When we share our stories, we build a connection with others that provides further insight into our intentions, our heart, and why we are passionate about the things we pursue.
In the last post, I said that I’d start to share more of my story. I’ve alluded to it a few times on this platform, but never have I gone into further detail. Because, just like I’m sure the same applies to you, my story has a lot of parts and pieces to it. Intending to follow through on my word, here we go. Plus, I also said we’d get to know each other really well, really quickly. What better way to do just that than to break the ice by talking about vaginas. Yep, that’s plural. I told you we’d get to know each other real quick…
Spoiler alert- I don’t have multiple vaginas. What happened doesn’t necessarily involve my vagina so much as it does the perineum, another sensitive part of the female body that’s rarely discussed but is a topic of interest for many expecting and postpartum mamas.
Quick disclaimer: If anatomically correct terms like vagina and perineum make you uncomfortable, just skip this post altogether. Please also note that this will not be some raunchy or explicit read.
Let’s dive in…
BACK TO THE HOSPITAL, I GO
5 years and 3 vaginas ago…
In the spring of 2014, a few months after getting married, I found out I was pregnant. It wasn’t my best moment; having a kid wasn’t a part of my 10-year plan. Pushing past the uncertainty and a lovely case of P.U.P.P.S. (what I also call pregnancy-itch-hell), I assured myself that things were going to be okay and (slowly) surrendered to the process.
On December 25th, 2014, Christmas was not cheery and bright when my home birth ended with postpartum hemorrhage and quickly turned into a hospital transfer. I wish I could say the chaos ended when I brought my son (back) home from the hospital two days later.
However, I did not receive an actual pelvic examination before leaving the hospital. You know- the basic exam every woman *should* get after pushing a watermelon-sized baby out of her body (not to mention hemorrhaging).
Thinking the intense pain was normal and wanting nothing more than to be home, my now-family-of-three was sent home the next day. Like any other mama, I tried not to focus on the pain because I wanted to NAIL my baby’s first pediatrician appointment.
We left the appointment abruptly when I had my first panic attack (I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time and it would be months until I identified it as such). My husband drove me to the ER of the hospital where I’d just been a patient.
My heart rate sounded tachy (fast) so I was given an echocardiogram almost right away. Now that was an experience. I don’t know who I felt worse for- myself or the young nurse trying to basically lift up one of my heavy boobs to place the patches on my chest. As he lifted, guess what happened? Imagine my horror as the Universe decides that’s the perfect moment my milk to come in. Yep. There I am, spritzing this kind nurse with my boob juice and he struggled to place the now-wet patches on my skin. I’m not one to embarrass easily but that was a historically-embarrassing moment. All I could do was cry and apologize for my out-of-control milk cannons.
After a few other tests came back with no real answers for my shortness of breath, I was handed a packet of white papers. The cover page had big black letters that read “General Anxiety”.
Multiple times, I was told that this was all “normal”.
That I’m a first-time mom and it’s an adjustment.
That my body is tired and I probably need more sleep.
That I have anxiety and that’s what’s causing all of this now.
That it’s likely the postpartum hormones.
But nothing felt normal about this. I felt like everything about me was called into question. I’ve never even had anxiety. I have never cried so hard in my life. I felt crazy, weak, and confused. Even though these were medical professionals telling me things were okay, I knew something was wrong. I knew my body was trying to tell me something.
With good reason to believe I had not received the best care when discharged from the hospital days before, my husband told the doctor that we were not leaving until I was examined *down there*. After another request, the doctor obliged and took a look.
The next thing I know, a gauze pad is placed between my legs and I’m told, “I’ll need to get the OBGYN to examine this…I haven’t seen this kind of thing before”. The doctor left the room. At this point, I’m left there shaking and crying, with a gauze pad tucked between my legs, unable to breastfeed my screaming newborn because of some of the tests that were previously run on me. As a nurse brought formula for my son, the doctor returned with the OBGYN to take another look.
