Guestpost on Moon Times blog
The seeds of change
I stumbled upon eco-menstrual products after giving birth to my son in 2010. In the birthing centre I remember worrying about the number of postnatal sanitary towels I was using, which lay stacked up in a small bin in the toilets I shared with my roommate. Having already made the decision to use cloth nappies on my son, I decided to research the topic of reusable sanitary products, of which I knew absolutely nothing whatsoever. I had been brought up, like almost every other teenage girl in the UK, to not talk about periods, and to wear disposable towels and tampons. I had therefore never questioned this practice. Only on the birth of my son did I start questioning the impact of our throw-away, increasingly disposable culture.
Some months later I saw an advert in The Green Parent magazine for reusable sanitary towels. Intrigued, I looked online, amazed to find a large variety of alternative, eco-friendly sanitary products on the market. This was a revelation to me. I felt guilty for all the masses of disposable sanitary wear I had used and thrown away over the years, without a thought to the environmental and other costs. I started to wonder how women used to manage in the past, and indeed still do in less developed areas of the world. Certainly Stone Age women didn’t use disposable products I wondered, so why do we? I ordered a few reusable towels, packing them away in readiness for the return of my fertility, excited about trying a product which was far healthier for me, my wallet and the planet. About fifteen months after Ewan was born my periods returned.[i]
Reasons for using eco sanitary products
According to the company Moon Times, women spend on average a phenomenal six and a half years of their lives bleeding! In the West, where we have access to and can afford disposable sanitary products, we use between twelve and seventeen thousand of these in our lifetimes! Simply stopping to consider the environmental impact of this high usage is enough to change many women’s age-old habits. However, most women are simply unaware about reusable products, how comfortable, easy-to-use, hygienic, affordable and varied they are. Most women also remain uninformed about how environmentally polluting disposable sanitary products are, or like me, choose not to even consider it.
Here is a simplified, brief list of some of the effects of using disposable sanitary wear; increased marine pollution, significant blockage of drains, risk to health due to toxins and dioxins found in bleaching disposable tampon (contributing to toxic stress syndrome) and the effects of using cotton on the environment. This is not to mention the more visible personal impact on women’s purses; whilst there is an initial cost in purchasing reusable products, this is an investment with lasting results, unlike disposable products which you have to keep replenishing.
Menstruating; Secrets and silence
There exists a taboo in our society about menstruation, which keeps us silent on the issue of periods. This area of a woman’s life is kept hush hushed, secret as if it is something to be ashamed of. Few of us celebrate the onset of menstruation, a girl’s Menarche, although it is a significant, life-changing event in a girl’s life. We certainly don’t get excited about getting our period every month for the next thirty years or so; a more typical response is to bemoan it for the pain and inconvenience it causes. Few girls or women feel empowered enough to ask questions or search for healthier alternatives to use on (and in) their bodies. We lose bodily awareness because we are shamed by this natural act. We are missing out on knowledge which if practised has a lasting positive effect on ourselves, because we are using products which are kinder on our skin and bodies, and therefore healthier for us on a personal, as well as a wider environmental, level.
Next week I continue this discussion, with information about the various products I discovered and trialled, including reusable towels, jam sponges and Mooncups.
[i] Ewan is now twenty-two months old. He has always been an enthusiastic nurser who suckles frequently throughout the day and night. My period returned so late because my son was exclusively breastfed for six months, never sucking on a pacifier or bottle teat, both contributing factors which reduce suckling at the breast and therefore milk supply, and then continued to be breastfed on demand as I followed his lead through natural weaning. This is yet another wonderful hidden advantage of breastfeeding, nature’s way of regulating returning fertility and providing natural family planning until the mother can provide sufficient attention to a new child. La Leche’s ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding 8th Edition discusses Lactational Amenorrhea, which means natural postnatal infertility, which occurs when a woman doesn’t have a period and is fully breastfeeding (see page p.169-170).