I consider myself fairly crunchy on the “granola” spectrum. I homebrew kombucha, take a lax view toward showers and shampoo, and, yes, bake my own granola. So when I started hearing buzz about menstrual cups – much of the buzz from Hairpinners themselves! – it sounded way up my alley.
(Yes, that is a portent of things to come.)
I am pro-environment and as anti-spending money as the next twenty-something grad student, so I researched the heck out of those little guys. The number of review websites alone will boggle the mind. As usual, though I am totally willing to try new things, and want good information first, there’s a point where my deciding-things brain shuts down from overload and my doing-things brain says “PICK ONE,” which is why I settled on the Diva Cup. I ordered the pre-childbirth model and awaited my next period with anticipation.
Now, I knew there was a learning curve with these things—even my friends that didn’t flee in horror at the idea of a silicon sippy cup up in their business, those friends who routinely and successfully use them had mentioned the possibility of leaking, of the seal being tricky, etc. I was not to be deterred by a learning curve. I’d pop that baby in the day before my period, give myself some time to figure it out, and stock up on pads just in case.
First thing to mention: Getting the Diva Cup in was… not easy. It’s made of surprisingly tough, springy material that you’re supposed to origami in specific ways before easing it up your vaginal canal. I kept pressing it into one of the two recommended folds and having it spring back to its original shape and leap out my hands like it knew something I didn’t. Still, with time, relaxation, and commitment, I got that sucker in. I did not, however—I repeat, did not—manage the all-important 360-degree turn. I sort of lost control of it once it was up in the vaginal canal, but the stem (the shorter, smaller piece of silicone meant for you to grab onto to ease the cup downward so you can release the seal for removal) was nicely situated right at the vaginal opening, so I figured, eh, I’ll get that part next time.
I spend the entirety of that day in a post-Christmas blur braving a family reunion and several malls in the greater Los Angeles area, and didn’t think twice about the Cup until I got home that night. I knew it might take some time to get out. I got comfortable, and followed the instructions to press down with my pelvic floor to help shift the cup downward. But I realized, with an increasing panic, that I could not get it out. I tried to get it out sitting on the toilet. I tried to get it out lying down. I tried to get it out squatting, in child’s pose, in the bath, in bed, with a hat, with a cat, and so on.
The cup was not budging.
It was, well, way, way up my alley. Without that all important twist-to-seal movement, the Cup had migrated up to the top of my vaginal canal, and had created its own rogue seal much farther up than it should have. It had also shifted so that the stem was tucked up above my pubic bone—technically, my pubis symphysis, I think. (You read up a lot on your anatomy when you lose something in it.) I could reach up there with one-hooked finger to try and drag the stem down to a more graspable place, but, unfortunately, Captain-Hooking myself proved totally ineffectual.
A crucial piece of information: I’m a virgin. This is not necessarily an issue, according to the makers of Diva Cup, but, in my particular, small, unexpanded case, it was. Not being big on vaginal penetration, I have used tampons for years with aplomb, but the maneuver to remove this lodged cup was kind of out of my reach. I just was not expanded enough up in there to root around with two fingers, pinching like one of those dinosaur-headed grabber toys.
Unable to get it out or down, I gave up. I gave in. For a moment, at least, I would be the Bionic Woman: half-lady parts, half-silicone. That night, I had no less than three dreams that the Diva had magically migrated itself into the outer world. The next morning, approaching 24 hours with this silicone cup snuggled up against my baby-maker, I had gotten desperate. I had reached the point when you’re seriously considering plumbing your own depths with a popsicle stick, and I knew it was time to bring in some professional help, lest I end up on the news under the banner “Woman Fishes Out Own Cervix.”
It was a Sunday morning, so my regular gynecologist wasn’t an option. I could have waited till Monday (there’s no risk for toxic shock syndrome with the Diva, thankfully!), but at that point I JUST. WANTED. IT. OUT. I drove to a local Urgent Care, and cheered myself with the thought that I’d be out of there in an hour and back to my normal routine of not sticking new things up my vagina.
