Tilted cervix, dysmenorrhea, and a fear of period blood: I tried a menstrual cup for the first time
This cycle truly was a rollercoaster and I learned so much about my own vagina!
Invented in 1937 by Leona Waters, menstrual cups aren't exactly a new trend.
Known then as a Catamenial Receptor, there were similar products dating back as far as the 1800s, the American inventor and actress was the first to patent and market the device.
Prior to World War 2 the item sold well. However, due to a rubber shortage in the United States at the time, the factory was forced to close their doors and so the item left the market.
Following the war, the cups got a second chance when a company called Tassaway re-launched the product using a softer rubber making it more appealing to women. Unfortunately for Tassaway, by this time women could use tampons or pads and be done with it; the cup once again vanished as there was no interest in it.
Once again in 1987, another brand, The Keeper, tried their hand at marketing the product and were somewhat successful. However, the brand did not use medical-grade silicone, so it was once again revolutionalised before returning to the market in 2002 when Mooncup released their first product.
More recently, menstrual cups have come to the forefront of period products as people across the globe strive to make more sustainable purchases.
My decision to buy and try a menstrual cup is not something I came to overnight. It has taken me just over a year to bite the bullet and take a chance on one.
When I first considered it, I was making the choice for sustainable reasons. Given how much plastic (specifically packaging from at the very least 15 tampons and four pads each month) I sent to landfill every month, and I felt pretty disgusted.
With pads being 90 percent plastic and tampons at least 6 percent, based on my own cycle and habits I expect to use approximately 7,000 tampons and 2,000 pads in my lifetime - and that's a lot of unnecessary plastic.
After careful consideration to price, size and accessibility I purchased a Mooncup from my local Boots. They come in two sizes, A and B.
A is for women over 30 or women who have given birth vaginally. The latter, B, is suitable for women under 30 who have never given birth vaginally, and so that's what I went for.
Tilted cervix, Dysmenorrhea, and fear of period blood
Before getting into my experience with the menstrual cup, I'm going to tell you all about my typical experience with periods every month, particularly the things that will affect my experience using it such as my tilted cervix, my Dysmenorrhea and my often triggered fear of period blood.
What on earth is a titled cervix (uterus), you may ask? And I hear you. I had no idea that cervixes could be positioned on the body at different angles for different people. I always sort of thought our vaginas were positioned in the same way; but given the extreme lack of education and research surrounding female autonomy, it came as no surprise.
Back in early 2019 when I went for my first smear test, the nurse was having a slight bit of difficulty with inserting a speculum to begin the exam, something she said was due to my tilted cervix. I waited until I got home to Google that, but in reality, I shouldn't have been so ashamed and just asked her about it.
The position of my cervix has never been an issue for me before - and why would it be? It is the only vagina that I rightfully know inside out. In fact, one in five people with a cervix actually have a tilted cervix, so you might too and just not know it.
When it comes to inserting a menstrual cup - this will absolutely play a part in how I experience using it. It means that the cup is positioned slightly further back in my body, making it harder to reach when inserting, and particularly when removing it.
Dysmenorrhea is essentially medical terminology for bad period cramping.
I usually suffer from period pains throughout my cycle, from ovulation to PMS in the days leading up to menstruation; I feel all of it happening.
During my cycle, I sometimes get pressure pains in my vagina. It usually only lasts a few hours, but during this time I swap my tampon for a pad in a bid to relieve some pain.
My periods are often heavy, last 5-7 days - however, since lockdown began back in March I have noticed my period is not as heavy and lasts for only 4-5 days.
I don't know if it's cause for concern, to be honest, but I'm putting it down to COVID-19 lifestyle changes and to be frank, I'm enjoying a shorter cycle after years of heavy, prolonged heartache.
A fear of period blood
As ridiculous as this might sound, I have experienced previous vaginal related trauma that sometimes leaves me triggered by my period blood. It's not every month I feel anxiety because of it, but it's something I'm wary of going into this experiment.
