For someone who has – honest! – taken some steps to make her bathroom a little less wasteful, the amount I’d been putting a menstrual cup off was a bit embarrassing. It was always something I’d do ‘next period’, except that next period I’d inevitably buy a box of tampons and then think ‘well, I’d better use these up first’.
Last week, however, ‘next period’ finally arrived. One thing I can say for lockdown is that it makes for an ideal period experimentation environment (the practicalities of awkwardly trying to insert it for the first time at the office while squatting between the cubicle door and a sanitary bin had been a concern) and there’d been an aggressively pink cup sitting in my room for several weeks waiting for this very moment. The big day was here.
FYI: for transparency, the menstrual cup in question was a Lily Cup One, sent to me by Intimina, and it was them getting in touch that made me finally bite the bullet on something I’d been intending to try for well over a year. It also solved the problem of me not knowing where to start with sizes or brands – this one is designed for first time users.
Once I’d had the cup in my possession and had established that the first time I’d be trying it I’d have no option but to be in my own bathroom, I hadn’t felt all too worried about it – a bit bemused, perhaps, but sort of trusting that it would just work.
It wasn’t until I got into the bathroom that that changed. I’d brushed off some of the ‘i couldn’t get it in’ things I’d heard from people before, but now, squatting over my bathroom floor and clutching something that looked significantly wider than a tampon, I couldn’t help but think: seriously, how do I get this thing in?
The box told me to ‘simply fold and insert’, which seemed very presumptuous. I’ll consult the booklet, I thought, there must be a more detailed account in there.
On discovering that there was no further wisdom to be found there, I had no choice but to have a crack at it. My first attempt was fairly poor; I was gritting my teeth and not at all relaxed, my nails were long and the silicone dragged. Once the rim of the cup was in, I tried to push it upwards; that seemed to make it concertina in on itself, so I tried to adjust it and ultimately just ended up with it in my hand instead. It made a rather unpleasant sound a bit like a plunger, and the edge was covered in blood. I wondered if crouching over my new white, yellow and grey bathmat was really the best place for such an activity.
I rinsed it off in the sink, thinking that maybe a bit of moisture wouldn’t go amiss for this anyway.
This time I folded it slightly differently and held the fold for longer, and when the rim of the cup was in, I just…kept going a bit more, until it reached a semi-comfortable position.
Was it in far enough? Too far? It was entirely in, but lower than a tampon would sit, so hopefully. I gave up fiddling around with it, since I didn’t really know how to tell whether it was right or not anyway, and just hoped for the best.
Second attempt! I felt rather proud.
I messaged the group WhatsApp to celebrate the momentous occasion. Rightly, everyone seemed very happy for me.
Immediately I worried about getting it out. What if it got stuck? What if it didn’t get stuck but I couldn’t keep it upright? What if this time I really did ruin the bathmat – by tipping a chalice of blood onto it? Several hours now felt too long to wait to see what awaited me at the end, but feeling removing it straight away would defeat my valiant efforts to get the thing in, I waited, feeling very aware of this thing in my body.
Later that day, my first go at getting it out went about as well as my first go at getting it in; I didn’t think through the quite basic premise that the rim forms a seal (that will have been the half-suction sound from my failed insertion attempt), and that the seal would have to be broken in order to remove it.
I pulled hesitantly – nothing. I pulled a bit harder and tried to relax (it’s very hard to relax when you are trying to relax) – nothing. I wiggled it around, and adjusted my position, and squeezed the bottom of it slightly, and tilted it different ways. I made a bit of a hash of it, and being so tense meant that the widest part making its exit was a little painful, but then it was back in my hand, this time containing a mildly fascinating miniature red pool.
Side note: I am not a very heavy bleeder, so the extortionate amount of pain I find myself in every month has always seemed unjustified. I’d had the cup in for around four hours on the first day of my period and it was not even close to half full, but obviously that will vary from person to person.
I had to call it a success. I mean, the first few times I put a tampon in or took it out weren’t awfully pleasant or easy either, and that’s now a ritual that happens with the same ease as brushing my teeth.
As the following days progressed, it got a little easier. By day three there were some times that removing and re-inserting it happened almost absent mindedly, and it was always these times that it seemed to go the best.
I became more familiar with the way of folding it that worked best for me (folding each side down, as well as across, to create a sort of rosebud shape that is narrower at the top, rather than the flat C fold that seems to appear on a lot of explainer articles), although I still didn’t get it right every time.
So there’s still some getting used to it to do, but will I be getting it out again next month?
Absolutely I will – and I’ve read that it takes around 3 periods to really get into your own personal menstrual cup groove, so I’m expecting that it’ll take me quite a few more before I can call myself an advanced user.
It’s looking promisingly like it’s going to be goodbye to tampons for me! Ultimately I don’t think anyone should be passing moral judgements over other people’s choice of menstrual product, of all things (isn’t there enough that people who bleed can be made to feel lesser about – you have to come for my vagina now too?!), but anything that lowers bathroom waste is clearly a positive thing, so I’m all too glad to have bitten the bullet and given it a go.
I guess at some point I’ll just need to navigate inserting my little pink mate in the office toilets.
*The Lily Cup One I used was gifted to me by Intimina; I was always going to write an up close and personal account of my first experience using a menstrual cup because I think sharing is caring (and because I thought if it went terribly, it might at least be amusing), so I’m grateful that them sending this over gave me the nudge to get on and try it. Would I recommend this one in particular? Definitely – I liked the ring pull rather than the idea of a stem, and it seemed like one of the less intimidating options available. However, what’s right for me may not be right for you, so checking out different styles and sizes is always going to be advisable for something you’re literally planning to put inside yourself.