Here’s a moment I’ll never forget: Being asked, “Why did you deny getting sutures when examined?”. To which I responded, “If by “examined”, you mean being rinsed off by a nurse with a peri-bottle of water and told I didn’t tear, then yes, I was examined…”
The doctor specified, “No, by your doctor. When you received a pelvic examination, why didn’t you get sutures?”
That’s when both my husband and I explained that no doctor, no OBGYN, ever physically examined me.
The room went completely silent. I knew that they knew this wasn’t okay. But that’s not pertinent to this post now.
NEW YEAR, NEW VAGINA(S)
As it turns out, I needed to have a surgery done to address the adamant problem- an infected second-degree perineum tear. Refusing to stay in the hospital overnight, we returned home to prepare for surgery the next morning. The night before that first surgery was a dark one…
The whole night was spent in pain and in fear of being put under anesthesia in a matter of hours. I was up pumping and dumping my breastmilk. I had to fast (keep in mind that I had given birth just days before, was now anemic from blood loss). Oh, and I had to try to bond with my baby.
Postpartum hormones aside, I was angry and confused that I was in this situation to begin with.
This shouldn’t be happening.
Why is this happening to me?
The next morning, I had to leave my few-day old newborn with my In-laws while I went back to the hospital for a perineum-repair surgery. Though told I wouldn’t likely recall the immediate post-op, I did. But I woke up from anesthesia with a sharp pain in lady parts and immense fear. I was coherent enough to know I needed food and wanted my baby. I was also coherent enough to pick up on some serious flirty vibes one nurse was giving my husband.
I rang in 2015, coming off of anesthesia and completely disoriented. But at least I could try to focus on getting past all of this with my new family. Plus, everyone kept telling me that all that mattered was that I was safe and my baby was okay.
Six months later, I was still having problems with my lady parts. Try taking care of a newborn when you’re unable to sit very long and have to do multiple sitz baths a day.
Infection after infection and rounds of antibiotics later (which destroyed my digestive system), my perineum tissue was still not healing. It was painful to sit for long periods of time, to use the bathroom, not to mention a sex-life was totally out of the question.
I finally went for another opinion and had my lady parts looked at by the umpteenth person over a six month period. Here’s a moment I’ll never forget: The moment my vagina was described as asymmetrical. Apparently, too much tissue was pulled from one side and stitched over in the first surgery six months prior.
This whole time I’d been walking around with a F*&^%*$@ sideways vagina!
My worst fear came true when I heard this new OBGYN’ say, “You’ll need to have another procedure done…”. Before the doctor finished his sentence, I started to shake and cry uncontrollably in the exam room. In my mind, I was right back to square one- absolutely terrified, angry, and confused that this was all happening..all over again.
We were kindly escorted to the doctor’s office where he explained the next steps and what to expect. It didn’t sound complicated, and a little less invasive than the first surgery, but I didn’t expect to be back in this position.
I left the appointment feeling completely hopeless. I wasn’t sure why this was happening to me…
I didn’t want to get pregnant in the first place.
Then I come to terms with being a mom and my homebirth ends poorly.
Then I’m neglected and I have to pay for it (literally) and have surgery…and now I’m having another six months later?!
A few stitches and someone doing their job could have saved me all this trouble.
Come on God, what kind of twisted lesson do I have to learn here?
The cherry on top was the shame I felt for being upset at all. Because it could always be worse and I should be thanking my lucky stars that things weren’t (why do we always dismiss our feelings, ladies?!).
These were all thoughts that raced in my mind and plagued me until the next procedure (which, needless to say, was at an entirely different hospital than the first).
THE THIRD VAGINA’S THE CHARM
Unable to sleep the night before the second surgery, things felt all too familiar. I kept having flashbacks to the first procedure. My sweet husband tried to lighten the mood.
“Maybe you can put in a special request this time- like a platinum model or something. But seriously, how many women can say they’ve gone through three vaginas in six months?” (Okay, okay technically it was the perineum tissue…but vagina sounds funnier).
