Have you ever used a menstrual cup?

Being a person who menstruates, I am one of the unlucky few whose lives get completely derailed once a month if I don’t take the birth control pill. I suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) for a good two weeks in advance of my period each month.

This is basically a particularly severe variation of the more commonly known premenstrual stress (PMS). What’s more – I only feel relief from this downward emotional spiral when my period actually hits. And of course, at that point I’m generally bedridden, in a fetal position from how heavy the flow is, with overwhelming nausea and cramps.

Uncomfortable yet?

Just wait ’til you hear about just how inconvenient and uncomfortable pads can be.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been on my period at work and had to think about how to smuggle my pads from my purse to the bathroom, only to either find out I forgot to wear something with pockets to work that day, or be stopped by a colleague on the way for a “quick” chat.

Do you know hard it is to talk about payment policies when you’re hyper-conscious that your uterus lining is Niagara Falls-ing out of your vagina?

Do you know hard it is to talk about payment policies when you’re hyper-conscious that your uterus lining is Niagara Falls-ing out of your vagina?

In sum: for the past decade or so, I’ve been at war with my period every month. Then, last August, my world changed.

My path to enlightenment began when I found out I was moving to Dubai for work for 6 months. I was anxious about the move for many reasons, including the question of how I would manage my period. Tampons have never been my cup of tea, and while I wasn’t worried about availability, pads vary widely both in quality and price from place to place.

When traveling to visit family in Bangladesh previously, I’d just packed enough pads for my trips. But packing enough pads for 6 months felt absurd.

Enter (literally) the menstrual cup.

A friend started posting on Instagram how she’d started using a menstrual cup. She, and a few other friends I hit up, graciously answered some of my candid questions (like what about when I have to use the bathroom?!).

And I took the plunge – I decided to try it out as a potential solution to my problem. 

Ordering ended up being a little more complicated than I had anticipated. As I probably should’ve guessed, menstrual cups, like pads and tampons, come in multiple sizes, to account for different types of flows.

Given that I’m under 30 and haven’t birthed a child vaginally – two considerations I was advised to take into account when picking a size – I ended up going with a smaller sized menstrual cup, but still felt some anxiety about underestimating my decision.

When my next period arrived, I boiled the cup for around 10 minutes and made sure to wash my hands, as the cup’s disarmingly cute instruction booklet advised. Then came the hard part: insertion. I’d watched a few videos on correct insertion and tips on how to fold the cup before making the jump, but I still found myself struggling.

I had to remind myself to stay relaxed even as I was tense and frustrated, which was hard when I just wanted to figure out how to shove the damn thing up there.

After an eternity (okay, 15 minutes), I finally successfully inserted the cup, sitting on the toilet and using the U-Fold method – literally folding the cup into a U, though there’s another folding option as well.

I had been worried about feeling too aware about the cup inside me, but to my surprise, I barely noticed it after it unfurled, and went about my day in relative peace.

Given that the recommended time for leaving the cup in was a maximum of 10-12 hours, I kept an eye on the clock and planned on attempting an extraction in the late afternoon. At the appointed time, I washed my hands and again sat down and tried to relax.

Removal ended up being as difficult as insertion. And honestly, I almost cried that first time.

Grabbing a hold of the base of the cup to break the seal and gently pull it out ended up being much harder than it sounds, not to mention messy.

At one point, the cup slid almost all the way out before sliding back in and re-unfurling halfway up there, which hurt a little. Just as I was contemplating the ridiculousness of having to potentially call a doctor and explain that I couldn’t get a plastic cup out of my vagina, I finally managed to slip the cup out – only to wash it and have to wrestle it back in again.

God bless the menstrual cup.

As it turned out, insertion and removal ended up getting easier every time I had to do it. Not having to worry about leaking or storage throughout the week made the ever-diminishing minutes of struggling worth it.

By the end of my cycle, I was a believer in the menstrual cup, and I haven’t looked back since.

I wish someone had mentioned that menstrual cups are an option – if not at first, just something to graduate to – back when we had those sheepish first conversations about puberty and our bodies changing in our 6th grade health classes.

I’m grateful to have friends who take it upon themselves to educate themselves – and knowledge freeloaders like me – about reproductive health and the many options that exist for managing our periods.

I’ll never be happy about having to deal with my period every month, but at least now it’s less of a hassle. God bless the menstrual cup!

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  • Sumaia Masoom is the proud daughter of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants and a graduate of Northwestern University's School of Education & Social Policy. A product of rural Wisconsin and later the Chicago immigrant & refugee rights organizing community, she's equal parts passionate about college sports and diversity & inclusion – of identities, em-dashes, and free food in lunch meetings.