My fight against period poverty has motivated me to help other women

My fight against period poverty has motivated me to help other women

As told to Nicole Audrey Spector

When I first got my period at age 13, I was excited. It had finally arrived: the beginning of womanhood. Menstruation and all that came with it had never been discussed in my house, and I had never even mentioned it to my mother up to that point. However, I knew it was no big deal and was excited.

Once I got my period, my mom and I talked about what I could expect and how I could take care of myself during my period. Then we went to the pharmacy to get sanitary pads.

Over time, the excitement about my period turned into agony. It wasn’t the symptoms associated with my period that were so painful for me. It was my financial situation, which prevented me from easily accessing the menstrual products I needed. Money was tight, and I often had to get creative with toilet paper because I couldn’t afford the pads and sanitary pads I needed. Neither were sold or available in my school restrooms.

As the years went by, I eventually became a classic broke college student. I lived in a dorm away from home with other broke college students. $10 reserve — How much does it cost on average to cover pads or pads each month – was something I usually didn’t have.

Tampons were like gold. I have a normal, heavy flow and need tampons that fill that need and sadly, those are more expensive than “regular” tampons. I went through them as sparingly as possible. But, always aware of the risks of toxic shock syndromeI was careful never to leave a tampon on longer than eight hours.

I often relied on stuffed toilet paper balls instead of products designed for menstruation. I can’t tell you how many lectures and classes I spent agonizing over what was happening between my legs instead of thinking about what was happening in class.

“I’m losing? Is blood seeping into my chair?

I was an anxious mess every time I got my period. My life revolved, in terror, around it. If I was on my period and there was a social event or study session, I definitely would have missed it. There was just too much at stake. Besides, was it really worth wasting a tampon?

Although I had close friendships, I never shared my struggle to afford menstrual products with any of my female friends. I was embarrassed and didn’t think there was any other way to deal with it. Period is something you are taught to hide. Cover the blood, cover the smell, cover the cramps. Pretend it’s not even happening.

In retrospect, I wish I had opened up to friends. I’m sure I would have found women who could relate to my predicament.

But I suffered in silence. Alone.

Life got easier once I graduated and started earning real income. I always knew I wanted to work with women and children so I quickly got a job as a nurse. Over time, my career blossomed. I started out as a postpartum nurse and today I am an HIV perinatal nurse.

Along the way, I’ve met so many women from all kinds of backgrounds. I’ve noticed something interesting about many of the low-income women I’ve worked with: When they leave the hospital, they often ask for period products, including pads and tampons.

Just like the old me, these women are probably struggling to cover the costs of these necessary products that I believe should be free for anyone who menstruates. Rather than feel defeated by the problem, I decided to take action. I created my own non profit organization, In Bloom: Equity and Access for Happier Times. The nonprofit’s mission is to raise awareness of period poverty and promote health and hygiene for all people who menstruate.

Right now, In Bloom is a one-person army, and that army is me. I personally stock and deliver baskets full of menstrual products to any woman who contacts me saying she needs it. I buy all the products myself. It’s not a cheap deal, but I’m happy to do it and hope to work with sponsors in the near future.

There are a lot of low-income women here where I live in Fort Pierce, Florida, and the demand for period products is intense. I have teenage girls calling me, desperate. They don’t want to go to school because they don’t have a tampon or sanitary pad. How can I let them go without this basic need being met, knowing their education is at risk?

Schools, I’m happy to say, are getting better at making tampons and pads free and affordable. Workplaces, on the other hand, are far less proactive and it’s disappointing. In public toilets we don’t have to pay for soap, toilet paper or to dry our hands. Why should we pay for a pad or tampon? It’s scary and just plain wrong.

Menstruation is part of life. We shouldn’t go around whispering, “Do you have a tampon?” “Do you have a block?” We should be able to boldly state our needs. And those needs should be met for free, like any other basic human right.

To make period poverty a thing of the past, we need to make the stigma around period a thing of the past by talking about our periods openly and unashamedly. I will do my part. Will you do yours?

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Our Real Women, Real Stories are the authentic experiences of real-life women. The views, opinions, and experiences shared in these stories are not endorsed by HealthyWomen and do not necessarily reflect HealthyWomen’s official policy or position.

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