You have 2 pairs of pants and 2 pairs of undies. One of each is currently on your body and the spare is in your backpack. You will switch them out tomorrow when you will be near a public drinking fountain or bathroom where you can rinse them out using the shampoo in your hygeine kit.
That was your plan. Was.
But, bodies are unpredictable. Stress and malnutrition makes menstruation irregular.
Before dawn, you wake up while the sky matches the gray. As you roll over and start to stand up, you feel it. A warmth gushes from below your belly and sticky slickness slides down the inside of your thighs. Your period has started overnight and now you are half asleep and need to clean your body, change clothes, rinse your bedding and wash your bottoms.
…… This annoying and messy situation happens to women all the time, but it is very different when you have your own bathroom to rinse your underwear out in. It’s a different when you have drawers of clean clothes to put on. It’s different when you have the privacy of your own personal shower or bathtub to wash off in.
But in this scenario you are homeless, you are free bleeding until you can get to a porta potty or a public restroom.
There are not a lot of places that will let you walk in in your current condition. The blood stain is dark and red at your crotch and noticeable from both the front and the back. You’re holding your second set of clothes in your hands and trying to decide if you should just find a place between buildings where you can just roll band use your already bloody pants to clean yourself with and then put on the new pants when you realize that you don’t have tampons or feminine hygiene pads.
Fortunately Starbucks opens early in the morning so if you happen to be near 1 they have a new policy that you can use the restroom without having to buy anything. You go into their bathroom and clean yourself as best you can and use toilet paper as a feminine hygiene product.
Before World War 1 women used rags to catch their period blood. Even into the 70s women wore these really long pads that attach to a belt that went around your waist. They were bulky and disgusting. But you were homeless and you don’t have any of those pads or belt. You don’t have any extra cloth that you can carry around and place in your labia. What you do have is toilet paper and a public toilet stall that has been exposed to the germs spray from every time the toilet has been flushed. You take six or seven squares and wrap it around your hand and then folded over and place it in your labia or in your vaginal canal.
Today and for the next few days you will never be able to be far from this restroom or a similar one.
Every 3 to 4 hours you will need to replace this wad of toilet paper which is catching the lining of your uterus as it sloughs out of you. Red, burgundy, pink, liquid, gelatinous, the doings of your uterus will become a secondary focus for the next week.
If you take too long to get to the bathroom and change this wad, there is a chance it will fall out. Toilet paper is not made to accommodate the amount of blood and tissue leaving your body and once it hits maximum saturation it’s basically paper mache and it won’t protect your clothing anymore. It becomes useless.
It is hard to find a job
when your period blood is running all over. It is hard to budget in $20 for feminine hygiene products when all you have is a G.R. budget of $221 a month. This $20 does not include the cost of Tylenol or Motrin if you are having especially bad cramps and headaches and other physical issues directly related to your menstration. It does not cover the cost of deodorant when your body decides to be especially smelly due to the lack of estrogen. It does not cover shampoo for when your body gets extra oily and your hair is disgustingly greasy. It does not cover the cost of laundry detergent for your blankets or bed roll or sleeping bag and whateveryou’ve been wearing.
Having a period is inconvenient at best. However, a female’s reproductive cycle is really inconvenient when you are homeless without the resources of running water and a toilet and a shower and tampons and pads.
I encourage you to make hygiene kits that include pads or tampons or pads and tampons or even those weird little menstrual cups. Include baby wipes because having a period is a messy thing. Include the little doggy poop bags that you see dog walkers carry with their leashes. We are not always in a place where we can dispose of a used tampon or pad and it may need to be carried to a trash can and discretion is key. Discretion and hygiene are keys to maintaining dignity, not just for homeless women but for everybody.
I want for the manufacturers of tampons and pads and female hygiene products to donate heavily and often to homeless Resource Centers and shelters. I implore you, the average citizen, to have mercy and compassion because a menstrual cycle happens to most women at least once and usually 12 times a year when they are between the ages of 10 and 60.