Sunday, 24 December 2017

Blood

I bought a menstrual cup yesterday. I'd been meaning to get one for months; it's awful how much rubbish a period generates. There are lots to choose from but the one I chose is the only Australian made option.
It's a firm transparent silicone thing with a thick rim and a little stem at the bottom, and because it is a women's period thing, the obligatory decoration of butterflies embossed in a ring around the base. It looks like a cross between a broken wineglass and an object that lived in my grandparents' farmhouse bathroom which I was endlessly obsessed with for my entire childhood: a glass eyebath. The brand name is Juju, and that along with the eyebath/eyeball thing is making me think of "Come Together" every time I have to do something to the cup. (Coincidentally I was trying to think of a John Lennon song as good as the average Paul McCartney song; the best I could come up with were "Polythene Pam" and "I'm So Tired", maybe "Strawberry Fields Forever"?)
When I began to have periods, the general tone of things was set by an ad that was on the telly, the girl in it was some sort of tv celebrity if I remember rightly, she whispered ashamedly to the camera that she'd had to leave a party with her jacket tied around her waist. There was also the ecstasy of disgust expressed at the beginning of E.H. Braithwaite's novel "To Sir With Love" when the teacher first walks into his classroom and registers the barbarism of his new pupils by the fact that a mixed group of kids are burning a used pad in the fireplace (which would be disgusting all right, but possibly no more gross than the smells of charred flesh rising from any food shop [any shop except Day Kitty, which after all this gorging on chocolate and cake is possessing my thoughts and where I am determined to go and eat blissful food again before these summer holidays are over])  The other period-related idea that I vividly remember from roughly that phase - only roughly, it must have been near the end of secondary school that I came across this - was Germaine Greer in "The Female Eunuch" writing that she had first tasted her own menstrual blood on the penis of her lover. When I was researching the different kinds of cups available and reading what women had said about them online, I thought about how figuring out periods was in fact much confusing and complicated for me, as a teenager, than figuring out sex. Figuring out sex was very much a shared activity, even a community one in the sense that I talked about it endlessly with my friends, but for periods, because of the shame, I was completely on my own.

Using this cup (for all of 24 hours!) has brought home to me the fact that there is still quite a lot I don't know about my own body. This ignorance is both shameful and intriguing. You fold the cup and use one hand to gently open your body while pushing it in with the other. It needs to unfold inside you and spring into shape, and you then adjust its position further so that the rim cleaves to you on the inside, making a seal, so the blood trickles from the cervix into the little dish. You need to get that seal happening properly or it doesn't work at all. I guess it is a bit like a diaphragm, which I have also never used - are they even available in Australia? - in that it needs to be set up and positioned very accurately inside your body and to do this you need some manual dexterity, a good idea of how your own personal anatomy is sized and shaped and orientated, and enough confidence to be able to make your pelvic muscles relax while you are working in there with two fingers and a large foreign object.

The first couple of times I put the cup in I didn't put it in far enough and I could feel the stem pressing into the softest parts of my flesh. And then I think I put it in much too far and I had a little bit of difficulty (and a moment of mingled panic and hilarity) getting it out again. I was entirely unprepared for the sound of the seal releasing when the cup is coming out. Strangest of all is looking at a little vessel full of my own blood, which I now realise I've never seen as a liquid with significant volume; I've only seen it soaked into pads and tampons, spotted on the sheets, or sometimes trickling down the inside of my leg. It is very bright red and runny and there is a lot of it. It's kind of disgusting but interesting too.

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