A Women's Health and Being "Period Poor"

David Trammel's picture

As a man, I don't have to handle the monthly health affects of menstrual periods. That blindspot made me unaware of the issue of being too poor to afford the supplies to deal with this. My local public radio had this story which I found informative.

"Secret Challenge seeks to provide families supplies for an expensive necessity — menstruation"

Imagine that first you can’t afford to keep your water on, or your electricity. You’re already struggling to find or keep a job. Every month, you have menstrual periods. One or more of your children might, too. Where do you find room for sanitary pads and tampons in the budget? How do you focus on taking care of yourself, getting a new job or a more stable home? If you’re homeless, how do you find a way to get hygiene products without money?

That’s what Donna Kaucic started wondering as she worked with families at Jefferson Franklin Community Action Corporation, a non-profit agency that offers services to address poverty in Jefferson and Franklin counties. So Kaucic started what became the Secret Challenge, a grassroots effort to collect sanitary pads and tampons, then donate them to local shelters and food pantries in Jefferson and Franklin counties."


Questions then for the women among us, have you encountered this yourself or in others. What safe alternatives are there?

I have not had a period for several years, but I am glad to see this issue taken up, and certainly would recommend period products as an essential donation when gathering supplies for emergency situations or homeless shelters, etc.

For myself, I have used a natural sponge with good success for a few years. It needed thorough rinsing every time that you would normally be changing and discarding, and a good boil, with a pinch of vinegar before drying and storing between periods, but as a renewable tampon, worked excellently well for me.

Living in a dampish mountainy upland in Donegal, I have a hillside full of spaghnum moss, which I've often gathered and boiled and dried for use as bases for poultices, wound fluid absorbers, and also tried using for periods and for home-made nappies, too. For the latter two uses, though, it is essential to have a washable cloth container, with a well placed "pocket" that can be packed with the dried (or slightly dampened for comfort) moss each time. The moss can be very "scattery" and go everywhere, otherwise. So the design of the moss container is critical, and there are some useful designs posted elsewhere on the web. Still, the moss is extremely absorbent, and not too labour intensive to gather, presuming a supply is on your doorstep, so this could be a useful method for some.

Thanks for the posting.

mountainmoma's picture

The most cost effective, long term, when you are broke is to not use disposable period supplies. There are a couple problems with this though, first is the upfront start up cost, second for cloth pads is access to washing machine, and for teens there is a definite social issue with using what "everyone else" is using, so they would want disposable. The second issue for teens is not wanting to carry soiled pads home. Solutions, costwise, are to have donated or free supplies. Also, in my town there is a free sewing co-op where a woman can go and be taught how to sew her own, with free supplies. This type of thing should be encouraged. Cloth pads last for years and years, and can be washed by hand and air dried. We have some here that still are not worn out. In some circles of young women the washable cups are becoming popular. These can be taken out and the blood tipped into the toilet and then reinserted and no one around is any wiser, so no dirty pads to take home. But, it can take a few expensive purchases to find the one that is the right fit, a downside when broke, but that again is an initial cost downside as then there is no recurring monthly expense.

vortenjou's picture

Yes, having privacy for the rinsing of cloth pads certainly makes a difference for my ease of use!

Days For Girls has done a lot of work with "stealth" pad solutions to make use and washing much easier - ziploc bags for daytime changes and rinsing with minimal water, and pad shaping to not be so obvious and to allow faster drying. The markets they serve aren't suited for disposables (no trash handling), so they've gotten lots of feedback on effective solutions.


The Demystification of the Postpartum Female Body
As women open up about the realities of recovering from giving birth, the resources available to new moms are expanding.


"New-mom underwear had been a well-known initiation rite for years. Soft, stretchy, made of disposable mesh, and mysteriously available only in maternity wards, it was an unlikely hot-ticket item—but sure enough, mothers quietly advised the soon-to-be mothers in their lives to steal as many pairs of it as possible from the hospital before bringing their new babies home....

"For generations, the grisly bodily details of new motherhood—the messy postpartum bleeding, the frustrating and sometimes painful process of figuring out breastfeeding, the wound care necessary for the vagina and cervix or the C-section incision, not to mention the waddling around the house wearing whatever undergarment can contain both an absorbent maxi pad and an ice pack—have been something of a secret kept among women. Like menstruation and menopause, the topic is often considered impolite fodder for mixed company, and many women, as a result, find themselves underinformed or misinformed about it (or only informed by a mother or another trusted older woman when the occasion arrives). But today, the realities of the human body immediately after giving birth are less mysterious than ever, a development some attribute to a changing climate around motherhood. Consequently, the care available to women has improved in some ways, too."