Action has been taken by Scotland to make period products free for all – but shouldn’t this be the case in Wales as well? Esyllt Sears shares her thoughts on the struggles brought about by periods and the importance of ending period poverty.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this week’s ruling by the Scottish Government to make period products free for all. If you’re a woman, you probably won’t.
I’m 39. I’ve had around 300 periods minus pregnancies, a miscarriage, faddy diets, exam stress, hot climates (I’m from west Wales, you bet a week on the Costa Brava will play merry heck with my cycle), and yet, every late period has me convinced I’m pregnant (regardless of intercourse status) and every early period is most definitely internal bleeding. Probably cancer-related.
I’m closer to the menopause than TBP (Time Before Periods) but still haven’t settled on my preferred sanitary product. (Same goes for contraceptive. Yet, on my deathbed, my unwavering opinion will be that the femidom could’ve single-handedly devastated female sexual liberation.)
My period catches me off guard, every month. It feels like everyone can tell if I’m on one. Like someone’s done a Simba with blood on my forehead. If I’ve been sitting for a while, I have to check the back of my clothes when I get up to make sure I haven’t bled through. Always. 12 years old or 39 years old and it is never not awkward to have to tell your mum that you’ve menstruated all over the bedsheets. It happens to every woman, no matter what position you lie in; whether you’re wearing tampons or ‘reaching all up your back’ towels, or you’re wearing two pairs of tights and there’s snow on the way.
Also, I can guarantee that 100% of everyone who’s ever had a period, never saw the first one as a pure white pillow fight experience, to be shared with friends by jumping up and down on twin beds. A blood spatter analyst would have their work cut out for them.
My first? Mam, in anticipation, had been carrying sanitary products for a few months but forgot to bring any with her when we went to my grandparents’ for Christmas. Boxing day, it begins. And it’s blood. No matter how much you’ve heard about periods, you’re 12 years old and there’s a heck of a lot of blood. And fleshy bits. Our male farmer of a biology teacher never prepared us girls for the dark purple, almost black, fleshy bits.
Being the very early 90s when ALL shops ACTUALLY closed for a few days over Christmas, especially in the Rhondda Valley where we were staying, there was only one solution. I had to spend the first two days of my first ever period – the right of passage into womanhood, the bridge between me wearing a pinafore while singing cerdd dant at the Eisteddfod to maybe, one day, being as sexually clued up as Rizzo – wearing my grandmother’s incontinence pads.
There are ways of controlling your cycle but the pill drove me mad for a while so I had to come off it. I know there are other pills but it’s time-consuming, all that experimenting. Shall I screw this coil into me? Shall I implant this rod in my arm? Shall I take drug after drug in the hope that maybe one day I’ll find one that doesn’t make me pile on the pounds or sweat like a normal prince or develop severe paranoia and depression? I must go to work at some point.
Plenty of women never have periods, not least for genetic or medical reasons and I am in no way qualified to discuss this at length, so periods certainly shouldn’t define women but they should be treated as a normal, mainly inconvenient, part of half the population’s lives.
However, imagine all this upheaval as pre-teens, as adult women about town, as post-partum mothers, as pre-menopausal women, but with the added pressure of cost. A price on something you never asked for isn’t pleasant in the slightest, and there is very little you can do about it happening month after month after month. The idea that young girls are going to school in 2020 wearing makeshift sanitary products fashioned out of tissue and old bits of clothes should worry us all.
So, back to the Scottish Government. Scotland is the first country in the world to ensure that the provision of free period products will not be means-tested, and at the cost of a mere £8.7m. This would be even less in Wales and, with some steps already being taken here to provide free products in schools and NHS settings, I really hope that the next step will be for us to follow suit sooner rather than later, so no woman will have to put a price on her dignity again.
Esyllt Sears is a writer and stand-up comedian from Aberystwyth.