Voices: On Periods
This month's installment of Voices is a day late (which is on topic, ha) because yesterday was an important and busy personal day. But here we are, back to our monthly series/discussion of topics, ranging from periods to professional advice, featuring my best girlfriends. Happy end of June!
how old were you when you first got your period?
L: I was 11 years old when I first got my period.
G: I was 11
B: I was 12 and a half
K: Somewhere around 14 perhaps. I remember getting it early, which I wasn’t very enthused about.
can you share your first period story?
L: I went to the bathroom to wash up and get ready for bed one night and noticed that I had spotting on my underwear. At first, I thought it was blood from a rash in between my legs because I used to get pretty bad atopic dermatitis, so I figured the blood might have been due to another flare up. Realizing that the spotting wasn't due to a rash, I showed my mom my underwear and she said it was blood from my period and handed me a pad to put on. That was the extent of my "period conversation" with my mom.
G: I thought I had pooped myself. But my mom saw my stained undies and told me it was my period and showed me how to wear a pad. Later, when I was in the bathroom alone, I thought, "God, how could you do this to me? Why would you create such a thing as a period? Could you not have thought of a better way to create the reproductive system? Are you kidding me right now? Blood coming out of my body for a week for the rest of my life!" I was so angry with the universe. I thought the whole concept of the period was the most absurd thing I had ever heard.
B: It was summer vacation and I remember I was so excited because I was supposed to be going to a water park the next day with some friends. Of course that’s when it happened, I got my first period the day before. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do, so I told my mom. She was so calm, but I didn’t know how she could be so calm with my water park dilemma. She told me about pads and tampons and said that I could either stay home or try using a tampon. It being my first period, I was nowhere near ready to tackle that yet. So I moped at home the next day, still angry at my period for choosing such an optimal time to arrive.
K: So my mom had given me the talk and I found myself getting my period a couple months after. I thought it was just words coming out of her mouth and I didn’t really understand the concept of what my mom was saying until I actually saw blood all over my underwear. Even then, I wasn’t completely sure of what exactly was happening to my body. I played it off super cool until I told my mom I was bleeding, and she rushed to get me some pads. Lots of stained underwear since then, ha.
has your period changed over the years? if so, how?
L: Growing up, I experienced God awful cramps leading up to my period and a heavy flow for 5-6 days. I was not and am still not a fan of tampons, so you can imagine how often I was changing my pads. I would even double up to cover as much surface area as possible. I didn't care if I looked like a newborn baby with a diaper butt. Fast forward several years and I made the decision to go on the pill. I have been on it consistently for about 8 years and now experience not as awful cramps and a lighter flow for only 3-4 days. I still experience about 1-2 hours of terrible cramps per month, the cramps that make you feel like your uterus is about to fall out of your butt and you can't do anything but sit there and pray for it to pass soon.
G: It was heavy flow for seven days all the time. The cramps were insane. It hurt more than the time I got stitches on my chin. Holy mother of God it hurt. But I never said anything. I just thought that was life and I kept it to myself. It also made me extremely emotional, and over time it gave me acne. My cramps stopped by college on their own. I eventually started taking birth control pills when I was 22 and that helped a lot with my heavy flow and acne. I had a heavy flow for only 3 days and normal for 4. Then I discovered the IUD. Hallelujah! I haven't had my period in a year. Technically, on an IUD, the body still goes through the cycle of having a period, but the blood no longer lines the uterus so most women on an IUD don't bleed. I don't have to worry about buying tampons or pretty much even think about life with a period.
B: Mine has definitely changed a lot throughout the years. It’s been lighter, heavier, shorter, longer. It wasn’t until I was an adult that it finally seemed to even out and be more consistent. I know it could have been due to a lot of things, especially hormonal changes throughout puberty. It still varies slightly, usually when I’m more stressed I’ll notice differences.
K: This is a personal gripe for me because I have to say I had a “great period” which lasted 3 days with medium flow and then it was over (also, no cramps). However, as soon as I turned 23, my period changed to 5 days with sort of an erratic flow which ranges from medium to super light to sometimes nonexistent. This is tricky—not only is it longer, now it just bleeds and stops and bleeds whenever it wants to and I don’t have the same certainty about which female hygiene products I should be using for which day. And I now have some lower back cramps on the first day. I researched this and found out that girls experience hormonal changes around the age of 22-23, so this is not unusual. The texture of my hair changed as well—I went from kind of straight-ish hair to super wavy/curly hair. The body can do so much.
how regular is your cycle?
do you take or do anything that affects the regularity of your cycle?
