Pads, T*mp*ns, and Giggles

The title of this post is explicit, because if you are a boy reading you may decide to skip the post.  On the other hand, if you are a boy you may want to know more about a relatively hidden aspect of girls’ lives particularly in India.

Nine o’clock last night, as I was at my computer, three girls tip-toed into the room.  The oldest one was whispering "pad" but I didn’t get it.  I kept asking.  Then I said, "Ah, drawing books!" and I pointed to where the newly purchased books were still piled on the couch.  They all giggled.  More, "Pad, pad…" and I got it and said, "Oh PADS????" and pointed downwards.  I’d been thrown off because only one of the girls gets her "mens" as they seem to say here, and she is usually so shy and secretive about it I didn’t know that the others knew.  Well, nine at night, bedtime for them, and she was out of pads…..

I try to keep a few hidden for such emergencies.  A recent visitor had left behind for us all of her unused toiletries.  They were still in the clear plastic bag she had left.  We went to the cabinet, and by now probably most of the girls were crowded around.  I found four.  I asked again whether they younger ones knew anything about this.  I’m really surprised that they don’t.  They have each seen more than their share of naked bodies, and what they do, but menstruation is so hidden they had no idea.  So, in English, with their now knowing a bit of translation — like blood — I tried to tell them about menstruation.  It was comedy hour as they were truly incredulous!  When i said something about babies inside, and the blood helping babies grow, they were even more incredulous

They noticed more in the bag, three boxes of o.b. tampons.  "Ma, What is this?"  "Oh BaBa!!!!" I said.  The only translation I can think of is "Oy Vey" from my Yiddish speaking grandmother.  "Oh BaBa" is said while hitting my forehead for emphasis — which alone can bring giggles.  So I took out a tampon — and unwrapped it.  It’s really funny looking, or rather bullet looking out of context.  I guessed at the next set of giggles when i tried to show were it goes!  Then we tip-toed into the kitchen, drawing the curtains… appropriate to the conspiratorial nature of our new adventure, and put it in a bowl of water… showing how it expands with water (would -be blood), and the string for pulling it out. The girls weren’t sure about all this at all.  We stealthily went back to the cabinet, and put the bag back….  tampons… for another time.

End of story? No.  Stories I tell, stories I live, have a way of recycling, or of being recycled.  More vignettes…

Johnson & Johnson makes the o.b. tampon, as well as other brands of pads.  Part of my responsibilities as Worldwide Director of Medical Affairs was in the safety of these products, and the consumer and professional education related to "sanitary products."  I actually wrote the tampon safety warnings that became the industry standard worldwide.  I funded research related to safety; I organized international meetings.  I presented this industry position at European Union meetings in Brussels.

But o.b. tampons have their own special story.  They were developed in post war Germany by industrialists who were no longer permitted by law to manufacture munitions or cigarettes.  Having seen an ad in an American magazine for a Tampax tampon, they went about designing one that could be made with the combined machinery of munitions and cigarettes.  Thus the German tampon is made from cotton pressed into a bullet form, and wrapped with a thin covering with the cigarette machinery.  This is probably more than anyone ever wanted to know about tampons.  Of course, the marketing of the o.b. did not say all this.  Instead the young woman doctor, and soon-to-be wife of the industrialist was credited with being the designer, thus the campaign, "Designed by a woman gynecologist."    Ten years ago or so I was talking about tampons at a meeting of the European Commission.  Last night I was unwrapping a tampon to the giggles of my orphan girls.  This is the life I want, the life I missed.  In that life I always felt something was missing.  In this life I have what was missing, and my life is full and blessed, and full of giggles.

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February 2008
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