Back to School: Pencils, Paper, and Period-Preparedness

  Photo Credit  :  Caroline Sterr  -   charter school teacher whose desk drawer contains hygiene products she buys for her students.

Photo Credit: Caroline Sterr - charter school teacher whose desk drawer contains hygiene products she buys for her students.

Do you remember the excitement and anxiety of the back-to-school season as a middle school student? Will your friends be in the same classes? Will you have enough time to get from Algebra to Spanish?

Are you prepared for your period?

Many students experience their first period during this sensitive age, and others who have already gotten their first period are still familiarizing themselves with menstrual hygiene habits. If a student gets her period in class and does not have supplies, they may not know where to turn and may experience shame in seeking support because of the menstrual stigma. Product availability in schools is crucial to minimize the loss of valuable learning time.  

Caroline Sterr, eighth-grade teacher at an urban charter school, has taken action to reduce students’ anxiety and create a period-positive environment both within her classroom and beyond. Caroline begins each school year with an open, honest conversation about periods with her entire class—boys and girls. During this discussion, Caroline shares that she maintains a supply of feminine hygiene products in her classroom, and these products are available to any student who needs them, no questions asked. Caroline invites her students and colleagues to share this information so that even students beyond her own classes can come to Miss Sterr’s classroom for support.

In addition to maintaining a supply of tampons and panty liners, which costs Caroline approximately $40 per year, she allows students to borrow a discreet, trendy pouch to transport these items to the restroom. The trust, compassion, and support that Caroline provides undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression on students, building their confidence and fostering their educational pursuits.

Caroline recognizes that “for many of my students, financial barriers, fears of awkward conversations with parents, and the inconsistency of a middle schooler’s cycle are all huge issues.” When these barriers are compounded by gaps in Sex Ed, students often end up being uninformed (or misinformed) and unprepared. Caroline asserts, “In general, schools expect parents to educate their children on how their bodies are changing, and parents expect schools to handle it. Unfortunately, most of the ‘education’ comes from friends who aren't always reliable or knowledgeable sources. Both schools and parents need more resources to be able to partner together and better educate our kids.”

When reflecting on her efforts, Caroline says, “I like to believe that—even if they never need any supplies from my drawer—it helps the girls to know that I'm here for them and care about them as humans, not just test-takers or students. For the boys, I think it's beneficial that open conversations happen in front of them so that the taboo can end. It's important to me that both the boys and girls know that it's just a part of life.”

We applaud Caroline’s advocacy and are honored to share her story of Being a Rose within her classroom and community. We wish her—and all educators and students—a wonderful start to the school year!

By: Aanee Nichols

  Caroline Sterr  - 8th grade teacher and health equity advocate.

Caroline Sterr - 8th grade teacher and health equity advocate.

No Shame: Call it by its Name

  Photo Credit:  Jesse Magnan

Photo Credit: Jesse Magnan

Let’s be honest. Talking about menstruation can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, when we actively avoid such conversations or blanket them in euphemisms and slang, we may be reinforcing stigmatization and—even inadvertently—inhibiting resource accessibility for marginalized populations.

You may be wondering, “How does my use of period slang affect women in need?”

The underlying implication is that not only the menstrual conversation but menstruation itself should be avoided, masked, or concealed at all reasonable costs. It’s why even unused, unopened feminine hygiene products are perceived as shameful or gross. It’s the catalyst behind “pocket” and “compact” tampons and “quiet pad wrappers to keep your period private.” It’s why one woman, in an inquiry regarding menstrual cups, describes the simple act of changing a pad as one that produces “really disturbing sounds.” Let the reality of that sink in. Even in a public restroom—one that would be used only by those of the same gender or gender identity—the simple sound of adhesive could cause such shame and distress. We all know the sound of a roll of toilet paper unfurling from its holder, and yet, the same level of discomfort does not seem to apply.

