We can now call Aunt Flo by her real name: menstruation
“Mom I NEED you!” I yelled loudly from the toilet so that I’d be heard through the bathroom door, across the hall, and into my parents’ bedroom. My mom was still sleeping. My dad, already up, responded, “Let your mom sleep in, I’ll get you more toilet paper.” But this wasn’t an empty roll situation. During the night, my first period arrived.
Menstruation wasn’t taboo at our home. My dad worked downtown so he’d often buy sale-priced Kotex for mom during his lunch hours. I learned the facts-of-life from my mom (and at school), but periods weren’t precisely public conversation. Instead, we heard whispers of “that time of the month,” “on the rag” or even the archaic “visit from Aunt Flo.”
Gratefully, dad got mom without making me describe the situation. I needed her for comfort and to show me how to use a sanitary napkin. Back then, napkins had long tails you pulled through a garter-type elastic belt to secure, rather than sticky adhesive.
I was 11, and although not nearly as worldly as many 11-year-olds today, I knew discussing menstruation was no longer taboo. For my aunt, no one had mentioned anything beforehand. She went to the bathroom, saw lots of blood and thought she was dying.
Today, period discussions continue to progress. At the beginning of April, BC became the first province in Canada to require all public schools to provide free menstrual products in school bathrooms by the end of the year?—?with $300,000 in provincial startup funding. “This is a common-sense step forward that is, frankly, long overdue,” said Education Minister Rob Fleming.
As I understand it, most schools today make girls go to the office to ask for supplies. In my day, there was a coin-operated vending machine in the girls washroom at school, so I carried money and my “supplies” tucked in my Adidas gym bag. I recall at least twice when classmates unexpectedly got their period. It was embarrassing for them and scary for the rest of us wondering when that would happen to us.
But periods weren’t just a teen issue. As a mature woman who has birthed two children, I recall discretely cleaning blood from my fabric chair at the office. Even though I had excessive bleeding issues that required medical treatment, I felt embarrassed and like it was my fault for not doing more. I’m pretty confident every woman has at least one story like this.
We need to tell these stories to help continue to normalize menstruation. Even an online video is just a click away. Did you know there are “how to insert a tampon” videos? My mother never taught me because she’d never used one. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been for her to abstain every 28 days when friends were heading to the pool or the lake.
New products are also changing the period landscape and Canadian women are leading the way. Younger women I talked with swear by the Diva Cup, a product created in Ontario by a mother/daughter team. The company ranked on the 2017 Profit 500 list of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies. It’s a one-time cost, reusable silicone menstrual cup that collects flow for up to 12 hours. It’s odour-free, and I hear, easy. You pinch to remove and wash it with hot water. It’s a big benefit when travelling, particularly to places where access to sanitary products is a challenge.
In Fall 2018, Kelowna entrepreneur J. B. Owen pitched (and got big money) for her environmentally-friendly, reusable feminine liners on CBC’s Dragons’ Den. Similarly, Tree Hugger cloth pads were invented in Winnipeg by a mom who wanted something better for the environment.
Writing this, I learned there’s a disposable disc that holds up to five tampons worth of fluid, minimizing landfill waste. You can buy 100 percent cotton compostable tampons and there’s even period-proof panties good for lighter flow days and preventing nighttime leaks.
Gals (and guys) there’s no embarrassment or shame here, so let’s keep pushing innovation and the period discussion public.