I have clinical prove of my virginity, up to a month after I was married. Not many can say that. Not many would care anymore, but hey, it’s a good way to stop conversation at dinner parties. I did choose to wait until I was married to have sex. I just happen to believe that it is more than a physical act as our bodies and souls are co-existent with each other and that something that can be so physically vulnerable must be spiritually and emotionally vulnerable as well, And I’m not comfortable with vulnerability, I wanted to feel safe. Turns out there were some other things going on as well.
So after a couple of weeks of trying to make me a not virgin anymore, we realized that we may need professional assistance, and an emergency consult with an OB/GYN was scheduled. The immediate diagnosis, unusually thick and fibrous hymen, it would have to be surgically altered in order to allow for other activities to occur. I am one of the less than one percent of women who in earlier days would have ended up in a convent because there was really nothing else that I could do in the wife mother front.
Thanks to modern medicine I instead went under general anesthetic, the doctor made two tiny little crisscross cuts across my hymen, put in a stitch or two and I woke up. This is not the end, and for all you that thought your first time was uncomfortable, wait until you hear this. If you’ve had an episiotomy you know already, except for the stretching. For three months, every single day, we had to stretch my tissues out to be sure that they didn’t scar closed. Every day, starting with pinky finger and working up to two whole fingers I needed to have my very tender bottom tormented a little bit more before any honeymoon type activities could take place.
In the spirit of being in this together, the Genius Husband would do this for me most of the time, which was good, because I couldn’t have kept it up without him. He was an absolute saint, gentle, patient, comforting me when I just couldn’t stand it anymore and broke down, and keeping the whole experience more positive than negative, making up for the pain in other ways. The running joke was that we were now the champions of foreplay, which I think we were.
Though it hurt physically, the torment mainly came from the brokenness I felt that I was broken, that I didn’t work properly as a woman. I have never been comfortable in my body, I’m not athletic, and I’m not coordinated. I longed to dance and took classes, which helped me to be less awkward, but never really graceful, I have very rarely enjoyed the feeling of my body performing an action well. (This is perhaps why I loved playing piano so much, I could do it, my hands could play music.) Only as I have grown older has it occurred to me that maybe it’s because I never tried, I never stuck with something long enough to become good at it. But I had long been uncomfortable with myself as a woman, insecure about my body and its many functions, and afraid of so many things.
There are lots of reasons for this. But I know that my father was a factor. Shy and insecure himself, he was far from masculine in most respects. He was afraid of touch, awkward around others and himself. The hand on the shoulder would flutter for a second and be quickly withdrawn. The hug was short and insubstantial, the discomfort was readable in every line of his body especially as I grew out of a little girl body and into a woman’s body, which happened quickly, and my father had no idea how to deal with it. He had always been shy around women, debilitatingly so. He compared my appearance with my friends, usually not in my favor, said he was just being honest. He very delicately tried to encourage me to get involved in a sport when I was at that slightly more round preadolescent phase before a growth spurt, he said it would keep me from getting fat and help me to be more graceful, which was true. My heart heard that my daddy thinks I’m ugly. I know that all of this contributed to some of my more recurrent messes, the insecurity, feeling abandoned, unloved, and afraid, etc. But this was just a part of it.
Anyway, the story goes on, the stretching passed; I got pregnant. I enjoyed my first pregnancy, except for the huddled on the couch over a vomit bowl that is my first trimester. I was healthy, eating better than I ever had, at least since my mother was completely in charge of my diet, but I wasn’t even eating wheat or dairy. My body was growing a baby and it was doing everything right for a change, I don’t even get blips on the uh oh radar for something going wrong. I eat, baby grows and comes out perfect, so far. Then I went into labor, which wasn’t labor but something else entirely and I ended up vomiting uncontrollably for hours and looking like I was in transition while only 3 cm dilated, and my planned homebirth became a transfer and section. Now my uterus had been cut into as well.