The real detriments of this avoidance and concealment are the shame and confusion ingrained in women and girls, so that if they find themselves in need of menstrual support, whether through feminine hygiene products or education, they may not know where to turn for help or what people or organizations are open to these conversations or provide these resources. There are about 5,000 euphemisms used to describe menstruation, some of which are entirely obscure or downright offensive, as they are often used to berate men and women alike. When considering the sheer number of euphemisms, compounded by possible language barriers, many women may not know how to best ask for the resources they need. Similarly, if the stigma and discomfort prevent a young girl from receiving adequate information and support prior to menarche, she may experience confusion, shame, and powerlessness as she seeks to manage her period. In contrast, if a girl understands exactly what is happening in her body, as well as the feminine hygiene options available to her, she is much more likely to experience a sense of confidence and empowerment.

We’re not suggesting that menstruating women wear a bright red t-shirt labeled “Ask Me About My Period!” each month. (Although, now that I mention it, I’m inclined to do some shopping!) We’re simply suggesting that when the conversation occurs or feels appropriate, women use direct and empowered language. Let’s face it: Periods can be physically uncomfortable (hello, heating pad!). We should not feel obligated to shoulder unnecessary mental or emotional discomfort by doing everything we can to pretend that our bodies aren’t undergoing their natural processes.

In addition to using direct language, how can you help challenge the stigma and connect women with resources? Share and promote organizations like Be a Rose, to reach underserved populations and let them know that shame-free support is available!

By: Aanee Nichols

Let's Hear it for Hormones! Benefits of Your Menstrual Cycle

  Photo Credit:  August Nyson

Photo Credit: August Nyson

While sex hormones are often portrayed in the media as things that cause women (and men) grief, they actually serve vital functions to support health and wellness. Benefits of female sex hormones include the ability to get pregnant, give birth, and nurse babies. There are also many non-reproductive health benefits that are less well known and arguably just as important.

Menses historically has been portrayed as a “curse” upon women and a time of suffering. In reality, your period is an important health indicator that lets you know you are healthy (and probably fertile). Absent periods (amenorrhea) between menarche and menopause can may be an indication of health issues, such as excessively low body weight or illness related to hormonal imbalance. The U.S. government’s Women’s Health website shares that an irregular and/or painful period may be a sign of a serious health problem. While irregularities aren’t always triggered by major health problems, they are certainly worth monitoring and discussing with your doctor. You can think of your period as your body’s monthly health check-in!

The hormones your body produces over the course of your monthly cycle come with their own non-reproductive health benefits. Women have a lower risk of heart disease and strokes before menopause because of estrogen! Estrogen provides you with two weeks of “significantly reduced” blood pressure during your cycle. In her 2017 article, “Sex Hormones and Health,” medical scholar Georgina Casey explains that estrogen also helps repair heart tissue after heart attacks and maintains bone mass in adults. Additionally, iron is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and monthly bleeding sheds iron, thus providing further heart protection.

The symptoms of menopause suggest that estrogen also plays an important role in the regulation of body temperature, sleep cycles, central nervous system metabolism, and some neurons that impact “mood, motivation, affect and emotions,” as well as areas of the brain that deal with task management, learning, memory, processing information, and interpreting sensory input (Casey 2017).

Progesterone is a sex hormone which impacts anxiety levels, the production of nervous system cells in adults (neurogenesis), stress responses, the weakening and strengthening of connections between neurons (synaptic plasticity) and other important central nervous system functions (Casey 2017).

Testosterone is often considered a “male” hormone, but it is also a necessary sex hormone in females. Among sexual factors like libido, testosterone impacts heart health, mood, muscle tone, bone strength, and verbal memory.

It is easy to begrudge your hormones when you’re cramping, but remember all of the GOOD your hormones are doing. When you sleep well, accomplish many tasks, feel well, ace a test, look good, or have energy to tackle the day, it might not be solely because you are amazing (though you are), but also because your hormones have your back!. Here’s a tip of the hat to our hormones!