With tampons, quite like the women in post-war America, I enjoy the ease of removing it, disposing of it, and moving on with my day in seconds. With pads I have to feel heavy menstruation leaving my body, and then see it when changing products - an experience you're likely familiar with if you're reading this article.
When it comes to a menstrual cup, I am aware I will have to interact with my own blood a bit more, although I am hoping that exposure might lead to desensitisation so that I can finally overcome my fear.
So, let's get to it. Here's how I faired trying a menstrual cup for four days of my cycle.
Day One: Trial & Error.
I've known for a few days now that my period was due any moment, and the second I wiped and saw blood, I grabbed my cup to get this experiment underway.
I prepared by reading the instruction manual, which advised boiling the cup in a pot of water on the hob for about 5 to 7 minutes before use.
It's best to dedicate an old pot to your cup, and for obvious reasons; use it solely for the purpose of sanitising your cup.
When you remove the cup to empty it during your menstruation cycle, it is best to rinse it out well with soap and water before re-inserting it. If you are using a public toilet it is recommended to rinse with drinking water and wash using soap as soon as possible.
Once boiled, I washed my hands thoroughly with soap and water, and then removed the cup from the pot and placed it on some fresh kitchen roll before heading to the bathroom for the big moment.
To insert the cup, you need to squat down, fold the cup in on itself, and insert. For everyone, this is going to be slightly different depending on how well you can reach your vagina.
For me, the initial insertion took a few tries because I wasn't sure how far in it needed to go, and every time I thought I pushed it in far enough, it would open very quickly and the suction of the cup just stuck it to the walls of my vagina meaning I had to pull it out and try again.
I had to readjust it a number of times throughout the day because every time I moved, it was making a loud farting sound which told me it was not securely in place at all.
Day Two: "Oops."
When I woke up this morning I headed straight for the bathroom to check on my cup after wearing it to bed overnight, and I could not get it out.
I crouched, I pulled, I moved positions, I put my leg up on the sink, I lay flat on my back - and I couldn't do it. Defeated, I got back into bed to come up with a plan and try some deep breathing exercises before heading back to the bathroom to try once more.
After relaxing the muscles in my vagina, it slid right out - I didn't know my vagina held such a force.
The rest of the day went pretty uneventful until I stepped away from my desk in the evening as I finished work for the day. I noticed a wet sensation, the same feeling you get when you just know your tampon has started leaking.
I was leaking, and let me tell you, removing a menstrual cup, while you're already leaking is not a fun experience, and if that weren't bad enough, I had my first big oops incident of the experiment - I spilt my filled to the brim menstrual cup everywhere.
My lovely white underwear was splashed with blood, it got on the toilet and on the floor. If you know me in any capacity, one thing you'll know is how clumsy I am. I spill, break, hurt, knock and trip over things daily. I guess some form of accident was bound to happen.
After this and the leak I felt a bit defeated, I thought I might give up for the night and pop in a tampon, but instead, I decided to stick on a pad with my cup for some extra protection and simply tried again.
Day Three: Where it all went downhill.
I woke up in the early hours of the morning with period cramps and a sore, pressure sensation in my vagina - a totally normal occurrence for me. When this happens, I usually remove my tampon and replace it with a pad to relieve any pressure in the vagina.
When I went to the bathroom, I found my cup was leaking again - but being half asleep at 3 in the morning, and given my experience with it on day 2 I didn't particularly fancy trying to take it out in the middle of the night, so I left it in, popped on a pad, grabbed some painkillers and went back to bed.
About an hour later I still hadn't slept, so I decided to bite the bullet and take out the cup. I changed my pad and got back into bed ready for a nice sleep. Which ultimately didn't happen.
