My Pelvic Pain Journey: Part 1

Tampons and I have had an interesting history, to say the least.

I was 12 years old when my parents took me to our basement, away from my siblings, and had a 10-minute talk about puberty. My mom spoke to me about periods and pads, although I don’t remember much of that talk except for me asking one question:

“What about those things they show on TV that look like pens?”

I don’t recall everything she said but something about “that’s not the best thing for you right now.” I appreciated not being shamed and her being sensitive with saying “right now.” It left the door open for a very long time before I would actually be able to walk through it.

My next interaction with tampons came in my school’s locker room at middle school, where my basketball teammates and I were changing before a practice session. One girl went towards the bathroom stall and loudly announced “the lock is broken, nobody come in because I’m inserting a tampon!”

I was confused and intrigued. And that memory has stuck with me to this day.

Tampons and I have crossed paths many times during my menstrual history – on shelves at grocery stores, in TV commercials, in articles online, and seeing women around me ask colleagues or friends a tampon when their period arrives, unexpectedly. I’ve had discussions with close friends about tampons, watched YouTube videos dissecting the anatomy of a tampon, and read articles about Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

But all that education and exposure didn’t actually help me when I first attempted to use a tampon.

I was in my late 20s when I bought a box of tampons, went into my bathroom, unwrapped it and examined the tampon from all angles. The opening at the top where the tampon gets pushed through; the long string that hangs out, and the applicator that made my eyes wide with the thought “how the heck is that going inside my vagina?”

All those articles I read are going to come in handy, I thought to myself. I positioned myself in the classic “foot on the toilet” insertion stance, and slowly moved the tampon closer towards my vagina.

And then it happened.

I broke out into a sweat. The hand holding the tampon started to shake. And even though I pushed through that and brought the applicator right up against the entrance to my vagina and tried to insert it, the tampon wouldn’t go anywhere. The sweat continued and I started to feel faint. I gave up, threw the tampon away, and decided that pads would continue to be my best menstrual friend.

I had reached out to a close friend when this whole tampon business happened and she mentioned that she had heard about this from other friends. At the time, she suggested that I look up Vaginismus – a condition of involuntary spasms within the pelvic floor muscles that caused the muscles lining the vagina to constrict. After pouring through websites, I finally ordered a book set that came with these plastic tube things in different sizes (called vaginal dilators, which are used to train the pelvic floor muscles in the vagina to not spasm and to lengthen out), which I would never open or use, because in all honesty, looking at them sent me into a panic. Instead, I decided to get my first pap smear done, and found a women’s clinic nearby where the doctors received great reviews. I was so nervous I went for a yoga class at 6am that morning to work out my jitters. While I did sweat and shake, I managed to get through the pap smear successfully. She said there was nothing wrong with my vagina, it wasn’t small or closed, and to try harder with tampon use.

Over the next few years from this doctor’s visit, I would force myself into menstrual happiness and ease by trying various other methods: Party in my Panties reusable cloth pads for a while; then Luna Pads. About a year and a half ago, I discovered Thinx – menstrual underwear that claimed they could soak up to two tampons worth of menstrual fluid. Not that my non-tampon wearing self knew what that tangibly meant, but I trusted them. I ordered a few pairs and gave them a try, but they didn’t work on my heavy days, so I resorted back to pads. But at least for a few days, I didn’t need to wear pads and feel somewhat more free.

I was alright with it, for now…