By: Sarah Hoyle-Katz

Womanhood & Wilderness: Managing Your Period While Camping

It’s that time of year. The days have grown longer; the gentle hum of birds and insects echoes through the air, and the smell and feel of the Earth beneath our feet elicits a sense of growth, connection, and appreciation of nature. Memorial Day weekend—one of the season’s most popular camping times—is right around the corner, and for many women, the excitement of packing and preparing for an outdoor adventure is matched with concern about managing their period.

When that special time of year conflicts with “that time of month,” we’ve got your back! We’ve collected some helpful packing reminders and tips that we hope will provide guidance and relief as you plan your next outdoor adventure.

#1 – Consider Using a Menstrual Cup, like the DivaCup

Menstrual cups afford greater freedom and flexibility for your travels than disposable products. They require less frequent changes, leave no waste, require less backpack space, and allow greater comfort and cleanliness than pads.

That being said, if you’ve never used a menstrual cup before, you may not want to try it for the first time while on a camping trip. It’s important that you give yourself time to adjust to the switch until you are fully accustomed to insertion, removal, and maintenance of the cup.

#2 – Unscented Products

If you use disposable products, opt for fragrance-free items. These are better for your body—particularly if you are wearing them for extended periods of time—and they are less likely to attract wildlife.

NOTE: Studies have shown very little evidence that bears are more prone to attacks on menstruating women. (Collective sigh of relief!) However, as with any other possible odor-producing items, like food, it’s important that you practice responsible storage and disposal to leave as little imprint as possible. If using a menstrual cup, dispose of the contents by burying them in a cathole at least 6-8” deep and 4-6” wide.

#3 – Sanitary Wipes

Regardless of which feminine hygiene products you use, sanitary wipes are tremendously helpful in keeping you clean and comfortable, as well as protecting your body from harmful bacteria. In addition to external use on and around your vulva, you can use these wipes to “wash” your hands in a pinch when you don’t have immediate access to soap and water.

#4 – Extra Underwear

Just in case. (p.s. Have you tried THINX yet? They are a perfect backup for leak protection!)

#5 – Birth Control

Lastly, if concern about managing your menstruation during your trip is overpowering your excitement about the trip, you may opt to manipulate your cycle with prescribed oral contraceptives. If you’re on the birth control pill, you can “miss” your cycle by simply skipping the placebo pills and starting your next month’s active pill pack early. This is generally a safe and convenient option many women choose so that they have more control over their cycle.

However, there may be disadvantages such as breakthrough spotting. We encourage you to discuss this option with your doctor to determine if it’s right for you.

However you choose to manage your menstruation, we encourage you to take pride in your body and womanhood. Understanding your options and preparing appropriately provides you with greater ownership of your health and the empowerment to take on new adventures! Happy camping from all of us at Be a Rose!

By: Aanee Nichols

Additional Resources:

Deal With Your Period While Camping

Backpacking With Your Period

How to go camping, hiking or to a festival while on your period

MORGAN 2.jpg

Photo Creditl: Nature Enthusiast, Morgan Pothoven

"I have always found solace in the outdoors. Whether it's spending a day at the lake, hiking, or even reading a good book in the back yard, nature constantly keeps me grounded. I believe a key to peace and happiness is taking care of your mind and body and surrounding yourself with the great outdoors." 

Broadening the Lens: Menstrual Challenges in Rural Communities

 Photo Credit :   August Nyson 

Photo Credit August Nyson 

Period poverty—the struggle to access and afford feminine hygiene products—weaves throughout the landscape, affecting millions of women from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and geographic locations. While this daunting plight has similar effects on those impacted (health risks, school absenteeism, missed work, etc.), the barriers that create period poverty may vary. This requires us to mindfully adjust our lens when discussing and addressing issues of menstrual health and product accessibility so that we may shed light on a broader population, ensuring that no women are excluded in this quest for menstrual equity.

