It seems like everyone is writing a zombie apocalypse book these days, and with the recent popularity of The Walking Dead people crave material about walking corpses. What’s not to love about them, right? The shuffling, the shambling, the hoards that appear silently in the middle of the woods to scare the shit out of everyone and eat the neighbors. Zombies are just freaking cool, but there is one thing the genre ALWAYS overlooks and kicks to a corner during pretty much every take on the zombie apocalypse:
The Bloody Monthly.
Good Aunt Rose.
And whatever other euphemism you can think of.
People with uteruses have it rough. We never signed up for a subscription to satan’s waterfall, but we get the edition every month, whether right on time or whenever it feels like showing up (unless you are a prepubescent girl or a menopausal woman). We women have to plan every detail of our lives around that one week and it’s annoying enough when the world is spinning right on its axis, but when it happens during the apocalypse? Talk about tripling your area of problems.
So, here is a handy dandy list of things to consider when writing women in a zombie apocalypse.
1. Disposable Tampons/Pads Aren’t Long Term
They are called disposable for a reason, and so many modern brands contain toxic ingredients that can contribute to larger health problems, especially if you don’t change them regularly. Toxic Shock Syndrome, sadly, takes lives every year because women and girls aren’t properly educated about this. In a survival situation changing a pad or tampon may get pushed to the background because your character has other things on her mind, but if they go too long she’ll trip headlong into an even worse situation. TSS causes organ damage and usually needs a lot of intravenous fluids and antibiotics to cure, even up to respiratory support, dialysis, and intensive care. You won’t find much of that while running around the woods and abandoned malls with machetes.
Tampons and pads should be replaced at least twice a day to prevent this, sometimes more depending on how heavy a flow is going on, and those materials take up a lot of space when you times that by about a week for every month for as long as your character is not pregnant or dead. Also, leaving behind that many used pads or tampons kind of creates a zombie bread crumb trail.
2. Cramping Concerns
Cramps during menstruation result from the uterus basically tearing its lining apart since we didn’t see fit to get knocked up an utilize it. The severity of cramping varies from woman to woman. Some don’t experience much cramping at all, while for others it is so excruciating they can barely move without feeling as though something mean with sharp teeth is trying to eat its way out of them. This makes for a nightmare of a time when your character is on the run, especially if they don’t have access to something like Midol, or have knowledge of herbal remedies they could find outside pharmacies. Some women cramp for the first day and are done, other’s have days of suffering to look forward to if they don’t have some kind of relief lined up. And you’re not going to find much in the way of heating pads or hot water bottles if there’s no electricity. Taking all of this into consideration, running for long distances may not be possible, or it will be severely hindered to short sprints and a lot of cursing.
3. Hormonal Hayride on Fire
I’m sure you can come up with a number of PMS jokes off the top of your head (thank you, misogynistic media saturation!) but the reality of going through PMS on top of survival is not that funny. Combined with the worry of containing the blood coming out of their vagina, your female character is worrying about surviving the zombies popping up around every corner, the living people who want her supplies or body, defensible shelter, where the next meal is coming from, where clean water can be had, possible transportation, medical supplies for any other injuries or concerns, weapons to defend herself with, etc. Your heroine has her plate full with enough stress to cause a full mental meltdown. Add in the hormonal ups and downs of a period that make regular day to day stuff difficult and that’s a recipe for a lot of drama. Quick temper flares can cause mistakes and rash decisions, not to mention either clouded thinking or swift and immediate retribution of a savage nature because she’s bleeding from her fucking vagina and if you don’t get with the program she will shoot you dead. Given that crying jags and munchies can also be part of the PMS package, that’s a shit storm of epic proportion that could decimate a field of zombies or any smart aleck who mouths off.
Seriously, there is a reason you appease women with chocolate and space during their time of the month, and I doubt anyone will be able to put together a brownie mix for the occasion during the apocalypse.
4. Periods = Low Iron
Besides messing up underwear, pants, bed sheets, and whatever else we happen to sit on, losing that much blood depletes a woman’s supply of iron. This induces weakness and fatigue, and even anemia, that affects us because an average period may cost about 1/4 cup of blood, or more if the period is heavier. Iron can be found in both animal and plant substances, but iron from a meat source is more easily digested. Iron supplements are an option if there are any left on a shelf, but when those run out food will have to be the go-to to replace energy. The liver of an animal is good to start with, as it contains the most iron of any edible animal part.
5. Long Term Solutions
Since we’ve already talked about disposable period items, now we can talk about reusable ones that will be essential in a long term situation. Diva Cups are cups that can be inserted to catch the period flow. Washable, hypoallergenic, odor blocking, latex free, your heroine just needs access to some soap or boiling water, and she can sanitize and re-use these babies (pick some up during a pharmacy raid, or an excursion through a deserted house with lingering toiletries available). Since she only needs a couple to switch between, they don’t take up the kind of room multiple disposable pads or tampons do, thus leaving more room for essentials, like food or fire-making tools. In a pinch they can also be used as a drinking utensil (after sanitation!). Another option is a cloth pad. Glad Rags make two-part cloth pads that consist of holders with wings and absorbent inserts that can be doubled or lessened depending on how heavy a flow experienced. In the field your heroine can make her own with sanitized cloth folded over for the desired thickness and attached to panties using a couple safety pins. Materials like cotton or hemp would be ideal since they are absorbent, so any raid of a store yielding tee-shirts would keep your heroine stocked for a while. Not to mention that clean ones can be repurposed for other medical emergencies in place of gauze.
6. Sanitary Measures Save Lives
I cannot state this enough, but cleaning and sanitizing anything that goes near your character’s vagina will keep her alive, or at least not kill her from something preventable. The skin of the vulva and vagina are 50 times more absorbent than the skin on your palms, so you really can’t be too careful with what you put down there. To sanitize, use soap and water if they are lucky to have it, or boil a pot of water and use the water to wash the pads or rinse out the cup. In fact, apply this to the majority of fluid contact between survivors and zombies in a zombie apocalypse scenario. Zombie fluids have got to be rife with all sorts of nasty things just waiting to screw up your health that aren’t limited to just the zombie virus. Your character’s shouldn’t be walking around covered in blood and guts and drool or anything else that’s come off of or from a zombie without getting clean if they can, otherwise they open themselves up to a whole host of infections, rashes, and sicknesses to deal with on top of running for their lives.
While the zombie apocalypse is (so far) a fictional scenario, that is no excuse not to know survival essentials in order to write a convincing narrative, especially where your female characters are concerned. Do you need to insert all of these in the same kind of gory glory you do while taking off zombie heads and limbs? No, but you do need to be aware of what your heroine or female characters are going through for the duration of their apocalyptic ordeal, because these extra worries and the consequences will affect how well your ladies survive.