The summer before I got pregnant, I decided to buy some menstrual cups. I loved the idea behind them: they're both good for the environment (because I'm not throwing out used tampons, applicators, and packaging every month for the rest of my life until menopause) and good for my wallet (because I'm not buying tampons every month for the rest of my life until menopause, which can theoretically cost women thousands of dollars in their lifetime).
Unfortunately, my experience with menstrual cups amounted to at best constant discomfort, and at worst pain. No one told me how difficult they were to insert, and if you put them in incorrectly you'd be stuck feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the day.
When I got pregnant, I promptly forgot about periods for about three-quarters of the year, so I was happy to throw my menstrual cup away. Since I gave birth, I've reentered the land of the menstruating. Unwilling to go back to menstrual cups and not thrilled about the prospect of buying tampons again, I saw reusable menstrual pads at a local health and wellness store and knew that I had to give them a try.
Like menstrual cups, reusable menstrual pads claim to reduce the environmental impact that comes with our monthly cycle and to be more cost effective. According to the reusable pad website Lunapads, approximately 20 billion tampons, pads, and applicators are sent to North American landfills annually, and reusable pads offer an opportunity for financial savings. Lunapads estimates that the average five-year savings amount to $200 0r $40 per year.
I've used disposable pads in conjunction with tampons throughout my periods for two reasons: 1) as with the menstrual cup, there are times when I find tampons uncomfortable, and 2) to be totally honest, I have a flow that would put Niagara Falls to shame, and sometimes a girl needs to call in back-up. This time around, for the duration of my cycle, I simply substituted reusable pads whenever I would have normally used a disposable one. Since Lunapads were the most easily available products from my health and wellness store, I used that brand.
I purchased one long pad a (12" pad suitable for light to heavy flow, with an insert that can be removed from the pad itself); 2 panty liners, and an 8" pad for what Lunapads calls "everyday" absorbency. I also purchased a line of Lunapad menstrual underwear, which are basically black panties with an absorbent gusset (that's right — the crotches of our pants and underwear are called gussets and not crotches), which included a removable insert and is suitable for light to heavy flows.
My first feeling when I opened up my reusable pads was that pf utter excitement. There were little foxes on my pad; never before had I felt like my period could be so whimsical. I used the menstrual undies — real, honest to goodness period panties — and honestly, it felt a little like free-bleeding. I have nothing against free-bleeding, as everyone should period the way they feel most comfortable, but I was used to the feeling of plastic mesh on my vagina and the feeling of slight crinkling every time I put a new pad on.
The pad felt so comfortable. It was like a nice, soft pillow for my vagina to sleep on.
The menstrual panties were black, but so was the insert, so I couldn't really tell how much bleeding I was doing. I don't use my period blood like tea leaves, but I thought it would be important to keep track of what was going on down there because one of my biggest worries during my period is leakage.
Overnight, I used the long pad, otherwise known as my cute fox pad. But I was nervous, because nighttime is prime leakage time, for me. But I was really pleased with the results. First of all, the pad felt so comfortable. It was like a nice, soft pillow for my vagina to sleep on. But it was still day one of my period, so my flow was pretty light and I didn't have much leakage to worry about. I thought I might feel differently on day 2 or 3 of my period, when things are usually heavier.
By the end of Day 2, I was out of all my reusable pads. Luckily, I was already doing laundry in preparation for our trip home for the holidays, so I threw them in the laundry. That's another great thing about these pads: I was anticipating some strict laundering guidelines, but it turns out I could throw them in the wash in any temperature water and put them in the dryer, which was super convenient.
It felt like uterine self-care, if you will.
Washing the pads might seem icky to some people, but I honestly kind of loved it. Instead of throwing away my pad after I was done with it, I washed it away, which is like a metaphor for the period itself. It's the start of a new cycle, a monthly reset. It felt like uterine self-care, if you will. It was refreshing to see my period through a different lens and it was exciting to pull my pads out of the dryer, clean, warm, and ready for battle.
The first two days of my period, I did most of my experimenting at home. This was partially because I was getting stuff done around the house and partially because I was too chicken to leave the house wearing a reusable pad due to the potential for leakage. I also wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with a pad if I had to take it off in the middle of an outing. Was I just supposed to walk around with a bloody pad in my purse?
On Day 3, things were a little heavier in the flow department. So I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to brave the public with my period panties and a tampon.
I felt like I was like sitting on a pillow that I had full permission to bleed on.
The good news? There was no leakage through my panties. The bad news? Before leaving the house that morning, I decided at the last minute to wear them with the liner in the gusset and every time I pulled my pants up or down to go to the bathroom, the liner would slip out. All in all, this is a pretty minor complaint, but it was still pretty annoying to have to finagle that thing back into place on the crotch — sorry, gusset — of my panties while hovering over a public toilet.
When I got home, I Googled "how to travel with reusable menstrual pads." As it turns out, it is really easy to fold reusable pads so there won't be any blood smears inside my purse in the future. Both my long pad/overnight pad and menstrual panties needed a wash and I just had my panty liners left over. But we were leaving tomorrow for a 5-hour road trip and I didn't want to travel with dirty pads, so I had to do another load of laundry. That was annoying, no matter how easy they are to clean.
Again, I used my menstrual panties - without the liner this time - as a leakguard for our road trip. Again, the panties were really comfortable. I've done this trip with a disposable pad before — it's a five-hour drive, plus multiple pit stops to keep the toddler from losing her mind — and usually, sitting on a pad for that long feels sweaty and icky. But this time, I felt like I was like sitting on a pillow that I had full permission to bleed on. Reusable pads are officially road trip-approved.
Days 5 & 6
I decided to experiment with my reusable pads and workouts for both of these days. On Day 5, I went for a quick run using my reusable panty liner. I expected the liner to bunch up or spin around, since there is no adhesive on the bottom to prevent it from moving — only snap buttons that connect below the gusset of my panties. Not only did this not happen, but the panties were really comfortable and dry.
On Day 6, I used my menstrual panties to do a workout in my basement. Surprisingly, I found the underwear more uncomfortable than the panty liners. They didn't bunch up, but I was aware of them the whole time and I found that a tad annoying.
I have nothing important to report for this day, other than my period ended a day earlier than it usually does! It's a holiday miracle!
By the end of my cycle, I had completely forgotten about my leakage fears. This was because I experienced absolutely no leakage with these pads — not when I was working out, or even when I was sleeping. I was super impressed by this. Also, I usually notice that by the end of a cycle, my skin feels chafed from constant contact with a disposable pad. This was not the case with my reusable pads because of the whole pillow on my vagina thing. Another positive for reusable pads.
I did find myself doing more laundry than I would have liked, and I have a toddler, so I already feel like I do way too much. But I think this could have been rectified if I had started with a few more pads in my arsenal. That said, the cost of those three pads plus the panties came to $80. Over time, $80 won't mean much if I don't have to constantly buy more disposable pads but it still felt like a major investment.
In the end, however, I think that investment was worth it. I loved that I was making a contribution, as small as it was, to lessening my impact on landfill waste. And as I add to my collection of pads, I know that I will continue to lessen my environmental impact by not having to do as many unnecessary loads of laundry. Plus, did I mention it felt like a pillow for my vagina?