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What About Menstrual Cups?

menstcup_gemI have heavy periods. I just do. Ever since the birth of my last child they’ve gotten progressively worse to the point where was isolating myself from friends and family for the first two days of my cycle. (This was better for everyone, trust me). I, of course, visited my midwife, had a complete work up, (I figured something had to have been wrong because who lives like this) and was told, “All is well, and you’re just one of those women who have heavy periods”. Lucky me. I was offered hormones and an IUD. But my husband had a vasectomy. These options just didn’t feel right for me. I thought about having an ablation (a procedure where the inner lining of your uterus is destroyed), but that seemed awfully extreme.

I had heard about menstrual cups, of course. I am a midwife after all. But it never occurred to me that the answer to my problem was as simple as this little silicone cup. After a particularly rough month (of which I will spare you the gory details) I became desperate and decided to try it. I marched to my local pharmacy and bought a Diva Cup, and set about a month of research. I was amazed at the amount of information available regarding menstrual cups – so many stories, from funny to scary, but mostly informative. So I awaited my enemy with much anticipation. For the first time since I was young and careless, I was anxious to get my period.

menstcup_02

My period came on a Tuesday morning (yes, I remember the day), and I proudly got out my sanitized and thoroughly ready to go Diva Cup. I had watched hours of YouTube videos on how to fold and insert it. I folded my cup, took a deep breath, and thought of all the YouTube videos that said it was easy. And dropped it, right in the toilet. Round two (after being sanitized yet again), I was slightly more successful. I didn’t drop it but it hurt going in. I was determined to make this work. All of those women couldn’t be wrong. Once I was able to get it in (and was reasonably certain that it was in the right place) I went about my day. I used back up. I was hopeful not stupid. Three hours later I dared to see how things were going….and I was shocked to find, nothing, not a drop that wasn’t in the cup! That was the beginning of my love affair with my menstrual cup. It has been up and down, good days and bad. But over all it has helped me to be more productive, and less self conscious during my period.

Now that I’ve told my story, let’s answer a few basic questions about menstrual cups. The most common question I am asked is whether I can you feel it. The answer is no, if you don’t feel a tampon, you shouldn’t feel your cup. If you can feel it, it may be the wrong cup for you, or you may have placed it wrong. There are at least fifty different types of menstrual cups on the market. Large ones, small ones, stiff ones, flexible ones, even cups that have a loop to grab. The trick is to try and figure out why you are feeling it. Is it too large, too stiff, is your cervix low, or do you just need to take it out and try again? Anther question that I am frequently asked is is it safe? Yes, it is safe. There was a time when the manufacturers of cups claimed that toxic shock syndrome did not occur with menstrual cups but there is emerging evidence to the contrary. Yes TSS can occur with a menstrual cup, but it also can occur with tampon use. It is not yet clear if TSS is more ore less frequent relative to tampon use – the research is on-going –but there have only been a few cases of TSS reported in association with menstrual cup use. Another question that I am frequently asked is whether it’s messy. The short answer is, yes, it can be. But the up side is that you only need to empty it 2-4 times per day. Many women sleep in their cup and empty it once in the morning (I like to do it in the shower) and once in the evening. That way if it is a little messy, you are in your home. You can empty it in a public restroom if you need to. You just empty it, wipe it out with toilet paper, and wash it the next time you are home. A few tips: do not use silicone- or oil- based lubricants when placing your cup as these can degrade silicone. However, you can use a water-based lubricant for easier insertion. Another tip: there are a thousand different ways to fold your cup. A quick Google search can really help you if you’re struggling with this. One last tip: in order to make this a successful venture, you have to become comfortable touching yourself while you’re bleeding. I know this one can be difficult. We are taught that there is shame and dirtiness in our menstrual blood. But this is your body, and it’s amazing, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. With a little time, and patience with yourself, you can overcome those fears and become comfortable inserting and removing your new best buddy.

If you are having difficulties with your period, reach out to your midwife. She or he can ensure that you are healthy and have a discussion with you about possible solutions to your problem. For me, this was my solution.

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