Thursday, 13 November 2014

Diary of a Menstrual Cup User – Day One (The day I discovered cervix)

The prologue to this series can be found at: Diary of a Menstrual Cup User - Prologue

I woke up with a faint pain in the small of my back and a bloated tummy, and I knew this was going to be the first of my bloody days. Then I remembered that my new ALX Care Menstrual Cup was going to make its debut, and I got a tad excited. I got in the bathroom with my new silicone friend and start placing it in my vagina.

This time, it went in easily enough. I guess on the other days my vaginal walls were very tight or too hard. I also figured that the best position I could use to insert the cup was sitting on the commode. I also learnt to grip the cup tightly to avoid it snapping open in the middle of the inserting. That can happen a lot in the beginning. I wore it and walked around a little to check the comfort level. I tried to show it off to my husband, but of course there was no way of showing it off without being gross, so I just walked around looking all smug.

The stem of the cup poked at the tip of my vagina all the time, but for the moment I was okay with it because it assured me that it was in place and was not going anywhere. However, it added to my consciousness of the product, so I decided that as soon as my trust level with the cup went up a notch, I would trim the stem a little. The ALX Care Menstrual Cup has a very long stem – with four sections half a centimetre each, making that a total of around 2cm.

Since this was my first use, I was super conscious of “the thing inside my vagina”. While it does not hurt or bulge anywhere to cause discomfort, the fact that I had severe cramps and backache meant that I was also wondering whether the cup was adding to the pain in any way. I tried to urinate and defecate with the cup on, and had no problem doing that.

Get comfortable with your body

I went out for lunch with a friend in the afternoon and told her all about the cup. She had never heard of it so I gave her a brief idea of the product and promised to share my experiences with her. She, however, said she was not comfortable with the grossness involved in cleaning out the cup and the constant need to insert and remove it from the vagina. That is a disadvantage of the cup – if you are not comfortable with your body, if you are the kind that cannot stand visions of blood (and a collecting cup means there’ll be A LOT of it), if you do not like engaging with your private parts, then you cannot use the cup. Of course this is all psychological and can be overcome eventually, but then there are some things a person just cannot bring themselves to do. So if you fall in that “I cannot” category, you have two options – be open to changing your attitude, or stick to your current menstrual product.

I cleaned out the cup thrice between 10 am and 4:30pm (before heading out to office where I cleaned it out once again), not because of heavy flow, but because I was conscious and curious. I did not know how much blood (in ml) I discharge on the first day, and I wanted to see how much the cup would hold. The ALX Care Menstrual Cup is designed to hold around 25ml of blood to the brim, and during each of my removals the cup was not even 15% full: which means that I could actually leave it on for about 8 hours without a shred of worry. This will be different for women with heavier flow of course; I’d categorise myself among the women with low-to-moderate flow.

I wanted to know more about the cups – I was sure there would be forums that discussed the products or menstrual problems in general. That’s when I found the menstrual-cups.livejournal.com, which is a forum entirely dedicated to the cups. And it can answer a wide range of a woman’s worries – some outlandish and stupid worries included.

Size of the vaginal canal

One thing that hit me as I was reading some of the threads on the Forum was the constant allusion to “size”. Now, even while reading Kamasutra, I had always wondered how one could determine the size of one’s vagina. My confusion can be attributed to the slightly mistaken notion I had of my reproductive system (see illustration, left. Ignore the shoddy work, I used MS Paint and a woozy touchpad to do it, so whaddya expect!) I thought that the vagina was the external opening of the uterus. As in, the vagina just changed shape to become the uterus higher up the pelvic bones. And that is also why I thought, like many others, that if the menstrual cup slid high up, it would get inside the uterus.

As I read the threads on the Forum, I realised that the cervix played an important role in determining the size and positioning of the cup. And – OMG – I knew nothing about the cervix so far! Gasp! So I launched into a half-an-hour study of the cervix. I know you probably think I’m pretty stupid, and that I don’t deserve the 85% marks I got for science in Class 10, but I’m sure that a lot of women don’t think in detail about their reproductive system just like how many persons do not know every component and shape of their digestive or respiratory system.

The cervix

Finally, I learnt my big science lesson of the day. The uterus and vagina are not a single entity. They share the same space vertically, but the cervix comes between them (see pic, right, courtesy 'oncologychannel.com'). The cervix is the tip of the uterus that dangles into the vagina, like a tap. It is this tip that has to dilate from being a small slit or a 0.2mm hole to a basketball-size sphere in order to allow normal delivery of babies. A versatile hole, indeed (from the movie Sex Tape, 2014).

The cervix keeps changing its nature throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. During ovulation and menstruation, the cervix becomes soft and goes slightly higher up the vaginal tract, while on other normal days of the cycle, the cervix is firmer and dangling lower in the vaginal tract. The size and position of the cervix, therefore, will be different in different women, depending also on the depth of your vagina (which can be determined by how far your longest finger goes before it hits the cervix). This means that the menstrual cups cannot be in a standard size for all women – the variations in the depth of the vaginal canal and the length of the cervix can give you a large number of permutations for deciding the size of a menstrual cup.

This got me worried if the cup I had was suitable to me or not. Plus, there were several threads on the Forum that discussed how some cups are too large and hence not comfortable, or how some are too small and difficult to remove once put in. Now the only way for me to find out if my cup was all right size-wise or not was to determine how deep my vagina was. And you know what, I found out (though I am not telling you, of course), and cross checked with the size of my cup, and luckily, the size was just perfect.  So those of you wanting to try out menstrual cups might first want to know your intimate parts better. I was just plain lucky.

Essentially, the cup sits in the vaginal tract, under the cervix, like a balloon under a tap, and collects menstrual blood right from the source. This accounts for the lack of leakage or spotting (welcome, clean panties). Unlike the sanitary pads that are placed externally and hence collect the blood that drips out of the body, like a piece of cloth kept under the tap. Or tampons (which I have never used but can comment on based on my versatile imagination), that work like a piece of cloth placed around the tap to soak in the water.

Suction and cramping

All this while, I was suffering from acute cramps, which prompted me to look up threads on the Forum that talked about cramping. I discovered that the cups could sometimes add to the cramping due to tight suction. The cups stay in place inside the vagina and under the cervix through natural vacuum suction, as you can imagine, because of the limited space the cup has for maneuvering inside the vagina. (But then that is also the reason why the cup does not leak, so hey, I am not complaining!) Sometimes, the suction becomes a little too much, especially if left for long without removal, and sometimes you might have trouble taking it off. This suction can create pressure around the cervix and leave you feeling cramped and uncomfortable. I think removing and re-inserting the cup at least thrice a day and once before sleeping should help avoid excess suction pressure. At least, that’s worked for me so far. From my practice of removal and re-insertion through the day, I figured that the best way was to grasp the stem tightly, wheedle it to left and right till the cup moves down a little, and then use both the hands to gently pull it down.

I was slightly apprehensive about how the sleeping experience would be. Will the cup tilt and start leaking? It’s happened to others on the Forum. However, it just would not do to mistrust your friend because of what others have been saying, right? So I put my entire faith and positive thoughts on the safety of the cup, and went to sleep around 3am. The next thing I remember, I’m waking up at 11am the next morning. Eight straight hours of beauty sleep.

Day One was a day of big lessons for me. I have never known so much about my body in such little time. It felt great, because I love understanding my body and giving each part the attention it deserves. And I believe that the more women know their body, the easier it will be for them to get over social taboos and superstitions surrounding the female form, especially in India.

(This is a non-fictional diary entry designed to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene and menstrual cups. The author promises to give a true and honest review, and narrate her experiences as decently as possible.)
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