Formula, tampon shortages ‘extremely stressful’ for CT women: 'not looking like a very good year'

Between changes in abortion laws and formula and tampon shortages, many women feel choice is no longer an option.

Photo of Daniel Figueroa IV

The question Becky Aforismo asked was one no mother should have to: “Will I be able to support my son?”

But as Aforismo prepared for the birth of her second child, headlines screamed with news of a baby formula shortage. Something her 30-month-old daughter, Genevieve, had been entirely reliant on.

“Right out of the womb I had to supplement my first child,” Aforismo said. “She was dependent on formula since day one. I was very stressed out in the sense that I didn’t know if I’d be able to support my second one. Just knowing that could’ve been a possibility was extremely stressful.”

Aforismo, a 35-year-old teacher from Branford, gave birth to her son, Anthony, in late May. While he’s taken to breastfeeding so far, Aforismo knows that can sometimes change. Babies can stop breastfeeding for several reasons. A baby could develop mouth sores, get sick or even be allergic to foods a mother eats that are transferred through the milk. Then there’s her inevitable return to the classroom for Aforismo. Pumping at school wasn’t part of the plan. 

Aforismo is now among a growing group of women facing a daunting reality where choice is not always an option.

Dana Marlowe, founder of nonprofit I Support Girls, said she’s shocked by what has transpired this year so far.

“If someone, on Jan. 1, was reading the tease for 2022,” Dana Marlowe said, “It’s not looking like a very good year to be a woman in America.”

Marlowe's I Support the Girls, is based in Maryland with branches throughout the country, including in Connecticut. I Support the Girls distributes essential items like underwear and menstrual products to homeless and underprivileged people across the world. Since forming in 2015, I support the Girls has distributed more than 12.6 million menstrual products globally.

Marlowe said it’s been a “particularly rough couple of months” for women. 

In early May, a leaked Supreme Court opinion indicated the nation’s highest court might overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions (since this article was published, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade). Both cases were instrumental in securing a person’s right to access abortion. They also laid the groundwork for privacy protections in the country.

That news was quickly followed by the revelation of a shortage in baby formula that had been growing for weeks. Retail tracking company Datasembly found by early May out-of-stock rates went from 31 percent to 40 percent on average. In Connecticut, that jump was from 23 percent to 48 percent. Six states saw those rates soar past 50 percent.

And last week, news broke that supply chain issues and inflation were behind a shortage of tampons that’s left shelves bare and suppliers unable to restock. Menstrual products had already seen a sharp rise in cost, the Washington Post reported inflation drove the price of tampons up by 10 percent this year. Pads have gone up 8 percent.

In online forums and social media posts, women say they feel the pressure.

On Twitter and Reddit, many woman have compared the current situation to Gilead, the dystopian society from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in which women have few (if any) rights and are regarded as second-class citizens.

"I just cannot comprehend how people in U.S. think they are doing what God/Jesus want by stopping abortion," one Twitter user wrote. "It is the most anti-Christian approach to force a woman to have a baby she does not want. Pregnancy and birth are HARD and risky. It really is like Gilead."

On Twitter, another woman said:

“Going off of hormonal birth control when Roe v. Wade is set to be gutted AND there is a tampon shortage is not my best timing. But I really hope it helps with getting my mental health on track.”

While another added:

“Can’t get abortions. Can’t get Plan B. Can’t get tampons. Can’t get decent, affordable maternity and postpartum care. Can’t get formula. Women are screwed if they have babies. Women are screwed if they don’t.”

Supply chain issues and inflation have been felt by the global economy, but Aforismo said it feels different for women.

“People have said, ‘Oh my kitchen is going to take so many months to complete,’ but we don’t have that timeline,” she said. “We can’t hold off our periods. We can’t not feed our kids. It’s definitely an extra burden for women.”

Many, like Aforismo have found comfort and community on the internet.

“Women helping the women has been great, but we shouldn’t have to depend on that. We are literally bringing people into this world and we should be better taken care of,” she said. “It’s just unacceptable. It’s heart wrenching but it’s a good motivator to keep going and push through the stress and anxiety being a new mom brings.”

Marlowe said the various issues facing women have various causes and solutions but are a product of short-sightedness and lack of understanding from a policy point. She said it’s a reminder of the Pink Tax. The Pink Tax, while not an actual tax, is the practice of pricing products deemed “feminine” or geared toward women (anything from menstrual products to a pink Bic pen) are priced higher than those seen as being for men.

In Connecticut and nationally, legislation to ban gender-based pricing has failed to pass. And in some states, the tax is real. About 27 states still put luxury taxes on menstrual products. Connecticut was one such state until the tax was removed in 2016.

“Does this feel like a war on women? Let’s look at the people making policy decisions. Are they people with periods?” she said. “Over time, there are more and more members of Congress who are women but by and large they still look like a group of middle-aged white men. By and large, the people making policy decisions and legal discourse around women are not women. That’s a problem.”

At the national level, the Senate has 24 women members out of 100 total senators. And in Congress women make up only 122 of 435 representatives. In Connecticut, women account for nine of 36 senators and 64 of 187 state representatives.

“It’s scary to have this burden on women just because we’re women,” Aforismo said. “Whether you have access or not shouldn’t be a question. We should all have access. Feeding your baby isn’t a luxury. Tampons are not a luxury.”