Product cost is undoubtedly one of the most pressing contributors to period poverty. With products costing over $70 per year, and no coverage for these products through government assistance programs like WIC, many women are faced with the choice between buying adequate menstrual hygiene supplies or other basic necessities such as food. Ultimately, women may choose to overuse or improvise makeshift products, which is not only unsanitary but can pose serious health risks (in addition to the impact on their confidence and self-esteem).

In addition to the high cost of feminine hygiene products, women in rural communities face unique challenges in terms of product accessibility. A recent study shared by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 54.4 million people (17.7 percent of the U.S. population) live in “low income, low access” areas. For rural communities, this means that the nearest supermarket is over 10 miles away.

This highlights another unique challenge faced by women in rural communities: access to reliable transportation. Rural communities have less resources for public transportation, so reliance on private vehicles (including gas and maintenance) is critical. Many women share a vehicle with their partners or other family members. If their periods arrive unexpectedly and they don’t have way to get to the nearest store, consider the position this puts them in.

With limited shopping options and less access to the reliable, consistently low prices offered by big-box stores, which are more heavily concentrated in suburban communities, people in rural communities often pay a higher price for feminine hygiene products. Further, for many who live in poverty and struggle to afford one month’s worth of supplies, the option to save money by buying in bulk is simply unfeasible.

So, after expanding our understanding of the ways period poverty affects women within rural areas, the next step is to consider and promote solutions. Powerful advocate Jennifer Weiss-Wolf says there are several ways to impact positive change:

  • Call your legislators to command removal of the tax on feminine hygiene products, and encourage expansion of government assistance programs to cover these supplies.

  • Participate in calls-to-action for public places (including schools and businesses) to provide these supplies.

  • Organize drives to raise awareness and funds.

Poverty is a vicious cycle that requires resources and advocacy to break. Research demonstrates that those living in poverty within rural communities faced particularly harsh detriments with the 2007-2009 recession and are still, a decade later, struggling to recover. Help lift women within these populations by lending your voice and energy to missions like ours at Be a Rose. Let no community be forgotten in our quest to empower women through menstrual equity!

By: Aanee Nichols

 

Bleeding While Competing: Athletes and Menstruation

  Photo Credit:    Creative Commons,  edited by August Nyson

Photo Credit:  Creative Commons, edited by August Nyson

In case you missed it: Last month, Mirai Nagasu became the first American female figure skater to land a triple axel at the Olympics. (You go, girl!) But this isn’t the only reason we here at Be a Rose think she’s awesome. Mirai boldy embraced the topic of menstruation, telling Cosmopolitan that menstruating while competing is “really not that big of a deal.” She also mentioned issues addressed in our January blog post: exercise helps alleviate menstrual cramps. We love how Mirai discusses menstruation like a totally normal, unembarrassing thing - which it is!

The interview got us pondering if and how menstruation impacts athletes like her - and, alternately, if athleticism impacts menstrual cycles. Since periods and their symptoms are often framed as barriers to physical activity, one might expect competitive athletes to alter their menstrual cycles with contraceptives more than people who are recreationally active. However, according to one study, that turns out to not be the case; competitive athletes are no more likely to use oral contraceptives to manipulate their periods than women who exercise for fun.

Though menstruation appears to have little impact on athleticism, the same cannot be said of intensive physical training’s impact on an athlete’s menstrual cycle. Competitive and heavy physical activity during childhood can delay the onset of puberty, both in terms of secondary sexual development and menarche (first menstruation). Further, if an athlete follows an especially demanding exercise or training regimine, her periods might stop, even if she has had normal pubertal development and bleeding previously. This is known as exercise-induced amenorrhoea. Amenorrhoea is harmless for limited stretches of time but can be hazardous in the long term because the estrogen produced during a normal menstrual cycle is needed to help build bone mass in young women and to protect the heart.