As you'll know from earlier in this piece, I hate wearing pads for two reasons:
1. The experience of seeing my period blood.
2. I have a heavy flow which tends to rush out of me when moving around in my sleep.
So instead of a nice peaceful sleep, I was riddled with anxiety and had multiple dreams about my period leaking everywhere. I also kept feeling the sensation of blood leaking from my vagina, and so I was awake again, feeling completely defeated.
I finally decided enough was enough for one morning and changed my cup for a tampon.
Later in the morning when I woke up, exhausted from my night of playing the period games, I took a shower and decided to give the cup another try.
However, by the time I decided to change it in the middle of the day, I found that not only was it leaking, but it was stuck; again.
This time, having tried all of my usual tricks, I couldn't manage to get it out and decided to ask my long-suffering boyfriend to step in.
I give him a running commentary on my period every month, so nothing is new to him any more. He knows my cycle almost better than I do. And while he wasn't thrilled at the idea (I personally wouldn't fancy trying to retrieve a menstrual cup from anyone else's vagina either) he popped on some rubber gloves on and was happy to help.
Determined to solve the problem myself, knowing I couldn't call on him every time it got stuck, I tried again, squatting very low and relaxing my body; low and behold I managed to get it out again without further incident. A win for me and to be honest, him.
So I get it out for a clean and an empty and pop it in once again, knowing the more I use it and overcome small issues it will soon be second nature to me.
Within minutes I noticed it was leaking again. At this point, and yes, only at this point I decided to Google it for some expert tips.
Fellow menstruators suggested that the best thing to do was twist the cup once inserted to make sure that it pops open again after being folded in for the insertion.
After trying this, it seemed to work, and my cup was in place as I experienced no more leaking.
Day Four: Congratulations! It's a beautiful... menstrual cup?
Yep, I sure got that menstrual cup in pretty well at the end of day three.
This morning I was faced with another instance of the cup becoming stuck inside me. It had travelled a few millimetres too high into my vagina and so endeavours to remove it began once again.
I tried everything I had done in the last two days to remove it, and this time it really seemed to be stuck this time, I couldn't reach it. Panic set in pretty quickly, and I didn‘t fancy asking for help again.
This time, I knew I needed to try something I had not tried before.
After thinking about it for a while, I realised the best thing to do might be to use my vaginal muscles in my favour since I'd recently realised how strong they actually were.
I decided to try and push it out as though giving birth - and yep, it worked a treat. The cup lowered itself enough to be removed without further incident.
At this stage, my period was coming to an end, and I decided that giving birth to a beautiful baby menstrual cup was enough of a bang to go out on, and so my experiment came to an end.
Before storing my menstrual cup until next month, I washed it out thoroughly with soap and water before placing it into my dedicated menstrual pot where I boiled it for about seven minutes.
I then removed it, dried it thoroughly and placed it into the small cotton storage bag that came with it - all ready to try all over again next month.
So, how did it go?
I plan on continuing my menstrual cup training next month, so that should tell you all you need to know.
Experts say it can take up to three mensuration cycles to get used to using it and I don't doubt that like everything in life, I just need to get used to managing it and recognise that it is physically and functionally different to using a tampon.
While this month I was lucky to be at home using my cup, (thanks, COVID) I do wonder how I might get on in a public bathroom where I can't lie on my back or beg for intervention.
As I mentioned before, I have a tendency to suffer from bouts of fear towards my period blood when triggered so I do recognise it won't be something I'm able to use every single month. There is also period pain to consider, sometimes I am so incapacitated with pain that using tampons and pads might just make things easier for me.
I thought that using a menstrual cup was manageable, and honestly, if you're considering trying one, I'd urge you to give it a go. At worst you lose €20, at best you save a mountain of money in the long run and there is also the added benefit of it being a sustainable product.
If I can get the hang of it, anyone can.
Please refer to product instructions for further information and warnings related to using a menstrual cup in conjunction with an IUD. It is not designed for wear during intercourse, and will not prevent pregnancy or Sexually Transmitted Infections.