The No-Plastics Challenge: Low-Plastics Feminine Hygiene

Here are some sites to look at if you are interested in feminine care products that don’t use disposable plastics  or bleach:

http://www.borntolove.com/frugal-clothing.html (patterns)

http://manymoonsalternatives.com (pads, diva cups)

http://treehugger.com/files/2007/11/make_your_own_pad.php

I’ve considered making my own, and now may be the time, since I’m over fifty, and I’ve been doing this for many years now, and maybe I’m just tired of throwing away money on a natural process like this. As one young woman said to me in the personal-care aisle of the store, “It’s hard enough being a woman! Why does it have to be so expensive?”

Personally, if I had a heavy flow, I’d probably choose a commercial product for those days, and use a washable product the other days. I’ve never tried a Diva cup – I have reason to think it would not be a good choice for me. (This is a reusable internal “catcher” – many women love them as actually more convenient than the usual products.)

I truly dislike that tampons, as useful as they are in some circumstances, have at least some nylon in them, rely on bleached fillers (excuse me!) and often come in a plastic applicator – which ends up in trash, which ends up dumped somewhere, and ends up washing into waterways. Plastic applicators were so common on the beaches of Chesapeake Bay that we called them “beach whistles.” It is possible to hunt down all-cotton, non-bleached alternatives, but again – cotton is an expensive fibre to produce, and we are just throwing it away. (Some cities have composting programmes for menstrual products, but like all protein composting, this requires higher heat tha the average composter.)

Now, let’s be sensible here. Our female ancestors didn’t have a lot of periods in their lifetimes. They got pregnant, nursed babies when they weren’t (and sometimes when they were) and their fertility cycles were farther apart.  Because we don’t get pregnant as early or as often, and most women don’t nurse their children for more than a few months, ours are monthly. So we try to suppress that fertility with birth control, and we try to manage the sloughing off of the uterine lining. This is not “bleeding” in the technical sense, as it is uncirculated blood.

Maybe we have too many periods, or we don’t manage them well. Girls reach puberty and first menses younger and younger. This may be related to diet or even estrogen-like compounds in water as well as food. It might be part of a natural genetic cycle that pushes our girls to maturity faster when food supplies are high. It certainly needs more research and consideration.

Keeping our daughters on a natural foods diet, and avoiding excess weight gain will probably help delay menstruation. Our children now eat too much fat, and are too sedentary. Fat produces estrogen. So using a low-animal fat diet, lots of whole grains and organic vegetables and milk products (especially milk products) may slow down the rapid maturation of North American girls. It might help prevent estrogen-related cancers.

As for ourselves – there are ways to prevent heavy periods. Keeping body fat low and gaining muscle will help a lot to balance the estrogen levels. One thing more women need to do is cut back on stressful activities. DON’T multitask all day, every day! (By this I mean have too many distractors in front of you – computer, phone, cell phone, book, paper to read…) Driving is very stressful – if you can cut your work commute or the hours spent shopping or carrying kids to activities, do so.  Give yourself a “down” day just before your period starts. Get off your feet for a while -stay out of the gym, cut back on that long daily walk, have someone else cook. While regular exercise is necessary to keep a good cycle and to keep weight gain away, it can be stressful on top of all the other stressors.

Find some herbal teas that work for you. Chamomile is good, and there are many proprietary blends on the market for women. Avoid caffeine and sugar.

This is all common sense advice – but if you are having heavy periods, you definitely need some rest. This was the best advice a midwife gave me when I had trouble about fifteen years ago and I was facing a hysterectomy. Get off your feet! Literally, she meant – I had to take three days off work and go to bed.  I’ve kept that advice since if my period starts heavy. Nicholas will insist that I get into bed, elevate my feet, and let him do things. (Not always successfully, mind- but you can live on peanut butter sandwiches for a while.) You may think “I haven’t got time…” but I would advice you to find it. Don’t be a martyr over your period. 

The menstrual separation laws of some older cutltures were not to punish the women or keep the men “clean.” That was just the excuse. Because women’s periods came more rarely, they were moved to a special place for rest and care. Older women cooked for them, family members did the household chores. It was like a spiritual retreat for some. I think this is a marvelous idea.

I really think we need some honest discussion amongst woemn about birth control itself, as well. The hormone-based birth control spills into the water system as urine, and may be causing all sorts of problems. Barrier methods are – well, messy, inconvenient and often disposable and nonrecyclable. (There’s an ehw factor involved.) Other methods are invasive (IUDs) and may cause complications like heavy periods or infections. The natural methods require a “normal” cycle, counting days and a good deal of self-restraint at times. (If you are young and in love, that may be too much to ask, as we all know.)  There are herbs that can help suppress ovulation, but their efficacy and safety are unproven. I’m going out on a limb here, but part of the discussion has to be the push to lower population levels worldwide. What does that mean? Why is that a hot issue? Who is behind all this? (As we say in America, “Follow the money.”) Even if we are not feminists in a political sense, have we bought into Betty Friedan’s critique of the “feminine mystique?”

We don’t discuss women’s health care and the spirituality of our lives as wives, mothers and caregivers in a Christian context. Women end up looking to the neopagans for these things, which won’t help in the long run, really. Why can’t we face the fact that women are different, have different needs, physically and spiritually, and the church is a place where we could be supporting each other in that?

Would your church be willing to sponsor a women’s health care group or seminar that focusses on wellness? We seem to be willing to go all-out on breast cancer, to the point where it is a bit of a cult. Why aren’t we addressing the health of women (and children and men) on a daily basis, in a truthful and realistic way?

