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There’s so many amazing perks to being a woman. We are nurturing, we can bear children, we are soft. We’re beautiful creatures to gawk at. We can get away with anything with the bat of our eyelashes. But, on the opposite side of that coin, are the downsides to being a female. One of the biggest? Every month, we bleed. Ugh.

I remember when my mom had that first chat with me about my body’s natural cycle. She wanted to prepare me for the pain, embarrassment and emotions that would come along with it. I was mortified. I didn’t want it! Even though my mom was thorough and graphic in her description; nothing but experience could prepare you for that week of torture once a month.

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By 6th grade, all of my closest friends had experienced their period already. While I was a bit jealous in my obviously delayed cycle, I was actually happy that I wasn’t going through the messy interruption.

My mom told me horror stories about her growing up in the 60s and literally having to use a rag as her period protection. I guess that’s why it’s so affectionately called “The Rag” by insensitive folks sometimes? She never mentioned tampons. When I was 13, my sister, who was two years older, got her first period. My mom gave us both our own packs of “Always” maxi pads. She taught myself and my sister how to use them and we cringed.

“This is so nasty,” my sister complained. Four months into being a “woman,” my sister shared her “war stories” with me. “I hate these pad things. They make me gag when I have to clean myself up. And I’m always bleeding all over myself!” She lamented one night as we laid in our twin beds, chatting into the wee hours of the morning. “I’m going to ask mom to get me tampons. My friends said those are easier to use,” my sister said, satisfied that she’d come up with her own solution.

My eyes shot open, “Bleeding all over yourself?!” I gasped. Ugh. “What do tampons do?” I asked her, genuinely curious because if there was something to make the bloody torture easier to bear, I was all for it. That was, until I tried to use those invasive contraptions.

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I was a loyal pad user for most of my young teenage life. Then I went off to college. My school has a very specific and random rule–you had to know how to swim before you’re able to graduate. I didn’t know how to swim, so I had to skip the swim test and take a swim course. No big deal, right? Wrong! It was a class, so it lasted an entire semester. Which meant that I would be going through my period at least four times while I was in that class. Which also meant that I would be having to swim while I was on my period.

My sister urged me to take the course during summer school, which only lasted a month and a half; so I would only have to go through having my period once while in that class. That summer, my sister and I went to summer school together and even took the swim course together. Everything was perfectly fine, until I woke up one morning for class and noticed that my period had come.

Oh no. I shook my sister awake, “Dria, I’m on my period.” I sighed.

“Congratulations,” she rolled over.

“Dria! I need help with this tampon!” I poked her with one of the Tampax pearls she’d given me at the start of the summer.

By now, she sat up,” Danielle. I am not helping you with a tampon. That’s not gonna happen.” She got out of bed, reached into the tampon box and pulled out a piece of paper. “Read this, look at the pictures, go in the bathroom and do exactly what you read.” She laid back down.

“Can you at least come with me?” I knew I sounded ridiculous, but I just couldn’t do it alone.

She came into the bathroom with me, rather reluctantly and while I was in the stall, she talked me through it. I followed every instruction and no matter what I did, I felt that thing inside of me. I felt like I couldn’t stand up straight. “I just have to do this for a week,” I convinced myself as I left the stall hunched over.

“What’s wrong?” My sister asked, looking at my hump back stance.

“It feels weird. If I stand straight up, I feel it,” I complained.

“It’s not in far enough,” She yawned. “Do it again,” she handed me a fresh tampon.

By this time, we were almost late to class, so the pressure was settling in. I tried again and felt the same way, so I pretended everything was fine, just so we could get to class. I straightened up my back and gave my sister the thumbs up. All the while, I was thinking, “OMG! This sucks. I want it out of me. UGH!”

Everyday that week, that’s exactly how I felt when inserting a new tampon and going to swim class. Once Friday came, I was free to go back to my pads and I couldn’t have been happier.

“Tampons are the best, right?” My sister asked me over brunch on Saturday. “I don’t see how you were using those nasty pads for so long.”

“I know right,” I lied.

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