L: Since I am on the pill, my cycle is pretty regular with maybe a variance of 2 days every so often.
G: My cycle is every 28-32 days. When I was getting my period, my uterus would contract and my boobs would get sore, so I never tracked it on a calendar.
B: Once I was in high school, I started tracking my cycle more and noticed that I missed many months and sometimes had them too frequently. I was so irregular that I ended up wanting to talk to a doctor about it. That’s also when I learned that I wasn’t the only one with such irregular cycles. It seemed like a lot of women in my family had the same issue, but didn’t share that with me until I was older. My doctor suggested that I use a contraceptive pill to help balance out my cycle. It took several tries to find the right pill for me, which I don’t think many people explain. The worst part was that I would need to try each one for a few months to see how my body adjusted to it. So it must’ve taken me about a year until I was finally happy with the pill I was using.
K: Regular as fudge—I actually don’t take or do anything. In the past, when I was late once, all I really needed to do was go for a run (thanks for the advice, Mom). Exercise can help regulate periods really well.
how long does your period last?
is it generally light? regular? heavy? a combination?
L: On the pill, my period is pretty light and lasts only 3-4 days. It's usually heavier on day 2 and tapers off as my period continues.
G: It lasted 7 full days and then 3 light days, but I didn't count the light days because I wanted to lie to myself. I hated having my period so much. So, so much. A small lie made me feel a lot better.
B: Nowadays, my period is pretty light. Of course, every once in a while, I’ll have a heavy one which is not so much fun. It typically lasts 3-5 days depending on my stress and activity levels.
K: See my detailed description (two questions) above.
how do you track your cycle? what do you track?
(e.g., activity, diet, digestion, fertility, etc.)
L: I don't use an app to track my period since I typically get my period the Wednesday of my placebo week. I use an alarm on my phone to remind me to take my pill every night before I go to bed.
G: Before, my body would tell me a few days before that my period was coming. My boobs would get tender and I would get contractions. I don't have to track my cycle anymore because I have an IUD. There's a 3-6 month adjustment phase the body goes through when you start an IUD. I had my period for 2 weeks at a time at first. It sucked, but I knew it would be worth it later.
B: It’s much easier to track my cycle now that I take birth control pills, but I have used a calendar/planner before to keep notes to myself. For me, the biggest influence that I have control over is definitely my physical activity levels, so I try to remain active, especially leading up to my period when I know I’ll be more fatigued.
K: Mental notes about which date I got my last period. Then I know I can expect it at the same time +/- 2 days the next month. Also, if I’m feeling a little more moody and realize what date it is, I know it’s coming.
what is your 'period routine' (particularly in the summer)?
L: When I am on my period in the summer, I don't wear white shorts/skirts/dresses, etc., but I continue to use pads. If I am going to the beach, I'll wear a tampon, but will swap it out with a pad once my beach activities are finished.
G: I have no period routine. The IUD saved my life from having to dedicate any time to thinking about my period. Before my IUD, I still didn't have a routine, but I would be angry about why periods even existed in my head all the time.
B: Honestly, I try to keep most things the same and not let my period or cycle get in my way of enjoying the summer (especially after that water park fiasco way back when). For most of the time, I’ll use a liner when I’m on my period, but if I’m doing any exercise or water activities, I’ll use a tampon instead.
K: Eh, not much of a routine. I try to wear comfortable underwear and carry 30 tampons on me all the time.
do you experience PMS? what symptoms?
how severe are they? how do you manage them?
L: In addition to some cramps (which sometimes can be VERY painful), I get sensitive/emotional, very impatient, and easily annoyed. Many of the arguments I have with my fiance are usually when I am PMSing (or when either of us is hungry). If my cramps are bad enough, I will lie in bed with a heating pad and cry for it to end. I also have a huge craving for sweets, particularly chocolate, brownies, cookies, cakes, etc., which I almost always succumb to because you know...PMS. I also break out on my face and get anywhere from 2 to 5 new pimples each month.
G: The worst PMS. I got really mean and took things super personally. I've flipped out on a few people over the years in high school, but mostly I was good about controlling my anger. But PMS mixed with my depression was debilitating. I would try to sleep it off mostly and stay away from people. Over time, my angry PMS turned into an emotional PMS. Small things would make me really sad. The past few years, my PMS has been very mild. I don't notice it anymore.
