Coming on my period, in the middle of a camping holiday in the South West of France wasn’t the ideal situation, even for moi, committed menstrual activist. I had been looking forward to relaxing and playing with my young family in the warm French sun and on the beach for weeks. After a fleeting moment of internal annoyance, I decided to rise to the challenge and make the most of the situation.
I am used to bleeding when I am camping and don’t let that compromise my choice of menstrual products. I always use my cotton washable pads and simply soak them in a washing up bowl behind my tent or caravan. I give the blood-rich water to the land or trees with thanks. I then wash the pads by hand and dry them on a clothes rack in the sun. If I felt shy, I would sandwich my pads between T-shirts and tea towels, so they stayed private. This part wouldn’t present any new problems or challenges for me.
I did feel gloomy about not being able to enjoy the water though. I have a menstrual cup, but I don’t find it very comfortable. It also leaks a bit when my flow is heavy. I felt exasperated that I hadn’t got any menstrual sponges, as they might well have done the job nicely.
I began bleeding just as we arrived back at the campsite after a lovely day on the beach. I simply relaxed and let it flow, enjoying a social time with our neighbours as they held an impromptu party for their 8-year-old daughter. Not exactly a private red tent, but I felt relaxed and happy to go with the flow and enjoyed myself in their company, watching all the children bond and have fun creating giant bubbles.
The next day, my day 2, we decided to go rock pooling. This meant I could wear my pads as usual but still enjoy the beach. The children could paddle in the rock-pools and get wet, without too much supervision, which meant I could lie in the shade and read my book and rest. Win – win!
Day 3 was absolutely scorching and I was desperate to cool off. So I made the exciting decision to free-bleed on the beach and in the sea. My swimming costume was red anyway as luck would have it and I lay on a dark towel on the beach so that any blood wouldn’t be too noticeable. Stains don’t worry me at all. The beach was absolutely jam-packed with adults and children, playing bat and ball, making sandcastles, sunbathing and eating ice-cream. They were all far too busy to pay any attention my red inner thighs.
It was lovely splashing, being in the sea and hugging my secret to myself. I sat for ages on the sand, at the edge of the ocean, feeling the waves break over my body, watching all the busy people around me. I felt part of the greater tidal flow as I meditated on the ebb and flow of the ocean and my womb.
I talked to my children about my bleeding and what it meant for our holiday. They were a little sad that I didn’t come in the pool for a couple of days. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to free-bleed there! My husband took them on his own though, so they didn’t miss out. In the event I was just as happy, having some quiet, private time with my journal and enjoying the element of water with the campsite showers and their amazing water pressure.
Our daughters are six and eight and menstruation happening on holiday is a long way off for them. The chances are though, that they may have a few tricky periods in the future, whilst we are away, so this has turned out to be an excellent practice run. Bleeding on this vacation has set a helpful precedent and meant that we have all discussed and experienced it as a family. It has been good for my nine-year-old son too, to see menstruation in a different environment to home.
Some of you must be wondering why I didn’t go to the shop and buy some tampons. When I was a teenager, this was what I would have done. I have memories of one tampon holiday in particular with lots of violent period pain coupled with vomiting, diarrhoea and accompanying dehydration. My parents were cross with me for “ruining the holiday” and went out for the day without me. They were even angrier on their return as a neighbour had found me and got me some rehydration salts. I felt mortified and deeply ashamed.
I stopped using tampons about 13 years ago and resolved to never ever use one again. There is the risk of toxic shock, the shedding of the fibres inside my vagina, not knowing what ingredients they are made with and the horrible dryness of them to contend with. I also don’t want to contribute to unnecessary landfill waste on our beautiful planet. More than this, though, is that they make menstruation semi-invisible and allow us to pretend that we aren’t bleeding. I like bleeding and want to see and feel my blood exiting my vulva.
I don’t want to deny the scarlet life force, which pulses through me once a month, even when it happens on holiday. I want my children to see their mother enjoying her flow and making different choices without this spoiling our trip. I honestly feel like I have had my cake and eaten it this month – relaxing in the shade, free-bleeding in the ocean and communicating honestly with my family, without keeping it all a shameful hush-hush affair between myself and the disposal bin in the toilets.