NSFWomen documentary shows what it’s really like to get your period while homeless

If you have a roof over your head and a job, try not to complain so much about your period. I know it’s hard, but this NSFWomen documentary shows what it’s like to be homeless and have your period, and seriously, it’s worse than that last batch of cramps you had or even the $10 tampons you had to put on a credit card before payday. Really.

The documentary, the first in a new series from Bustle, follows Kailah Willcuts, who’s been living on the streets for eight years, around New York City as she goes about her “morning routine” of washing her vagina in a public bathroom. She and other women on the streets tell Bustle about their “tips and tricks” for feeling like a human being while menstruating. Some talk about stealing Motrin or getting a cup of hot water from Starbucks for cramps, but cramps are nothing when it comes to just not feeling gross. You know how nasty you feel when you need to change your tampon or pad? And how nothing feels better than a warm shower and a fresh one?

That’s a luxury. Since tampons and pads are so expensive (even the cheapest box of tampons runs around $7, which is more than one of the women spends on dinner for her and boyfriend), the women hack the system. They tell Bustle about using napkins, socks, and ripped up T-shirts that they rinse out and re-use throughout their cycle. Some even make their own tampons from pads (since pads are uncomfortable and nasty, let’s just say it).

“Not only is it terrible, but it’s also embarrassing,” Willcuts told Bustle. “Not to mention that now you have this stain on your pants. I only have the clothes that I’m wearing, so I’m standing there half naked, bloodied, you know, washing my clothes out.” She rinses bloodied socks in sinks so she can reuse them. Donna, another woman in the doc, says that if she doesn’t have anything to line her underwear, she just sits still until she can get up with a stain on her pants. Some of the women often choose springing for a box of tampons over a meal.

Recently, New York City became the first city to mandate that pads and tampons be provided in schools, jails, and homeless shelters. That’s a good thing. But it’s also troublesome, since many of the 50,000 women on the streets nationwide don’t feel safe in shelters. In the documentary, Victoria says that the “crowd” at most shelters is made up of people who are addicted to drugs and she doesn’t do drugs anymore, so she stays away. All of the women say they feel safer on the streets than closed up in a shelter, even if the shelter has free pads and tampons. “I won’t do it,” a woman named Courtney tells Bustle. It’s good that pads and tampons are available there, but sometimes it’s not worth the risk.

The lack of supplies is also a health issue. Apart from not being able to stay clean, some women wear tampons for way too long on the street, and then they have to deal with toxic shock syndrome or even just a bacterial infection. Since the women are living on the streets and washing themselves using super large cups from convenience stores over a public toilet, they’re at a greater risk for health issues. And if they can’t afford a $7 pack of tampons, think about how likely it is they’re going to a doctor or the ER. Yea, it’s not good.

Bustle is donating a pair of Thinx for the first 250 shares of the documentary, via Distribution for Dignity, an organization that supplies homeless women with pads, tampons, and even bras in the South Jersey and Philadelphia area. Because it is about dignity, despite what you think about the women’s stories. I don’t know about you, but I can barely think of anything else when I have that terrible feeling that I waited too long to change my tampon. The next time you’re thinking about donating anything to a homeless shelter, go with tampons instead of clunky, cheap pads. That would make a difference.