B: It’s interesting because sometimes I have PMS, but other times I don’t. Most commonly, I’ll feel bloated, a little bit sensitive, and mostly tired. I just try to give myself a little extra TLC and be patient with myself when I know I’m going through these symptoms. Sometimes, all I need is extra sleep, but other times, I’ll use herbal tea or avoid caffeine and salt to combat some of these side effects.
K: I never thought I did until a previous partner pointed out how I can be moody. I always thought I was totally normal, ha. Besides being moody/a little more emotionally charged, I crave chocolate and comfort food. I still consider myself lucky on this one since I know it’s a lot worse for other girls in terms of severity.
how do you comfort and care for yourself while on your period?
L: While I am on my period, I can pretty much resume a normal lifestyle. I will usually apply a spot treatment on my new blemishes/pimples as a result of my period. On rare occasions, I may take a day to myself to be alone to avoid any confrontation with anyone who irritates me.
G: When I used to get my period, I would sleep all day so I didn't have to do anything. Then I finally got around to using tampons in high school. I was in bed less, but I still avoided people.
B: Plenty of rest, time to myself, just treating myself more sensitively. Ironically enough, I’ve realized that I can be the toughest on myself and upset myself the most when I’m on my period. So it’s really just being patient and more lax with myself.
K: I try to only splurge on a bag of M&Ms once during the 5 days. It’s such a balance between comforting yourself and then feeling guilty for overeating afterwards. I try to listen to my body and be logical at the same time.
what is/are your preferred feminine hygiene product(s)?
L: Pads all the way. I use Always Ultra Thin Overnight pads with wings, aka Fairy Stickers.
G: Tampax Pearl was my tampon brand of choice. My friend introduced me to Eve's feminine hygiene cleanser which was amazing. I bought a bottle once and used it whenever I was on my period so my lady parts felt extra fresh. But that shit is kind of extra and I'm too low maintenance to maintain that type of living.
Funny story: this one time I was at Costco and saw Tampax Pearls on sale. Since everything is sold in bulk, there were only boxes of 120. I bought two boxes thinking I would be set for a while, and Tampax Pearls aren't cheap, so this was such a steal. My friend was with me and she was also excited and bought a box. I still had a box of Tampax Pearls at home, so I figured I could use the new boxes later. A few months go by and my friend gives me a call. She says, "...Dude, those tampons we bought aren't Tampax Pearl. They're regular Tampax with a cardboard applicator...fuck." For those of you who don't know, a cardboard applicator feels like sandpaper in the vagina. I ran to my closet and there they were—240 cardboard tampons. I couldn't return them because I got them on sale. I spent the next 4 years using cardboard tampons. It was awful. (J: I was the friend. I laughed so much reading this.)
B: I go through so many liners whether I’m using something else or not. It just makes me feel more comfortable to know I have one more line of protection against spotting and stains that can truly ruin your day. I also prefer to stick to regular tampons when I’m active or wearing something where a pad would be uncomfortable. I try to avoid the heavier tampons only because I have always been a little bit concerned about not changing them frequently enough. At night, I’ll definitely use an overnight pad, even if I’m having a light period, just to avoid any potential stains. Those are the worst!
K: Tampons/liners. As of late, I’ve really been thinking about getting a pair of Thinx, absorbent underwear for periods! I think the concept is brilliant, but I’m hesitant. I’ve been marinating in the thought of buying one, so I may make a purchase soon. I’ve had friends tell me that cups are a great option, but I’ve never really looked into them.
what tips, tricks, and/or resources do you have for managing periods?
L: Thankfully, my periods are relatively easy to work with. I have heard stories from girlfriends who rarely get their periods or girls who get them so often they bleed for weeks at a time. I would say be as self-aware as possible. Pay attention to what is happening to your body and know how to react to it accordingly. For example, if you feel super bloated, avoid foods that make you gassy. If you're having cramps, drink tea and use a heating pad. Just do what you gotta do to take care of yourself because your health comes first. If you're like me and prioritize work, don't forget that work will always be there and it can wait.
G: IUD! It has saved me. No more blood stains, no more tampons, no more thinking about my period. I haven't thought about my period or anything to do with a period for over a year. And it's birth control that I don't have to think about taking on a schedule. The IUD fits perfectly in my low effort lifestyle. But it is not for everyone. You have to consult a doctor first, and the procedure to get it inserted is not always pleasant.
B: I don’t think I really have any tricks, although I wish I did. I definitely try to be more physically active leading up to my period because I know it will have an impact on how heavy/light it is and because I know I get fatigued during my period. I also always carry liners with me. I stash one in every purse/bag I own even when I’m not on my period, because knowing myself, I will forget to pack some when I really need them.