Five years later I know that it was probably completely unnecessary, and had I trusted my body more and my own instincts the whole outcome may have been different. In a nutshell it was fear that kept my body from doing its job, it was fear that bound me in ways that I didn’t begin to understand back then and barely glimpse now. Once again I felt as though I was broken, didn’t work properly, and that somehow the core of my femininity was dysfunctional.
But I didn’t notice it too much until the second pregnancy. I become way more vulnerable emotionally when I am pregnant, many of my walls disappear, and things flood in and demand my attention that I’ve held at bay for years. With baby number 2 I was forced to confront my poor self-image disguised as vanity and a temper tantrum over getting fat again, which was really the flip side of insecurity about my body and my appearance. Thanks to my new healthy habits I was looking and feeling better than I had in years, and I was taking way to much identity from that, and the approval that I was getting from the people around me. I felt myself losing that as I outgrew my jeans. I also couldn’t hide from the disappointment and pain that I still carried over things not going as planned with the first birth. My husband was scared away by the intensity of the things I was dealing with. Though he didn’t actually leave.
So I used the things I had learned about trusting my body, and listening and being in tune with my birth, and my second child was born at home, a successful VBAC. I needed an episiotomy, at a home birth! That never happens. She crowned and stayed stuck at the ears for so long that the kind and gentle midwife urged me to push hard enough to tear or she would have to cut. I couldn’t push her out, and yet another incision was made into my feminine self, this time my perineum. I don’t know if it was because of the strange toughness of my pelvic floor tissues or because the irritating backup midwife made me roll onto my back after she crowned so she could hear the heartbeat and I couldn’t push effectively from there. It doesn’t matter really, but at the 11th hour, after all of my hard work, this child too was cut from my body.
I called my Milly two days later, who has birthed 8 children, weeping because I am broken. There is not one part of my reproductive life that has happened without the aid of a scalpel. That’s how I felt. She let me cry, understood why I would feel that way, and then pointed out that I had no problems nursing, my breasts do their job quite well. My baby’s grow to term and are born strong and healthy, these were all thing that worked about myself as a woman. Then she suggested I think of it in terms of allowing life to enter. That each of the times I’ve been cut, it’s been to make way for new life, for a different life, and that, in a sense, they’ve been choices I’ve made to allow life to enter me, and to enter the world. That helped me some. Though I wonder now if my problem isn’t letting life in but letting it out, instead of keeping it trapped inside by fear and doubt.
Today I was reading at State of Grace. She talked about how the birth of her first child was how she was finally able to become a woman, after a lifetime of abuse and avoidance. It hit something really deep in me, though my experience hasn’t been the same. The birth of my children has dragged me along in the journey to accepting and being comfortable with my body and myself, but I think I’ve been kicking and screaming the whole way, and it feels like there has been just as much damage to my woman self as acceptance.
So in 20 weeks or so, this new life will be knocking at the door to be let out. I have already been engulfed by all of my issues, fear, loneliness, abandonment, they have flooded in to drown out the force of life inside of me, and have made me feel helpless. But that life is starting to assert itself now, kicking my ribs often enough to remind me what this is about, and so I have finally realized again that what needs to change is me, not the things around me. That I need to once again decide to let life in, to enter into life, and choose not to fear. I need to remember that I have a father in heaven who loves me and won’t abandon me, and as much as I doubt this on a daily basis it’s the only solution I have to this mess that is me, and the only way I am healed. Every time I manage to with much quaking and trembling to let go of my fear and to trust in this love, I become a different person, I become free, and I stop being overwhelmed by the things that haunt me. For a long time now I have been huddled up in my old place in the corner, the child who is afraid to come out and play and runs back to the corner at every scrape, fall, and bump. I have forgotten that I can trust Him and it feels like a long road back, but here I am standing at the beginning. I may even take a step soon.
Maybe this time around you will see me brave enough to go down that slide; I hope I might even be smiling a bit.
I almost didn't post this after a reread. It's a bit scary but I could feel that writing it was healing, so I think I ought to post it as well.