Over and over again, I press the bell-shaped silicone period cup into various bends and folds, trying to create the smallest shape possible for insertion. It is the most baffling origami exercise I’ve ever attempted, and I say this as someone who’s crafted paper cranes with toddlers.
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Lots of people talk about making the switch to a menstrual cup, for myriad reasons. (Mine was part of a conscious choice to produce less waste, as part of an effort to become a better global citizen.) But few mention the actual mechanics of inserting one of these devices. Or that you’ll need to throw out everything you learned about spatial reasoning in kindergarten to do so.
Women’s bodies are magical, I remind myself, as I wrench the thing into a kind of bulging triangular shape; there are those before me who have given birth, or carried vast and unusual contraband across borders. By comparison, this should be a breeze, but it is not. And I admit, it’s hard to stay motivated to do it for the planet with a polymer goblet in my hand and my underwear around my ankles.
I breathe out, bend my knees and nudge the cup into my most sacred of places. It does not go easily, but it goes.
I stay calm. Sure, there’s a foreign object lodged somewhere near my navel, but the night is young.
For a few minutes, I twist and contort like a pre-race athlete. I bend at the waist and touch my toes. I bounce on the balls of my feet. I’m convinced this rubber blood beaker will tumble out of me and ricochet off my bathroom floor, but instead, it holds. I shrug, wash my hands, pull up my jeans and head off in search of coffee.
By evening, it’s time for phase two of my waste-free period experiment: removal. I step into a hot shower and pull the curtain tight behind me. When I saw the cup last, its stem — a half-inch flexible extension protruding from the base of the bell — was right at the proverbial doorway. Gently pull on that stem, the cup’s pamphlet advised me. Then pinch the base, twist to release the suction and gently wiggle it out.
“No problem,” I think, and reach down.
The stem is gone.
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I fish a little further, then further still. The stem, more precisely, is long gone.
I am closer than I’ve ever been to visiting a walk-in clinic and whispering “I need a small favor” to the first person in scrubs, but I stay calm. Sure, there’s a foreign object lodged somewhere near my navel, but the night is young. I crouch low, as if looking for the last remaining shards of my dignity, and clench. My fingers stretch. Eventually, with a deep sigh of relief, I realize I am able to reach — just — the pointy bottom of the silicone cup.
What follows is seven minutes of intimate exploration and slippery tug-of-war. It is as if I am attempting to pull an inflated balloon through a drinking straw. For six and three-quarters of those seven minutes, the balloon is winning, but then something finally gives and I find myself toasting this victory with this very different kind of stemless cup. I feel the righteous flush of environmental do-gooder-ism. And then I feel, for the rest of the night, like lying down.
*Yes, this is a pseudonym.