by Annette Baker, Sydney, Australia
If somebody had said to me six months ago that in a few months I would only be using pads during my period, and would no longer be using tampons, I would have laughed in disbelief, and probably a bit of embarrassment too. I had some pretty bad memories of using pads during the first year of having my period, and based on that experience, to me pads were ‘backward’, clumsy and messy, so I wasn’t about to go back there. As far as I was concerned pads were antiquated, and used only by much older women who had neither discovered nor enjoyed the convenience of tampons. So how is it that today, I sit here in the knowing that it is very unlikely I would choose to use a tampon again?
Some months ago a friend shared with me that she had recently embarked on a self-awareness project, which involved observing her period, and as an aid to this she used a period diary tracking app. We got to talking and sharing about our period and what it has been like for both of us. Being that there’s a certain age difference between the two of us, I had just a few more stories to share, and it became very amusing as we re-called many interesting situations and embarrassing moments, and shared our observations of the ebbs and ‘flows’ of change we had both noted during the years of having our period.
This conversation began to open me up to a new possibility of how I perceived my period. That sense of bother, foreboding and inconvenience attached to having our period, which is usually associated with a discussion between women about their period, was not there as we talked about it in such a fresh way.
My friend threw out a line as an invitation to do this same project. She offered to be there to hear about any changes I noticed along the way. The changes could be anything, changes in mood, flow, pain, no pain, eating habits, etc. etc.
She shared with me that a lot had changed for her with her period through doing this. However, we agreed that it was best not to discuss too much of this, in order that my project not be influenced by the knowing of the changes she had encountered. After I had accepted the ‘challenge’, she also shared that the commitment to this would be greater than just tracking my period; that in fact it would be a great support in my commitment to stillness. I was already in as soon as the task was put to me, but this clenched the deal. I’d been feeling like I needed something extra to support myself with the development of stillness, the connection with myself as a woman. I felt I needed something more to support me in my ever-developing rhythm, a rhythm which had been steadily moving away from the fast pace of life I used to live, to one of living a life full but without that pace.
During and immediately after that meeting I felt an instant change, a change in how I felt about myself. I could feel that in that moment I cared for the fact that I am a woman. This felt revelatory, it’s not that I haven’t known I am a woman, that would be ridiculous to say, however, it did inspire a deeper connection with that. A feeling about myself as a woman that I hadn’t had before, a care and love for me the woman. What I could feel was that I was on the brink of coming to a much greater understanding of what stillness actually meant, and how that would fit into my life as a woman.
What I have come to realise over these last six months, is that the way in which I had cared for myself prior to this was not necessarily gender specific; I was caring for the person yes, but not necessarily the woman!
So I embarked on this somewhat exciting adventure, exciting in a very beautiful and gentle way. I felt like I had been offered the greatest gift, a gift that would support me to come back closer and deeper to the truth of who I am. I did not yet know how this was going to happen, I just had the strong sense that there was this possibility.
That same day I started using the period diary app. as a tool to track my days. I would note what I was feeling, anything specific that happened, noticeable changes from one day to the next, fluctuations in my body, moods, eating, metabolism, feelings I was having about myself, etc, etc.
What was immediately noticeable was that by virtue of just taking the time to pay attention to all these details with a more focused purpose, it stilled me and brought me to a deeper consideration of myself, and all the ways in which I was doing things; this in itself was introducing the stillness, THIS was the commitment to stillness. And what I started to understand further and feel more clearly, was that stillness was a way of being. What I began to notice quite distinctly was a feeling of living from the inside out, rather than the outside in. My choices began to be more and more from impulse rather than a thought process, I could feel my body guiding me through the day, not my head.
Stillness had nothing to do with being slow, and the perception of it as this was certainly not something I had been interested in; and as I work in a busy restaurant neither was it an option. What I did notice though was that as I became more aware of not pushing myself or my body beyond what a woman’s body would naturally do, the boys at work began to automatically take the heavier jobs off my hands, without my asking.
It was nothing short of amazing, that by being open to a greater possibility of what our period is about, and observing and feeling this, that I could have a truer feeling for myself as a woman. It was amazing yet sad at the same time, after all this opportunity had been there since I was fifteen, and I am now forty-two!
When I had my first period, my Mum celebrated it even if I didn’t, we both had the day off; her off work and me off school, she took me out for lunch and bought me a present to mark the occasion. She also stated quite clearly from the start, in all her wisdom, that she didn’t want me using tampons, they were to her mind neither healthy nor hygienic. After about a year of using pads, and feeling like I was walking around with a loaf of bread between my legs each time I had my period, enduring many embarrassing situations and humiliating moments, and sometimes feeling like I was the only girl at school not using tampons; I decided to go against my Mum’s wishes. I gave the pad the flick and so began using tampons. I wondered why had I even waited this long. Tampons were the way of the future for me with my period.
