In November of 2013, I had a 1½-year-old and a very clear understanding that one kid was enough for me ... for now. I knew for sure I wanted to explore birth control options, and after a lot of research and honest conversations, I opted for a nonhormonal copper IUD.
The IUD didn't mess with my hormones (hallelujah!) and was a semi-permanent option, offering protection for up to 10 years without affecting fertility if I wanted to try for child number two earlier than expected.
But I was warned on Internet forums and by my doctor of one downside: bleeding. Lots of it. Different from hormonal birth control, which tends to reduce menstrual bleeding over time, a copper IUD is not known to do that, and as soon as it was placed, I bled longer and heavier than I ever had during my pre-birth-control periods.
It still was worth it for the peace of mind I had with a semi-permanent, nonhormonal birth control plan, but my periods were terrible.
I felt them coming a week away and was buying two huge boxes of tampons every cycle, and I was using so many of them that they were wreaking havoc on my body. Finally, during a PMS-induced argument, my boyfriend looked at me and said, "We've got to do something about this. You're in pain. You're acting crazy. Is this even healthy?"
I started thinking and I felt instinctively, somehow, that my God-awful periods weren't the result of my IUD but rather the chemical-laden super-plus tampons I was cycling through dozens of EVERY SINGLE month.
I'd read many articles about the disadvantages of typical feminine hygiene products and how potentially detrimental they were to women's health. Something told me that was what had to change, and I figured that if it didn't work, I'd look into other options for birth control.
I remembered a conversation I'd had with a friend eight years earlier about menstrual cups. But eight years ago, my periods weren't debilitating and I didn't care. Now I was desperate. I ordered a menstrual cup, as well as a package of fleece-lined reusable pads (backup!), and for the first time ever, looked forward to getting my period.
And these, my friends, are the magical, life-changing things that happened when I tossed my tampons and started using a menstrual cup:
1. My periods got lighter and shorter.
I've never been more convinced of a higher power than after my first cycle with my menstrual cup. What once consisted of three days of cramps, eight days of heavy bleeding, and three days of spotting turned into an amazing four-day period. FOUR DAYS.
After almost two years of long, heavy, impossible periods, I barely even noticed this one come and go. And once it was gone, it was really, truly gone. No spotting, just done.
2. My trips to the bathroom were fewer and further between.
When I used tampons (and pads, because I'd bleed through even super plus tampons — especially at night), I'd have to freshen up every two to three hours, if for no other reason than that the tampon would be uncomfortable.
If my period was heavy, it would feel like it was about to leak, or feel soggy at the bottom. If my period was light, it's as though I could feel the material of the tampon almost "rug-burning" me. Either way, it was uncomfortable.
With a menstrual cup, I'd empty it three times on my heaviest days: once in the morning upon waking, once midday, and again before bed. On an average day, I'd only have to empty it once before going to sleep.
My biggest hesitation was wondering what would happen if I was out and about and needed to empty my cup. So far, that's only happened once and it was no problem; I stash some flushable wipes in my purse and if I can't get to a sink and need a midday change, I wipe the cup and clean it with a mild soap later. Easy, and actually way less "gross" than you'd think. (In my opinion, much less so than changing a tampon.)
3. My lady area was "happier."
This was a shocking (and welcome!) change that I never would've expected. But after I kicked tampons to the curb, my body felt better all around, but particularly my girl parts. Instead of a tampon wicking away all the natural moisture of my vagina, along with menstrual blood, it felt as though "down there" was healthier and ... happier.
Since telling other women about my menstrual cup experiences, some have mentioned having to use lube to insert it the first time after giving up tampons (don't do that), but by their second cycle, everything feels so unexpectedly normal (if not better than normal). A menstrual cup allows your body to do what it's meant to do without interfering with chemicals or cotton and leaves what's meant to be left.
4. No cramps, no leaks.
No description necessary. I swear, sometimes I forget I even have my period. One disclaimer: It took me one whole cycle to figure out how to properly insert the cup. If you're going to try it, don't give up — try different brands, search for different ways to fold and insert it, You'll get the right one eventually, and when you do it'll be nirvana.
5. I saved serious money.
A onetime $30 purchase versus two $13 boxes of tampons a month?! No-brainer.
6. My relationships and life improved.
My periods were genuinely sidelining me in all areas: I was skipping workouts because I knew I'd leak, picking fights because I was in pain or uncomfortable, missing nights out because I was drained from a week of bleeding. My period wasn't a part of my life; it was my life. By the time all was said and done, I felt like I got two "good" weeks a month.
Now, my period shows up right on time (another new phenomenon), sticks around for a few days (barely noticed), and leaves. My body doesn't ache before, during, or after. I work out — swim, cardio, whatever I want — without fear of anything period-related.
To say changing my feminine products changed my life might seem like an exaggeration, but it's not. This, more than any other single product, has improved my life more than I could have ever foreseen, and I promised myself I'd share my story with as many women as possible. No one should be held hostage by her own body, and I'm SO grateful to be free, 30 to 31 now glorious days a month.