Not all women who exercise or train intensively experience exercise-induced amenorrhoea; we do not yet fully understand its triggers. However, this type of amenorrhoea is associated with low bone mass and insufficient nutrition, often because the athlete has not altered her dietary intake to appropriately meet increased nutritional needs. In fact, this combination of amenorrhoea, low bone mass, and inadequate nutrition is common enough that it has its own name: the Female Athlete Triad. Athletes at risk should maintain a diet sufficient to meet their nutritional needs, maintain a healthy weight, track their menstrual cycles to ensure they are not missing periods, and seek help for repetitive injuries or if they develop disordered eating. (The latter most often occurs in sports and activities that emphasize leanness, such as gymnastics and running.)

As we have learned, bleeding while competing is often low among elite athletes’ concerns.Training safely, meeting nutritional needs, and maintaining a healthy weight have much more impact upon performance. Next time you experience a leak in public, before you panic, remember what Mirai says: don’t let it get to you. Save that energy for something more important, whether it be putting away the groceries or nailing that triple axel!

By: Sarah Hoyle-Katz

Challenging Another Stigma: What Happens When You Get Your Period in Public?

  Photo Credit  :  August Nyson -  special thanks to     Schmohz Brewing Company .

Photo CreditAugust Nyson - special thanks to  Schmohz Brewing Company.

Imagine. You’re in public, perhaps running errands, and then you feel it. You just got your period. Unfortunately, you don’t have the supplies you need to manage this natural function. Maybe you were expecting it but simply forgot to pack products in your purse; maybe it’s irregular and caught you by surprise; or maybe you simply haven’t had the funds to purchase feminine hygiene products this month (a devastating reality for many women). You walk carefully and steadily to the nearest bathroom, silently praying that you’ll find the resources you need there.

Upon entering the bathroom, you are disheartened to find that there are no products available. There’s an old, dirty dispensing machine on the wall, but it’s empty. You resort to wadding up toilet paper to create a makeshift sanitary pad, which you will wear until you’re able to either purchase the products you need or go home.

This is an unfortunate reality for many women, and it puts their confidence, dignity, and even health at risk. In fact, 86% of women have gotten their period in public without supplies. As such, it’s important for businesses to meet the needs of their patrons by ensuring that feminine hygiene products are available in their restrooms. Product accessibility is a crucial aspect of women’s health and an increasingly hot topic of discussion. As such, I was inspired this month to pay closer attention to this issue right here in Grand Rapids, asking myself, “Are local businesses meeting the needs of their female patrons?”

Throughout the month, I made a conscious effort to examine the restroom of each business I visited throughout my normal activities, including stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc. I examined whether or not feminine hygiene products were available, if dispensers were stocked, and if wastebaskets were easily accessible.

I found that, while most businesses provided wastebaskets in the stalls for product disposal, very few provided feminine hygiene products in their restrooms. The minority that does provide them generally supplies them through a 25-cent dispensing machine, and, as many of us already know, you can’t always count on these dispensers being stocked. Watch our “Let’s Talk!” video about one such experience.

However, one local business serves as a shining example to others. Schmohz Brewing Company is the kind of place where you feel at home the moment you walk through the door. The warm, inviting atmosphere extends into the ladies’ restroom, where on the counter sits a basket filled with a variety of feminine hygiene products freely accessible to customers. This extra effort and thoughtfulness exemplifies Schmohz as a business that values all of its patrons. Gabi Palmer, the head brewer, shared that customers frequently express their thanks and appreciation, and I have no doubt that this extra effort—not to mention the delicious, unique beer—contribute to the company’s loyal and growing customer base. When women feel safe, valued, and welcome at an establishment, they return (often with friends)!

Fortunately, recent laws are guiding a shift toward greater product accessibility. New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey have eliminated the tax on feminine hygiene products, lowering the financial burden women face for managing their period.  Most recently, Illinois has implemented a law requiring all public schools to supply free feminine hygiene products in their restrooms.

These laws show great progress, but we have a long way to go. Our hope is that more public places—including businesses, schools, and offices—will embrace accountability for recognizing and meeting women’s needs. Imagine the confidence it would bring women to know that if they get their period in public, they can count on products being available in the restroom. Workplaces would see increased productivity. Schools would see fewer absences and better grades. Businesses would see happier customers.