Shortly into the ‘period project’, my friend revealed phase 2. Phase 2 was ‘Project Pad’.
‘Project Pad’ entailed using only pads for a whole period. What? Was she serious? What was she on? Seriously! What was going on for her that she didn’t appreciate and embrace the convenience, invisibility and ease of tampons? I did however, from observing her own personal development over some years, trust that she had landed on something relevant here, and that if she was sharing it, it was purely because it was worth sharing. I could feel the blush of the fifteen year old girl rising in me! No, surely I wasn’t about to use pads again…
I sensed that there was something greater to understand to all of this, and that to go forward with ‘Project Pad’, perhaps I needed to get over my beliefs that it was pads that were unhygienic, and that using them meant I was old, old-fashioned and daggy.
I decided I could put all of that aside for the sake of an experiment and committed to the ‘challenge’. During the course of ‘Project Pad’, which became fondly known as the ‘Pad Diary’, I had to be completely honest with myself about how it was for me using pads, so as to not influence my ‘findings’ with any previous bias I had against them. I made every attempt not to discriminate (against the pads), due to my own feelings of discomfort around the idea of using pads, and to not hinder what perhaps these ‘findings’ might mean for me with future periods. I could feel change was on the horizon and it was coming closer!
So in the lead up to my next period I of course had to prepare by going and buying pads. This was extremely revealing and very funny at the same time. I was at the supermarket, and I observed that I was up so close to the shelving, as if I was hiding so that no one would notice I was buying pads. This was ridiculous, here I was, a grown woman, embarrassed to be seen buying pads.
The extent of my ‘trauma’ of pads revisited me the night before I would embark on this ‘pad only period’, I actually had a pad nightmare. The memories and torment of using pads for that first year of my period were right there to haunt me, in embarrassing detail.
Rather than be put off by these recollections, I committed further. I could not ignore the deeper connection I had been feeling with myself since doing the ‘Period Diary’, and if ‘Project Pad’ was a potential to going even deeper, then nothing was stopping me now!
So I did it, I went an entire period using only pads, after twenty six years of only ever using tampons. The difference was amazing, the awareness I had of my body and the fact that I had my period, could not be compared to that of a period using tampons. I found I could not, and would not push myself beyond what I physically felt I was able and willing to do. With tampons we just ‘get on with it’, it’s even possible to forget you’ve got your period, especially if there’s no pain.
What I discovered with pads is that as thin and discreet as they now are, you cannot ‘not’ know that you are wearing one; so you have that constant reminder, even if you lose yourself and start pushing. The pad is there to pull you back and say, “hey, honour who you are, honour what is going on here”. Sure, I could probably have done this on my own, without the help of pads, and yes I had made huge changes over the years to not push, not race, not exhaust myself; but this was undeniably a great and very pertinent aid to bringing the awareness of that to another level, that of me as a woman, not just a person.
It seemed to give me more permission to feel my own sensitivity as a woman, and not harden against that, as I had done so much in my life.
When I began the Pad Project, even with my no bias guidelines in place, I had this silent deal going on with myself that it was only going to be a trial thing. Yes I might come to appreciate the difference the pad offers, but I wasn’t about to give up the convenience and invisibility of tampons.
However as each period came and went I found myself reaching for the pads over the tampons. The difference in how I felt with myself during my period, and now also in between each period, was far deeper than I had felt before this ‘exercise’. I was now extending this ‘not pushing’ into all my days, not just those of my period. This was a connection with myself, and with my body that I was not prepared to give up.
My experience with pads this time around has not been ‘issue free’; I have certainly had to play around with different ones to find the one that best suits me, a pad that fits in with a standard of hygiene that I will not go below, yet is comfortable and discreet at the same time. It has come to be something that I have started to give as much consideration to as finding the right pair of jeans.
Since doing this I now fully appreciate the beautiful gift of clearing that my period allows each month, sometimes I can’t wait to get my period for the support it offers. Why hadn’t we learnt this as women before, why is this not a natural and standard part of understanding our bodies?
Recently my period came earlier than I had anticipated, and I had only a tampon available. I felt reluctant to want to use it, which in itself was absolutely revealing of where I was now at with tampons and with myself. Out of convenience and necessity I used it. The feeling was horrible, very invasive, and I could feel how it had the potential to instantly provide a hardening in me, and toward my period. How had I not felt this before?
I got to a chemist, bought some pads and changed; that was probably my last tampon.
I pondered on how I had not ever felt this with tampons before, and it came to me that at times in life we want the disconnect, we want what supports us to not feel, and this was just another one of those ‘aids’ in life.
How crazy is it that we have even mastered how to shut down that which is a natural occurrence in our bodies, an inbuilt gift that actually enables us to feel the fact that we are women, and all the beautiful sensitivity of that. We found and embraced a way to not feel that which we are!
The intimacy and connection I now feel with myself, and with the fact that I am a woman, is certainly the most beautiful thing that has come out of this for me.