.
There was one minor point of worry, though, and it had to do with the decorative ceramic jar that lives above the toilet. And... the tiny bit of white ribbon strung above the jar. And... um... the three pieces of cloth which were currently hanging cheerfully and colorfully from the ribbon.
I thought about taking the whole kit down, but figured he'd find out anyway soon enough, so I sucked in my breath, gave him the "grand tour" of the apartment and then paused by the bathroom.
"This is my..."
(Rather like Bridget Jones, my mind went "don't say menstruation station... don't say menstruation station...")
"This is where I keep my natural menstrual products -- please-don't-be-grossed-out!"
S. was extremely unfazed. He was the absolute absence of fazed. "Of course," he said. "It's like women do it in India."
So. Cloth pads. I feel like I should do a bit of an educational lecture, if only because they are so extraordinarily comfortable and functional and environmental and I want to recruit as many women as possible into jumping on the "natural menstrual products" bandwagon.
For those of you not interested in reading about the finer details of female hygiene, I've included a "barrier image" so your eyes might avoid looking past and reading anything you might find unsavory. It's a picture of a John Deere tractor. If you continue reading past the picture... be prepared for details.
Here it is:
All right... so y'all are my audience. Let's go!
I'm going to set this up as a question-and-answer, because it makes the most sense. It also makes me sound a bit like an advertising brochure, and that's pretty much what I'm doing.
When did you become interested in "natural menstrual products?"
Hmmm. I became interested about six months ago, for two reasons. First because of the Hyderabad trip. I was thinking "what can I do to take care of myself, travel, etc. without having to pack or buy a lot of bulky, cumbersome product?" And so I started doing a little research, and I ended up purchasing a Keeper, which is a reusable menstrual cup. Essentially one inserts the rubber cup into oneself, where it happily and quietly spends all day collecting blood, and at the end of the day one empties the Keeper into the toilet, washes it out, and pops it back in. (It's boiled at the end and at the beginning of every cycle for maximum cleanliness, but doesn't need anything but water between insertions.)
The Keeper, when it works, becomes then the only menstrual product needed. And it lasts for at least ten years.
But it doesn't work for every woman, and it didn't work for me, probably because I am very petite. However, by then I was totally committed to natural products (because of the second reason: eliminating waste, removing oneself from corporate sponsorship, and doing my bit for saving Mother Earth), and so I started looking at the other option: reusable cloth menstrual pads.
Okay. But I thought disposable products liberated women from the uncomfortable messiness of literally being "on the rag." Why go back to the rag?
Disposable products started out, perhaps, as liberating; but forty-odd years later they clog landfills and sewers, and force women to shell out thousands of dollars a year in what is essentially a captive market. They're another example of a corporate institution doing something we used to do ourselves, handling it badly, and then charging us for the privilege.
Not to mention that they're full of chemicals and dyes and all kinds of icky things.
Wearing cloth pads is not the same as shoving rags into one's pants. They're not rags. The typical cloth pad is made of a layer of fleece (very absorbent) on top of a layer of PUL (waterproof). The whole thing is encased in cotton or flannel or another soft, comfy fabric. Two "wings" snap around the panty and hold the whole thing in place.
In terms of environmental and social impact: cloth pads are reusable and have very little water drain (especially if washed by hand as I will mention later). They are also out of the corporate sphere and are exclusively made by women, by hand, in home-based workshops and businesses. The person making my cloth pads is a mother of two, who uses her income to allow her to stay home with her children.
Hmmm. Let's get the two big issues out of the way first. Leaks and smell.
(Do you wish you were looking at that tractor picture again? ^__^)
Leaks and smell are the two big issues which often make women uneasy about considering cloth. (The other issue is cleaning, which I will address in a moment.)
Since cloth pads are designed and made by women for women, they're done so with an eye to preventing both of the above. My pads, for example, have grooves sewn into them to prevent runoff. (Yep, told you I would get detailed.) The fleece-PUL combination, assisted by the "woman-friendly" design, has made the cloth pads the only products I've ever used which haven't leaked, particularly overnight.
As for smell... when changed as necessary they don't smell. In fact, they smell less than disposables, simply because the fleece sucks everything away below the outer cotton layer while disposables... um... let it all chill right there on the surface.
Since I have a cat, I'm used to dealing with bodily waste. So... for me, no eww. For other people, maybe. It depends.
When you're changing a cloth pad, you can either wash it out right away or you can pop it into a ceramic container (no metal or glass; don't know about clay, etc.) filled with water and a little baking soda. Mine sits above my toilet and is shaped like a giant cabbage.
Changing at work: most cloth pads will fold up into themselves, forming a tiny envelope in which all the fluid is tucked away at the inside. They don't smell and can be kept discretely in a purse pocket (you know, that secret one) until one gets home. For added protection, they can be wrapped in, say, a plastic sandwich bag before they're stuffed into the purse.
Washing: If you purchase enough cloth pads (and a large enough ceramic jar) you could just wash them all in your washing machine at the end of your cycle. But that's a lot of pads. Chances are you'll be washing them by hand (because you wouldn't throw just two or three pads into your washing machine at the end of the day, would you? Promise me you wouldn't waste our precious natural resources in that way...).
To wash by hand: first, empty contents of ceramic jar into your toilet. (Don't let the pads fall in, ha ha.) This takes care of most of the liquid waste. Then grab one pad at a time, squirt on some liquid soap (I use the same body soap I use in the shower), lather, and rinse at the sink until the water runs clear.
Easy as pie and takes five minutes.
The harder part is drying, because those things have to dry somewhere, which means that they will be (gasp!) visible to the outside world. Mine line dry above the toilet, as hinted earlier, and they take about eight hours to dry. So the ones I wash in the morning will be ready for me when I get home from work, and the ones I wash at night will be ready when I wake up.
Well, I'm just about sold. But, pray tell, are there any other benefits?
Yes, and I'm so glad you asked!
In one word: comfort. You can't feel them (and neither can, say, your partner). They don't feel wet, they don't feel scratchy, they don't feel bulky. They feel like wearing underwear. No crinkling, no itching, no dried blood caught on the surface.
And they don't show through clothing!
Where do I sign up?
The best way to get your own cloth pads is through ebay. Just run a search for "cloth pads" and you'll start getting results.
However, since there are so many individual suppliers available, you might want to consider this guide before purchasing. It describes and evaluates nearly every home-based pad business on the market. (I use Punky's Pads and vouch thoroughly by their awesomeness.)
You can also make your own, if you're so inclined. Information can be found here.
And, finally, since y'all are online types, here's a whole community devoted to cloth pad use.
If you still have questions, feel free to ask in the comments. This infomercial has gone on quite long enough. Thanks for reading!
Sunday, May 27, 2007
S. visited my apartment for the first time this weekend.