How can you help push for these positive changes? Next time you’re in a public restroom, if you notice a lack of feminine hygiene supplies, consider bringing it to management’s attention---not to admonish, but to expand the conversation. Perhaps that business owner simply hasn’t considered the positive results it could produce. In turn, if you visit a business that supplies these products, we encourage you to express your appreciation.

Progress can be slow moving when the conversations are kept quiet, and the efforts we make now could have a substantial impact on future generations. We’re here to extend a platform where members of our community feel safe and are equipped with the right tools to talk about these “uncomfortable” things until they’re not uncomfortable anymore!

By: Aanee Nichols

Resolutions and [Period] Revolutions: Overcoming Worries About Exercise During Your Cycle

Happy New Year! In the spirit of new beginnings and the season of resolutions, many of us consider ways to take better care of ourselves and practice healthy behaviors like eating well and exercising. Some days it can be a real struggle to get to the gym, and periods pose unique challenges—the cramps, the fatigue, the mess—that can potentially break our stride. Be a Rose is on a mission to encourage healthy choices for women, so let's talk about healthy periods and your exercise routine to foster a community of support for and among women.

During your period, the thought of sweatpants, ice cream, and a Netflix binge may sound more appealing than an hour on the elliptical. However, did you know that exercising during your period is one of the best ways to relieve all those pesky symptoms dragging you to the sofa? In addition to the release of feel-good endorphins that curb irritability, exercise increases the blood flow to ease cramps, headaches, back pain, and fatigue. Plus, increased heart rate and sweat help keep the digestive system on track, warding off constipation and bloating.

These key benefits should boost your confidence and motivation!

Now, what are the best exercises during your period? There are several perspectives on this topic. Some studies have indicated a correlation between menstruation and exercise-related injuries such as ligament tears in the knee (ACL tears), which is, in part, attributed to lowered motor control. Also, some assert that due to ligament strain during menstruation, vigorous exercise should be avoided. Consequently, these perspectives urge a more gentle exercise routine during your period, such as yoga or walking.

In contrast, others argue that low levels of estrogen and progesterone at the start of menstruation lead to more powerful workouts. Thus, women are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to add a few more reps to their weightlifting routines or add a greater incline on the treadmill. Fitness blogger Jennifer Blake shares that during her period, she feels empowered to “lift hard and often” and sees “the most consistent progress” in her training. Blake has found that tracking her cycle to manage her workouts has been an “invaluable” tool in getting to know her body well and planning her workouts to make the most out of hormonal fluctuations.

In addition to free apps available for tracking your period, there are innovative new products for managing your menstrual hygiene during exercise. If the thought of rogue tampon strings slipping out of your swimsuit or pads bunching and shifting in your shorts have kept you from the gym, we hope you’ll be encouraged to hear that feminine hygiene products have undergone drastic improvements to meet the needs of today’s women. Kotex now offers the “U by Kotex Fitness” line, which promises greater protection and comfort while the body moves. THINX has introduced a “sport” line of period panties designed for comfortable, flexible, leak-free protection. Menstrual cups, such as DivaCup, offer up to 12 hours of hassle-free protection, designed to “handle the various angles of your body movement.”

So, embrace your body and explore your options! And whether you choose to try a more intense workout or instead opt for a gentle practice during your period, the most important behavior is to listen to what your body tells you and respond to its needs. You know your body better than anyone else, and you are in charge of your own health. We hope that you stay well, keep encouraged, and continue to Be a Rose through 2018!

Emma 1.jpg

Photo Credit & Model: Emma Ombogo, Fitness Junkie

When she isn’t intensely evaluating financial risk as a professional auditor, Emma is intensely exercising to stay fit and active!

“Regular exercise doesn’t just make you stronger; it helps you get healthier, gives you more energy and I have experienced drastically reduced cramps and migraines.”

