April Roy, founder and CEO of femPAQ Inc. in Little Rock, recalls a conversation with a male business owner at a bootcamp for start-up companies.
"He came up to me and said, ‘I remember this girl had a period stain on her clothing at school. I remember her name, exactly what she had on and everyone making fun of her about the incident.’ He wondered how she was doing now because he said it followed her until she graduated high school. Everyone made fun of her for it for years.
“I told him, ‘I’m sure it follows her to this day.’”
Roy, from southwest Arkansas, first thought about becoming a doctor, but then got a degree in design with a focus on fashion.
"I always say it’s funny because my life came full circle … I ended up designing a product that is considered a medical device for menstruating people.”
Just before returning home from a girls’ trip in 2018, Roy’s friend, wearing white pants, unexpectedly started her period and was unprepared.
“Our AirBnB was near a Walgreens and CVS, so we looked for a quick solution … Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything at all.”
No solution to a problem all women face at some point in their lives didn’t sit well with Roy. After some research and development, femPAQ — a feminine emergency kit that includes underwear, a pad, tampon, wipe, liner, ibuprofen and chocolate — became a movement “to normalize periods, create period equity and end period stigma.”
Focused on women’s health and sexual wellness, board-certified gynecologist Dr. Christie Cobb sees patients from adolescence to post-menopause. She practices a shared decision-making model in order to help patients select an approach to wellness that aligns with her values and health goals.
According to Cobb, menstruation is an excellent barometer of a woman’s overall health, and not discussing it with your doctor can complicate care.
“Our cycles are directed by a complex interaction between the ovaries and two parts of the brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. When the hormones are released in a balanced manner, cycles are regular. When the balance is disrupted at any step, the imbalance can have effects beyond just menstruation such as changes in mood and even the immune system.”
Endometriosis, fibroids and a variety of other issues can also cause problems with periods, and she says it is important to focus on the root cause of the problem, not just cover up the symptoms.
“An annual gynecology screening visit is a great place to start. This gives women the opportunity to ask questions and get sound recommendations on how they can best care for their reproductive health,” Cobb says.
Fighting the Stigma
“When I started this journey, it was all still new," Roy says. "You've always had period warriors fighting the good fight, but now I think our voices are finally being heard collectively from those who are fighting on a legislative level or those who create period memes … or those who have created period products or documentaries like ‘Period. End of Sentence.’”
Historically, Cobb says, menstruation has been considered taboo at best and evil at worst, leaving an intergenerational wound on women’s physical and mental health.
“One of the best advances to fight this stigma has been the invention of novel methods for menstrual hygiene," she says. "The average period is about 80 mL of blood, and there are so many ways to manage this. Having the right product makes a huge difference in quality of life."
Underwear designed to absorb menstrual flow, cups of various shapes and sizes, environmentally-friendly reusable pads and organic, toxic-free disposable products are all choices women can make now, but, Cobb adds, countless days of work and school are still missed each year due to lack of access to reliable menstrual products.
“In a perfect world, the conversation wouldn't be an issue. Kids going through puberty would be taught the proper education when it comes to menstruation — not just girls, but the guys, too,” Roy says. “Removing myths about periods or saying it's too gross to talk about. Teaching our boys to stand for girls, letting them know accidents happen and, by providing support, [they] can do wonders for a person's psyche.”
“Parents should educate themselves to have those conversations with their kids, teaching them that having a period is normal and no one would be here without it. … If we're teaching our kids not to talk about something that is as natural as a period, then what else are we teaching them to be silent about?”
According to the Alliance for Period Supplies, one in four teens miss school due to lack of period supplies.
“Not everyone has access to affordable sustainable period products, and it's going to take all of us to end period poverty,” Roy says.
That's why for every two femPAQs sold, one is donated to charities like the Arkansas Period Poverty Project. To make a donation or to order femPAQ to be sent to your favorite school, women’s shelter or organization, visit fempaq.com.