Brianna Bell, our guest blogger today, shares her story of switching to cloth pads and how she shared that experience with her daughters.
“Penny, can you get mommy a pad? I got my period,” I say, hoping she can hear me in the next room where she’s colouring.
“Sure!” She calls back. Her little feet pound on the kitchen linoleum, and then I hear her running up the stairs to my stash of cloth pads.
She returns with one heavy pad and one light pad, a triumphant look on her rosy-cheeked face. She passes me both, and then rushes off to return to her colouring.
I don’t think there has been a time that Penny, now almost seven, has not known what a period is. My oldest of three daughters, she was born curious and inquisitive, and I have always been happy to answer the questions she has.
I have made the choice to invite my children into my reproductive health journey, offering age appropriate explanations and honest answers to questions. After years of normalizing my period, each of my children approaches the sight of period blood, pads, and my cycle with nonchalance - it is what it is, they seem to think.
My open approach wasn’t exactly planned in advance. When Penny was around three she walked into the bathroom and found me changing my blood-soaked pad, a moment that was both transformational and startling for us both. The look of fear and confusion on her face confirmed my need to normalize menstruation, even at a young age. I quickly assured her that the blood she was seeing was normal, and explained to her that I had been bleeding for a few days every month, for a long time. She was reassured, and I decided then not to hide my period from her, offering openness and honesty instead.
Throughout the years our conversations have ebbed and flowed. Like any person who gets their period, my life does not revolve around it, and neither do my kids’ lives. But our open dialogue has led to many fruitful conversations, and I’ve watched as my kids’ comfort with my period and its natural processes has developed.
Once my middle daughter, Georgia, asked me why there was so much blood on my pad. I explained that looks were deceiving, and tried my best to find a practical way to explain what she was seeing. I took her to the kitchen and filled a cup with water, and then asked Georgia to drop some red food dye in the cup. Instantly the red dye changed the water to a deep red, and I explained that my period was similar. What might look like a lot of blood was actually water, and a mixture of other compounds to make it look like a lot of blood.
When I switched to cloth pads two years ago I shared with my kids why I was making the switch. We talked about the environment and why disposable pads weren’t a wise choice for the earth, and also that cloth pads were a less expensive option too. We picked out patterns and colours together, and discussed the importance of finding products that work for your body type. When we received our first shipment my kids carefully unwrapped the pads, excited to see the different colours and feel the soft textures. Later I found them laying their toys on the colourful cloth, as if they were sleeping on a comfy bed.
Since I started using cloth pads I have noticed a dramatic shift in the length and severity of my cycle, and I shared my findings with both Penny and Georgia. I’ve let them know that if they choose, they can have their own pad collection once they get their periods. I plan to offer them the freedom of choice, and will educate them on the variety of options available, from menstrual cups, cloth pads, or period underwear.
There are so many ways that open discussion has improved my relationship with my children, and offered them plenty of life lessons already. They’ve seen me comfortably negotiating my period, and have felt confident enough to ask me questions. I’ve been careful to explain that my period journey is not the same as every other person’s journey, and theirs may look different too. Regardless of how their period looks, or feels, they know that I’ll be there to navigate the experience with them.
Just because my kids are young doesn’t mean that don’t have the ability to understand and appreciate the different functions of our bodies. I’ve watched as open dialogue has led to them embracing the concept of menstruation quite easily. It's not something they consider gross or uncomfortable, because it's a natural topic to discuss for them. I feel confident that cultivating a space for judgement-free dialogue will lead us to deeper and richer conversations as they grow. When their time comes, they’ll be equipped with years of spectator experience, and ready to embark on their own reproductive journey.