I was incredibly lucky in that the very day I started my period, we were given a pack of free applicator tampons at school. I was incredibly unlucky in the fact that it took me several very stressful months to figure out how to use them properly.
Even though they were the smallest size on sale, they just seemed so goddamn big. I’d unwrap one and think “How am I going to get that inside me?!”. I studied the back of the box and the leaflet carefully and tried to do exactly what it said, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get that piece of cotton and string properly inside myself.
Sometimes I didn’t get the angle right and I would end up wiggling my bum back and forth like a drunk dad at a wedding as I tried to ease it further inside. Other times I’d think I’d successfully managed to get it in place only to put my foot down on the floor and realise there was still an inch of tampon hanging out of me, the once-pristine cotton now covered in red fingerprints and the string tickling my knee. One memorable time I misjudged things completely, went to push the applicator in and ended up shooting a tampon straight past my vagina, between my bum cheeks and into the bath behind me. Like I said. It was a stressful few months.
Things came to a horrible climax one rainy Saturday afternoon. It was a week or so after my period, but I was still thinking about how frustrated I was about not being able to get my tampon in. I looked into the full-length mirror in my bedroom and decided that I was going to sort it out once and for all. I pulled my jeans down to my ankles, sat in front of the mirror, and pulled my knees apart so that I was on full, glorious display.
I unwrapped the tampon and held it between my fingers. I stuck the end in my vagina and prepared to start pushing it up, but this time with a much clearer visual of what I was supposed to be doing and where everything had to go. It started to slide in. I felt jubilant. This time, I was going to do it! I may have been half-naked, but I was fully-ready to conquer my tampon demons.
Then I heard my mum on the stairs.
You know when you watch The Great British Bake Off and think “Why are they doing that? If I was there I’d do this instead and it’d be much better!”? I feel like that when I think about this moment. I should have rolled under the bed. I should have leapt into the wardrobe. I should, at the very least, have pulled my jeans up. But instead I froze, still half-naked and my mouth open in horror, as my mum cheerily burst into my bedroom to ask if I wanted anything from the shop.
My mum, to her credit, went “Oh!” and tried to back out of the room immediately. I think she couldn’t see the tampon and just thought I was staring intently in the mirror whilst I had a good poke round my own genitals, and I think her reaction was probably the best way of dealing with it. If Mum had been in charge it probably would have all been fine, but unfortunately she didn’t have 100% control of the situation. I was still there.
In a move that to this day makes me cringe so hard that any tampon I did have in would probably get sucked up into my throat, as soon as I saw my mum I leapt to my feet, shuffled over to her (don’t forget my jeans and knickers are still round my ankles) and hugged her hard. With a tampon hanging out of me which, obviously, fell out and onto the floor while we were hugging.
Thankfully my mum is excellent and we were able to laugh it off. With her advice I beat my tampon fears and now I insert them with only the minimal amount of bum wiggling. But if I ever need a bit of help, I know that the full-length mirror is there to guide me. I just make sure I lock the door, now.