Between tears, I joked that he might as well assist with the surgery this time around. After all, I’d lost count of how many times I’d asked him to check out what was going on *down there* in these past months. He was basically an OBGYN at this point.
On July 2nd, 2015, I had the second perineum repair. During pre-op, my body shook and felt uncontrollable. Eight hours and one more vagina later, I was heading back home in the car, high on pain meds, and telling my husband that I better have premium perineum now. That sucker better be be-dazzled!
Fortunately, that second procedure was the last of the perineum-repair surgeries. Unfortunately, that’s not where this story ends…
At my two-week post-op appointment, I’m pulling up my pants when the OBGYN shares the news: The inflamed tissue that was removed from the recent procedure and sent to the lab had come back with a red-flag; I needed to have further testing done. All kinds of questions and fear ran through my head, but my perineum needed more healing time before undergoing any sort of internal exam.
I left that appointment with more questions and fear and answers and confidence.
Cool. Now my vagina might be straightened out, literally, but do I have cervical cancer? What next?
It’s like I couldn’t catch a break. I was exhausted; I was mentally and emotionally drained. I was tired of medications and ointments and creams. I was tired of doing sitz baths. I was tired of having my body poked and prodded. I went from a woman with a single sexual partner to having my body looked at by loads of strangers. Albeit these folks were medical professionals, med students, surgeons, midwives, etc, but it’s equally traumatic when you don’t want it to happen in the first place.
Thankfully, after a PAP smear, colposcopy (a not-so-pleasant experience), followed by another exam a few months later, things checked out nothing required surgery. I would need to closely monitor my cervical health for the next year, but I was just relieved to try to put the vaginal-chronicles behind me for the time being.
THE TIPPING POINT
When something traumatic happens that involves a sensitive part of your being, it takes a toll on you mentally and emotionally.
For over a year, I had recurring issues affecting a very sensitive, important part of the female body. Of my body. And it impacted me on multiple levels. Mentally, emotionally, sexually, and physically this series of events, that my mind and body considered traumatic, was very much a part of what I call my unraveling.
And I haven’t even scratched the surface of the panic, anxiety, and PTSD that manifested shortly as the vagina-chronicles subdued.
For a long time, like many women, I dismissed emotions and the reality of what happened to me because I believed that “the only thing that mattered was a healthy baby”. But that’s not true. The health of the mother, in all aspects, deserves just as much attention and needs to be considered important too.
Let me tell you…new motherhood and all that comes with it is already A LOT to handle. Add dismissed emotions, unprocessed trauma, and plenty of shame to the mix and it’s a recipe for a mental and physical breakdown.
Sure, I got a cute baby and tons of vagina-jokes out of it all, but I also got some pretty serious birth and postpartum trauma that I’ve worked hard to address (I’ll share more of that one day). And when trauma in both the mind and body go unprocessed, it’s only a matter of time before it manifests.
Unprocessed trauma usually comes to the surface when we hit our tipping point.
My tipping point was the day I got the call from the OBGYN’s office after the second surgery, asking me to come in because the test results came back abnormal. I immediately broke down in a nasty panic attack in front of my landlord. I called a counselor that same day.
We all have our tipping points.
For now, that’s part of my story. Well, it’s the vagina-part at least; one of the many physical components to it all. This was the also start of my journey in healing both birth and postpartum trauma. I figured why not start with the most sensitive part (literally).
Sideways vaginas aside, postpartum can be tough. And my postpartum season was full of bad days, but I refuse to allow that to define me.
It didn’t take time to heal. It took effort. It took desperation. It also took a LOT of castor-oil and herbal remedies (I’ll totally share that in the future for postpartum moms that have to heal!).
I’ve always told friends that I’ll write a book and the first chapter will be “My Vagina Broke All the Rules” and it won’t even be about vaginas. But it’ll get some attention, I imagine.
So I decided to name this post after just that. 😛
Until next time,