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8 thoughts on “The No-Plastics Challenge: Low-Plastics Feminine Hygiene

  1. I have found that the other women in the village of our seminary are pretty open about these things. I use the Diva cup and I found out that there are at least two others that also use it (we love it). I think feminine hygiene is one of the most wasteful industries out there, so I try to use as few disposable options as I can.

    As for birth control, I do have an IUD. For me it is a good choice, because I can’t use hormone birth control without it affecting my moods. If I didn’t have to take medication that could possibly harm a growing baby though, I would probably use natural family planning. I know several catholic couples who use this method and don’t have Dugger sized families.

    • I’m hoping and praying that as you get older you will need less of those medications! I had a tubal ligation after my children were born, because I’d had several miscarriages and my doctor was concerned that I was endangering my health by trying to carry another to term. I’m sorry I didn’t have a large family! the Duggers have a beautiful family, but it is a huge commitment and requires a good deal of income to keep them all going. I love big families. We have friends with twelve children, and the oldest ones are now married and having children of their own – lots of little cousins!

      If you can use a Diva with an IUD, then it must be what it is promised to be. I hope more women look into that – it’s such a bore going to the store, finding the right product, PAYING for it, and then hoping you don’t run out…

  2. Magdalena,

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/11/make_your_own_pad.php is a very comprehensive resource! I admit to personal squeemishness over this subject; On an intellectual level I think it is a fantastic idea but can’t bring myself to taking the plunge (though I am open to convincement…)

    On your rather fascinating take on this part of our lives as women in an historical sense re ancient culture and ritual laws that govern this part of our lives, my Old Testament Studies teacher recommended a ‘biblical Biography’ fictional tale called ‘the Red Tent’ that touches on the ‘Secret and sacred womens’ business’ aspect of the culture; the coming away, the sisterhood caring for one another over the days etc in what would have been in many ways, a time greatly looked forward to, one might think…

    We don’t give ourselves as women permission to be gentle with our bodies, so hellbent on the ‘people’ rather than ‘men and women’ understanding, that there is something plainly and inherrently different about us; that biology is more than an inconvenience. Feminism has sold us down the river, not advocating for us, leaving it to the Pagan/Wikken communities on the whole, and some Abrahamic faith communities (on this and many things)… A number of the Modest Christian Clothing websites also sell cloth product, http://www.thekingsdaughters.com sells them; but yup, I’m squeamish, wondering how it would all work on days out of the house, at uni etc; the logistics of it all (know what I mean??)

    As it is, I use the cheapest, least packaged, non embellished product and they’re just as good as the product twice the price.

    I think there’s something to your ‘well fed, more fertile’ theory; this seems to be a rule for all life, especially mamalian life; our Australian Marsupials have this down to a fine art, able to regulate their fertility very effectively when times are bad, (look up kangaroo reproduction if you’re a curious biology student)…

    One of your countrymen, David Suzuki, the only environmental scientist I truly respect (think he is a voice crying out int the wilderness as he has done for the past 30 years; he is not afraid to tackle the difficult subjects, but offers simple, tangible solutions) highlighted the issue of estrogens pooling in far northern and southern latitudes (Earth’s global sea currents) in which frighteningly high levels of thes hormones are impacting on the wildlife, sex indeterminacy in polar bears on the rise, and to a lesser extent, an increase of gender aborations in river fish populations in Western nations who have heavily adopted chemical contreceptives. If high profile and well respected secular scientists such as Suzuki are raising concerns, then we at least have to think about these issues and be open to debate, on environmental grounds (aside from the ethical implications, especially in this, the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill). Aditionally, I have read several reports and listened to several documentaries (Aust Govt. made, (and others) that have highlighted the weakening of the male Y chromosome. Are all these issues linked? Additionally, male fertility(in the West, don’t know about non Western nations) has dropped, if I remember the figures, between 30-50% over the past half century.

    These are definately things to think about and not be afraid to talk about.

    • There is a whole world of research to do out there,and I know I just skimmed the subjects! I probably am drawn most to the women’s spirituality issues; I move easily amongst neo-pagans and Wiccans as a friend. They are so used to Christians rejecting them out of hand. I truly believe that what they are doing is a lot of romantic silliness and sometimes worse – you don’t want to call those forces into your life! (And most of them think that all Christians are rationalists – if we can’t see it we don’t believe in it, which is sort of the opposite of what we call faith.) But they are women searching for a spiritual home, and the church ahs failed to provide it. It’s not a big step from watching Oprah and reading Eckhart Tolle to “Spells for Love and Success.”

      David Suzuki is a national hero!

  3. The cup is one of the world’s best things there is, I love love love my cup! I have a Lady Cup which is extra soft and suitable for women who get some kind of pain or discomfort from tampons. I love it works like a charm.

    • I have some hip anomalies; a diaphragm contraceptive didn’t work for me, so I thought the cup might be a waste of effort. How long does it last?

      • The people who make the Diva Cup say that you should replace it yearly. Not because of wear, but because I think that’s what they feel is the safest length of time. I feel like if you sterilize it correctly, it can go much longer.

  4. The company says 5 years then you are advised to buy a new one. However, I know some women who have used them longer and had no ill health from it. I plan to change it after 5 years though. I have used it for about 2.5 years and have had no problems with it once I learned how to put it in but that takes about 3-5 times and then it is easy.

    Or did you mean how long you can use them before emptying them? That is totally dependent on your flow some have them for 2 hours, some can have them a whole day although they suggest you do not use it for longer than 8 hours. I once forgot it for over 30 hours but nothing happened…

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