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What It’s Like to Free Bleed

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

I started doing this before I even knew there was a name for it, not because I wanted to be part of a “free bleed” movement. I didn’t know it was a TikTok trend until very recently.

I started about seven years ago. I had just given birth to my second son, and, immediately, I became very sensitive around my stomach and pelvis area. I mean, all these years later I still don’t wear pants with buttons. And I didn’t even have a C-section. It was a vaginal delivery — and a pretty standard one — but when it was over, I was just like: There’s no way I’m ever putting anything unnatural up there again, and I felt especially strong about that in regards to my period.

Even before having kids, I really didn’t like the feel of tampons. I didn’t want to think about changing them during the day. Then emotionally, I felt this urge to get them out of my life altogether. Pads were also uncomfortable, as they moved around a lot and made me anxious and felt very scratchy and rough on my skin. I used pads postpartum for both my pregnancies, and I actually used them for most of my early-period years; I didn’t wear tampons until my early 20s. But on a practical level as well, I kept asking myself: Why spend all this money on pads and tampons when I can just put soft cotton hand towels down there like they did in the past? I mean, it worked for so many women before me … why not now?

So the first thing I did was I bought period underwear. I think it was Thinx. I bought a few pairs — they’re expensive. But all these years later, I don’t even use them that much. I only wear them if I’m going out to a school thing for my kids or to a meeting. They collect enough blood that I don’t have to worry about anything for about six hours.

On most period days, though, I just use a towel or wear regular black cotton underwear — and I try to be smart about it. Like, I’ll wear black yoga pants if I’m going on a walk for some exercise. And I won’t wear nice jeans during my period week. That kind of thing. When I have my period, I also try not to schedule things that will keep me away from the house for too long (I’ve been working from home for years). I usually won’t make a trip into the city (I live on Long Island). I arrange my days so I can change my underwear, or my towel, a hundred times a day if I want to.

The cool thing that happens after free bleeding for a few cycles is that you start to feel the blood coming down from the inside of your body — and you can kind of “catch it” before it’s too late. You can get to the bathroom to wipe things up before the blood is really dripping. Since I’ve gotten to know my body, I can manage my bleeding by going to the bathroom at the right moment; I’m really not sitting there in a puddle of blood. Also, a lot comes out in the shower.

But I should say, I’ve always been a medium bleeder. I was never the type of person who had to constantly change my tampon like a lot of my friends. And my period got even lighter and shorter since I stopped sopping it up. It used to be a weeklong, and now it’s only three days. I’m not perimenopausal or anything like that, and I don’t have cramps anymore, which I think is related as well. Letting the body do what it needs to do has been a very interesting process to watch.

Nighttime is probably the hardest part because I’m not able to run to the bathroom as much. My sister and I started free bleeding at the same time. After a few months, we made this little thing, just for the two of us, called the “moon pad.” It’s a quilt, shaped in a circle, and we put it on the bed and it absorbs any blood that comes out in the middle of the night. Our mom’s a quilter, so we’re used to throwing a quilt down as a fix-all. If I don’t have my “moon pad,” I’ll just lay a soft towel on the bed, under my body, the old-fashioned way. I’m currently single, so I don’t have to worry about anyone messing up the arrangement. And I don’t have expensive sheets.

If I start dating, what will I do? I’ll just invest in more expensive period underwear. Some are pretty sexy, actually. The idea of ever buying tampons or pads again is very foreign to me. I wouldn’t do that for a guy. There’s no way. I would just say, “I use period underwear and it works for me.” If he didn’t think it was acceptable, I definitely wouldn’t keep dating him. It’s part of who I am at this point. This all goes back to the shame and stigma that women carry about everything they do — and I’m fighting against that in my own way.

We tend to overthink things. If it gets messy, I’ll take a shower, wash my clothes right away, and it’s no big deal. I’ve definitely bled in my car, waiting for my kids to get off the bus, and … it’s okay. I tell myself, “It’s just one of those days.” A few weeks ago, it was day one of my period, and I was picking up my kids from art class, and my son was like, “Can you come in so I can show you my artwork?” I was like, “I’m literally bleeding right now; I’m sorry, I can’t!” Like, I felt it coming out and had to be real about it. I will say, I’m very honest with my sons. They’re 10 and 7. They know what a period is. They know that I bleed. I think that’s a cool by-product of free bleeding — you are just more open about menstruation.

All this being said … with free bleeding, there’s a lot of privilege at play. I can work from home, and I work for myself, so I can run to the bathroom 65 times a day if I want to. Some of my friends think it’s wild that I do this, but those are usually my friends who are heavier bleeders. I also consider it a privilege that I don’t have fibroids or endometriosis or heavy and painful periods.

I feel very grateful that I can free bleed. I almost feel guilty that my periods are only getting lighter. Women are judged for so much of what we do, and this is my own little rebellion.

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