By: Aanee Nichols

Branching Out: An Inspiring Woman Stands Tall in Struggle, Strength & Solidarity

 Photographed: SPC Ngungiri (2015)

Photographed: SPC Ngungiri (2015)

At Be a Rose, we strive to expand the conversation on menstruation in a way that reaches all portions of the population, especially those who have been marginalized by society. We appreciate and celebrate those who give voice to their experiences and share their perspectives authentically and with enlightenment, honoring the complexity of their journeys.

Jane Ngunjiri carries such a voice. Her powerful story speaks to menstruation management under the most challenging circumstances, finding her purpose, recognizing what motivates her, and overcoming incredible obstacles to achieve her goals. Jane also emphasizes the value of a support system and finding strength through open, honest dialogue.

Born in Kenya, Jane immigrated to the United States when she was young and worked hard to adapt to an entirely new environment and culture. Despite her incredible strength and heart, Jane faced heavy challenges in her life, including a struggle with homelessness. However, she was determined to rise above her circumstances to give a better life to her son.

“My son is my life,” Jane said. “He pushes me to work hard.”

This love and commitment to her son, as well as her hunger for adventure, motivated her decision to join the United States Army Reserve. She was anxious, though, to tell her family in Kenya, fearing they would not understand and that it would cause them to worry. In fact, it wasn’t until she graduated from basic training that she told them! Although they indeed expressed concern, Jane ultimately found support and understanding from her family.

In basic training, Jane was again challenged to adapt to vastly different practices and behaviors than she was used to. Eating became one of the most immediate struggles. Jane—who had always been a slow eater—was forced to consume entire meals within five minutes. There was such great stress and pressure to learn to eat quickly that she “didn’t even taste the food—just chewed and swallowed.”

Another challenge for Jane was heavy cramping during her period. She was not permitted to keep medications with her belongings, so when she needed pain relief she had to visit the nurse at a scheduled time each day. There, she would need to give detailed descriptions of her cramping, which was a challenge in itself as Jane had always tried to keep her period private. This routine, however, caused her to become much more comfortable talking about her period, as it was the only means to access the pain relief she needed.

Jane shared the struggles of menstruation in the military, beginning with the difficulty of accurately tracking her cycle due to changes in diet and exercise. Menstruation was especially difficult to manage in the field, where there were no toilets—only bucket latrines—and where it was often dark and the lack of proper hygiene resources made it difficult to keep clean and prevent infections. Women primarily used feminine wipes to clean themselves as thoroughly as they could under the circumstances. The process of cleaning herself or changing her pad was made especially difficult by the weight of the gear and equipment layered on her small 115 pound frame. “Everything had to move quickly, but this process took so long,” she shared.

Although these challenges weighed on Jane, she discovered a great sense of support among the women with whom she served. She explained, “In the military, you’re trained not only to help yourself but to help each other.” These women were comfortable venting about their cramps or asking each other for pads as needed. Jane expressed that although these women have come from different countries, cultures, and life journeys, they were able to lean on each other and “act as a family,” sharing from their own experiences in the military and exchanging advice on menstruation management. They were also able to have fun and make jokes with each other, helping to foster this sense of camaraderie. Jane found encouragement in hearing the experiences of women who had been deployed, demonstrating the value of women sharing, lifting, and supporting one another.

“You become so strong just listening to those who have been deployed,” Jane reflected. In fact, her experience in the military has helped her to realize her own strength and potential. With the help of the army, Jane has studied for a career as a behavior analyst and is close to receiving her board certification.

“I have made it this far because I believed I could,” she said. She encourages women who are facing hardships of their own to maintain hope and be brave, and urges people to push beyond their comfort zone and embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. She exemplifies this inspirational mindset and model of behavior each day.  

Be a Rose is truly honored to share her story, and we hope that it will inspire you to persevere through life’s challenges and draw you to participate in a network of solidarity and support. To learn about ways in which you can support women in the military, we encourage you to visit the Service Women’s Action Network.

By: Aanee Nichols

 Photographed: Roy (Jane's son, 2015)

Photographed: Roy (Jane's son, 2015)