Recently when teaching American women's history to my community college students, I was asked what women did before they invented maxi pads and tampons. It was inconceivable to most of the young women in my class that it was possible to live without plastic sanitary supplies. They expressed revulsion with their own periods and horror at the thought that women used to actually use washable supplies. Ick! They had to actually touch their own bodies and menstrual blood?!! Revolting.
I haven't used a disposable pad or tampon in many years. Instead, I choose to make my own pads out of rags. The change originated as an environmental concern with the impact of the overuse of disposable sanitary napkins and tampons. It also emerged from my feminist spirituality and my belief that increasing my awareness and comfort with my own body is an act of defiance against phallocentrism.
When I made the switch, the way I experienced my period changed. The act of washing my own pads and of hanging them up on the line to dry has become a satisfying ritual linking me to the many generations of women before me whose bodies have sustained and nurtured our species. Washing my own pads brings me in contact with the smell, the texture, the colors of my own body processes. I am more aware of my health, of my potential, of my fertility. My children, both daughter and sons, are exposed to their mother's biology. I am matter-of-fact about my period. The process is not hidden in plastic wrap and buried in the trash as a shameful secret or an embarrassing nuisance. It is fluttering on the laundry line in the yard where they play. The sight of blood does not alarm them. How could it? They know that I am happy and proud of my womanhood. I am thankful for my menstrual period. It makes me feel strong and feminine and connected to life.