Today I found myself mourning in an entirely unexpected way.
I was tucked into bed for an afternoon nap, and rather than curling up to sleep, I started shopping on the Lunapads site, and… I started feeling tearful, in a cathartic way. I felt like it was helping me process grief, which is, I suppose, an odd thing to feel about shopping for reusable menstrual pads.
It’s been a rough couple months for my reproductive anatomy and company. I turned up at the gynecologist in August with a UTI, a yeast infection, and bacterial vaginosis, concurrently. I already had a highly sensitive system; then I’d had lots of sex with a new partner, been exposed to lots of new chemicals and materials we were using for safer sex, and had an allergic reaction to one of them (unsure which). My vagina (and everything around it) was pretty unhappy. (And so was I. You can imagine what it was like to have all three of those infections at the same time.)
I turned up at the doctor again a few weeks after finishing treatment, having symptoms again, and, lacking any true infection, I was told I may actually be irritated by my own cervical mucus. It’s a mild oversimplification to say I’m allergic to myself, but that’s about how much sense it makes. I had never heard of anything like that (and my Googling hasn’t made me much wiser). I was prescribed a course of vaginal antibiotics, as my gynecologist said there is sometimes bacterial involvement. Depending on how I reacted to them, he said, I might go onto prophylactic antibiotics long-term, or have my cervix cauterized to reduce the amount of mucus it produces.
The antibiotic turned out to be metronidazole, which is carcinogenic in animals in long-term use. The fact that I was willing to put five doses of that into my vagina should probably tell you a lot about how hopeless I was feeling, and how unappetizing the thought of cervical cautery is.
So things are changing. My list of allergies and sensitivities is now up to disposable pads/pantyliners, conventional lube, most soap, spermicide, and my own cervical mucus. Thankfully I didn’t seem to be allergic to the antibiotics, and I’m now attempting to eliminate any and all potential irritants in hopes that I can reduce my discomfort and avoid cauterization. I switched over to a DivaCup and reusable pantyliners quite awhile ago, but right now my skin is so delicate I don’t even dare use my DivaCup. I’m having to step back, reevaluate, and throw out things that aren’t working anymore.
So there I was today on this website, buying more pads to compensate for not being able to use the Divacup, and I started feeling like I was going to cry. Here was everything I could need for what my body is going through: organic cotton pads, wet bags, laundry bags, rinse bottles, detergent. It wasn’t relief I was feeling, exactly, though I am very relieved and grateful that there are resources out there to deal with cranky bodies. It was more that finding myself there was an acknowledgment of the ways my body is changing, and that I’m facing them, dealing with them.
It is frightening to me to think that you can break your own body in irrevocable ways, that you can do things to it that cannot be fixed. That it can break down in ways that cannot be reversed. As careful as I am with my reproductive system, I’ve apparently exposed it to enough things to bring it to this point–even though those things (pads? lube? soap?) are mostly innocuous to almost everyone. And meanwhile my joints are getting more painful, my sensory problems are getting stronger, my spine is curving more. I’m now taking medications to ameliorate side effects from other medications. I had a period so painful this week that I considered going to the hospital. I’ve realized in the last several years how wrong the impression of medicine I had as a child is–there is very little that can be treated without scar or price, and there are many things that cannot be cured.
It’s a funny thing, as someone who spent so many years suicidal, to be so afraid of my own mortality and fragility now.
However, I’m not here solely to complain (surprising, right?). I have recommendations, and I have questions, because I know there have to be people out there dealing with the same things. I want to tell you how I’m dealing, and see how you are.
First, if you’ve ever been told your own bodily fluids are an irritant to you in any way, or if you know anything about such, I’d like to hear about it.
Second, here’s a rather exhaustive list of everything I’m using to deal. I’m going to be linking to a lot of products and companies–I’m not in any way being compensated by any of them, and I can’t say they’ll work for you… I just want to have ideas out there for anybody going through the same sorts of things.
- Soap: DivaWash is the only non-irritating cleanser I’ve found that I can use on my genitals. It’s botanically based, it smells nice, it’s an effective and gentle cleanser. I’ve heard lots of recommendations not to use any soaps on the vulva at all, and especially not inside the inner labia, but my skin overproduces keratin, so it’s necessary for me to use a cleanser to keep inclusion cysts and abscesses to a minimum. I get mine at Whole Foods, but you can order it on the Lunapads site too. (I have sensitive skin in general; I use castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s) on the rest of my body, generic sensitive skin shaving creams, and mineral salt deodorant.)
- Cloth: I already have a couple Lunapads (very kindly sent to me in return for publishing one of my blog posts on their site) and I have more on the way; I like their system of a base pad with changeable liners that go atop it. (They even have wing extenders so I can wear them more easily with my boxer briefs!) I also have many pads and liners from Randumosity; the plastic snaps are kinder on my fingers and the velour liners feel amazing on my skin. I know GladRags is another cloth pad company, and many independent folks who make pads and liners can be found by Googling and looking on Etsy. There are lots of styles of pads and liners that work differently, and you’ll probably like one above the others.
- Detergent: I use All’s “Free & Clear” detergent, but I’m considering switching to a washing soda or similar to avoid chemicals and get my clothes and pads cleaner. If you have favorites, please let me know.
- Stain remover: I recently tried Ruby’s Red Wash to help remove stains from my pads–they very kindly sent me a travel-sized bottle to try after hearing about my allergies. It definitely works! Amazingly so, really–it downright wiped out some fresh stains, and even got some very old, set-in stains out. And so far, I don’t think it’s an irritant.
- Lube: I use Emerita lube, but I think this is also starting to irritate me. I’ve heard aloe suggested, but I think this is also an irritant for me. If you have suggestions, I would appreciate them.
- Rinse, don’t wipe: I’ve noticed some toilet paper irritates me more than others, and I’m less irritated when I manage to wipe as little as possible. I’m trying to get my hands on a rinse bottle (these are spoken of favorably) so that I can just blot dry afterward.
Man. I’m making a resolution to write more happy blog posts.