SERENA: A recent New York Times article about LDS women, garments, and periods really got me pondering the 38 years of my 49 year life that I have been a menstruating Mormon. I am one of the lucky ones who not only started pretty early (age 11) but also was blessed with a very heavy menstrual cycle that hasn’t relented as I’ve aged. Blood. Gushing blood. Oh, the joys of being a high level swimmer with the regular monthly visitor! And then the delight of heavy periods with garments! Let’s face it, garments just aren’t conducive to wearing period protection.
Even before I was an endowed, garment-wearing LDS woman, I still experienced problems surrounding menstruation and my status as an unmarried woman. I mean, tampons. How can a girl be a virgin and wear tampons? (This was an actual question posed by a friend’s mother to my mother.) When I was a student at BYU, I was asked the same question by a few roommates who had still never used a tampon and didn’t plan to do so until marriage. I was made to feel guilty about touching my “area” to insert the tampon. Tell me, how is that different from touching my area to wipe after I pee? Alas, at the time I was way too compliant. It didn’t occur to me that we had an unhealthy obsession with female virginity. I worried.
Now that I’m an adult woman, it bothers me to think that the reason people freaked out about a Mormon girl who was an athlete wearing tampons was all about preserving female virginity and being “pure” for the future male spouse. Tampon guilt. How ridiculous is that?
Soon enough I was in the MTC headed to Europe. Have you been to Europe? It’s not like the place is known for public restrooms. I was very concerned about my heavy periods while I was daily out and about on a bike with no great bathroom options. So I was feeling a little depressed. My companion, wanting to help me, told the MTC President’s wife, who asked to meet with us.
At first, I was relieved to meet with a woman leader in the church with whom I could feel comfortable talking about my concerns. I could tell her, without embarrassment, that I soak a pad an hour for about 24-48 hours every month. Super heavy flow. Clots. Blood gushing at inopportune times. I expected to be offered a solution. I wanted to follow mission rules, but my horribly inconvenient monthly reality seemed it would make that impossible.
Would it be a problem if I needed to have a lighter schedule during my period? Could I stay close to the apartment? May I wear panties under my garment bottoms to better hold the pad? I was sorely disappointed when, instead of getting any practical advice, Sister MTC Mission President dismissed and minimized my concerns. She told me to have faith.
Awesome. Faith will stop that flow. Sure.
I left her office devastated and feeling ashamed. She actually succeeded at making me feel like an unfaithful servant for having a heavy period flow I couldn’t control. I survived my mission periods with a lot of misery and embarrassment in the mix–and stained garments. Only years after I was home did I realize that, if I needed to wear panties during my period, I should freaking wear them. Oh, what a freeing day that was for me!
Periods are messy. They are part of a biological system that allow us to bring beautiful babies into this world, but they are often very difficult to manage. Our female leaders should be understanding of young women. My mission was twenty years ago, and I’d like to think things are better now, buut after reading the NYT article, I don’t think they are.
As a married woman with several daughters, I make it a point to vividly describe my periods to my husband. I want him to know what his daughters and wife deal with, what it really means to be a menstruating woman. So yes, you bet when I stand up and blood gushes so fast that I worry my double protection won’t be enough to get me to the bathroom for a fresh change, he hears all about it. When I wake up covered in blood, he hears about it. When I am cramping and running out of supplies, he goes to the store and will even text a photo to make sure he buys the right thing. Yes, he knows brand matters, type of pad matters, size of tampon matters.
Women should be able to discuss these things without shame, and the Church should be able to listen. Change the garment so it doesn’t cause so much distress during a monthly event that already creates a lot of stress. Or change the policy about wearing them. Make sure all women know. Faith isn’t the solution.
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