I remember my first period really clearly. I was 11 years old and it was awful. Even though I knew what was coming, understood its reason biologically – my mother is very pragmatic and we had already had “the talk” – it was still awful. I had fairly scientific leanings even then and while my rational mind could make sense of the biological function of it all, this pretty early blooming, relatively speaking, made me feel quite defective. As an introvert I was already struggling with how to be more invisible but somehow this experience made me feel like I had a big, scarlet “P” on my forehead – “she’s a woman now!” – which completely freaked me out. Quite bizarre thinking back on it.
Unfortunately getting my period also signaled the beginning of a 30 year struggle with my body and its hormone functions – a legacy of “woman’s issues” in my family. Every doctor, naturopath, acupuncturist, chiropractor, endocrinologist visit under the sun. Countless hours reading everything about women’s’ health and I won’t even hazard a guess at the amount of money spent on these visits, procedures, tests and medication. Who would want to be a woman?
But I am not sharing any of this really personal stuff to solicit sympathy. No, I am about to utter words of absolute gratitude. Never once have I had to wonder how I would afford my next pad or tampon or even pairs of underwear ruined by flooding. Never once have I had to say I will just live with all this pain and agony around that time of the month – there was always a new doctor to try, a new treatment within reach. Never once did I have to sit in shame, alone thinking I was dirty or unclean. Never once did I have to face any of the medical stuff alone or keep all this to myself for fear of shaming my family. Never once did I have to face as a child making the decision not to go to school because of my period or later in life postpone happy travelling adventures because of my period.
I have just watched “Period. End of Sentence” – a 26 minute Netflix doco that brought me to tears. One thing I know for sure from talking to all sorts of women over the years is there is nothing straight forward about periods. The documentary highlights what is going on for women in rural India with regard to their periods. They can’t even talk about it, don’t understand why its happening, have no access to even basic sanitary products never mind trying to navigate pain, complications, disease, hormone imbalance and all the other complexities that often arise around our monthly bleed. My heart is broken. And then all I could think was these are disposable pads they’re making! What about the waste, what about the planet! These women have only just found some empowerment, access to a basic need. Just in time for others to probably tell they are clogging up landfills with their waste! My heart is broken again.
In my little bubble of a world the new conversation is all about waste-free managing-your-period alternatives like moon cups, period underwear or reusable cloth pads. Most of these options come with a hefty price tag. You would have to approach this with an investment in the future mentality. While trying to find an option to suit me I came across a New Zealand start up – I am Eva. Brilliant! I invested and I am sold – great product!
But no sooner had I started congratulating myself for another little waste free win than I read something that shocked me. Period poverty is thing. Right here. Right in my backyard. Young girls in New Zealand are missing chunks of school every month because they cannot afford sanitary products! Even older women working minimum wage jobs are sometimes missing work for the same reason. This is insane to me in a country like New Zealand. Thankfully there are amazing things happening out there to try and solve this. I am Eva is one example – you can buy period underwear on behalf of women and girls who cannot afford this basic need. Australia has just taken sales tax off sanitary products… perhaps we should be doing the same?
In May I am adventure bound once more – an elephant conservation project in Mozambique. Part of our plan is to visit village schools along the way with environmental education materials but also reusable cloth pads for girls. The importance of girls staying in school cannot be overstated, not to mention a little dignity with a side of empowerment. I am humbled to be a part of this Journey with Purpose and to help in a small way support the work of armswideopen.org.
If after reading this you feel inspired to give, I am asking for donations in support of my expedition in May – for more info click on the link – https://www.givengain.com/ap/a-bit-of-ubuntu/
In my early 40s now I have finally learned to stop fighting my body. I have learned to find stillness and listen to the sacred rhythms of womanhood. This may sound weird or airy fairy but it is truth. Seriously. And I wouldn’t even consider myself a feminist. All I can speak to is what I have learned about life from tapping into the wisdom of what makes me feminine – our periods are so much more than biology. My wish is for us to find a way to lift taboo and allow all girls to tap into their sacred feminine too. And we can’t even consider that if most girls don’t have access to basic sanitary products.