The very nice NP at Urgent Care had never even heard of menstrual cups before, which didn’t help our cause—but neither did my forgetting to bring the box, the instructions, a picture from the internet, or anything else besides my claims that it was safe, really. She had no idea what kind of voodoo I had shoved up my hoohaw. I’m pretty sure she thought I had either fallen prey to an internet scam, or had lost a new-fangled sex toy up there, and was too embarrassed to admit it. Either way, after multiple failed attempts, she couldn’t get it out, and sent me to the ER.
The ER waiting room was roughly like the steerage deck of the Titanic. Throughout my three-hour wait, there were altercations between patients and patients and between staff and patients, and the security guard was kept busy separating and ejecting various parties from the waiting room. I mention this because the thing about this whole removal situation is that it depends quite a bit on one’s ability to relax. And the ER is not a place to relax.
My good friend, K, was my texting buddy throughout this whole ordeal from the first “Gonna try the Diva lol” to “Haaalp its stuuuuckkk”, and went so far as to send me a video of how she managed to remove a condom that had gotten lost inside her (true friendship). I admit to trying her tactic in the emergency room bathroom, with no luck.
The ER doctor who finally saw me went through the exact same process as the NP at Urgent Care: beginning with confident nonchalance (they’ve pulled a lot of things out of a lot of people), leaving and coming back with longer and longer forceps, ending with—swear on my cervix—a torture-device-looking thing with scissor handles that was legitimately a foot and a half long. AHHHH. (Thankfully, she didn’t show that to me until afterward).
She confirmed that it was totally, totally suctioned onto my cervix, and after propping me wide open with a speculum she worked to slowly—agonizingly—get a small, slippery piece of silicone unstuck from further up my vaginal canal than I am used to having strangers reach around. I was actually grateful not to be a part of this process of removal; it made me feel like less of a wimp for not being able to get the thing out myself, and grateful that there exist men and women to help solve our unexpected and embarrassing problems. I spent this time breathing deeply, bracing myself against the hospital bed, and envisioning a Tahitian beach.
As Diva users know, what goes in must eventually come out. Though, in my case, rather than easily and as instructed, it was with the help of multiple medical professionals. When I heard the weird suction sound of the cup finally exiting my person, I shouted “THANK YOU,” and got a tiny glimpse of what it might feel like to give birth: wanting nothing but to get something outside of you that seems lodged inside forever.
Of course, with birth, the added bonus is that the thing that comes out is your own human baby, and not a piece of plastic you finally retrieve for a refund.
Although it took a day of discomfort, this whole process didn’t make me anti-menstrual cup. Like I said, I have a number of friends who use theirs with comfort and success. I do think I’ll retreat back to the world of those little cotton capsules of doom, at least until I have good reason to think I’ve gotten wider or more flexible in my lady space.
Here is what I've learned:
1. Confident does not equal competence. Confidence does not equal competence. I repeated this to myself throughout the day at the ER. Just because you’re gung-ho about a new experience, doesn’t mean the universe is gonna do you a solid and magically support your freewheeling experiments with your body. It doesn’t mean I’m done being a freewheeling experimenter, but it does mean I might think twice about experiments that involve inserting new things into my orifices.
2. Embrace your embarrassment. Yes, it was embarrassing to tell every nurse, every orderly, and every doctor about the exact state of lady business. But I did. And everyone was only very nice and very supportive and “so sorry” for my whole ordeal. Embarrassment: not so embarrassing, sometimes.
3. Every step of the way—from the nurse who took me into a private room to tell her all the details when I was admitted, to the doctor who was finally able to finagle the stubborn thing out of there—kind, capable, professional women literally took me into their hands and helped me. Although the male medical professionals I interacted with that day were just as helpful and kind, there is something comforting about someone with a vagina handling yours.
4. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, MASTER THAT 360 TURN.
Amy is a writer and a grad student who lives in Los Angeles.