The Futility of Gynecology, Part 1

I suddenly awoke because something cold and wet dribbled down my thigh. I was on my stomach and under the covers, and there was something cold and wet running down the back of my thigh, perpendicular to my leg.

In the process of bolt-scooting out of bed, I squished the enormously overfull overnight pad and regular tampon, and I swear it looked like I belly flopped on a water balloon full of red paint. Six hours was clearly far too long to trust that combination, and I guess I should have known that since I was filling a regular pad end-to-end, wing-to-wing every 45 minutes for about 4 hours before bed. Before that, I bled through an overnight pad in 3 hours, and then through my shorts into the seat of my car, ironically while detailing the interior. Thank Science for Resolve.

That chilly trickle woke me up from a dead, dreaming sleep in which a friend was having people rush me to get my tubes tied. Strangely, my medical phobia was taking an observant back seat to the simple fact that anything less than a full hysterectomy wouldn’t solve my problems. I’ve had horrific periods since I was 11, and they always find new ways to incapacitate and make me suffer. The week before this rude awakening, it was the most intense breast pain I have ever felt. Try slamming your soft bits into the corner of the counter, then punching that bruise a few times for good measure. Maintain the maximum level of that pain, then make anything touching it increase that throb and feel like sand paper — even light cotton bedsheets.

This is my first period after a month off hormonal birth control (the pill) that I have used for 5 or 6 years. I’ve taken few-month breaks before. The breaks improved the symptoms that the birth control wasn’t suppressing anymore. The last six months I have been on birth control and have had horrible bleeding and some cramping and fatigue. I decided to take a break and see if a few months off would help everything reset and let the birth control start calming my uterus again.

Fun fact: there is almost no rhyme or reason to prescribing different hormones because we know so little about their interactions and just guess at the symptoms treated by each pill based on results from 200 or less women in placebo trials. Every woman’s body is different, and no one is blood tested for hormone levels to baseline or track any changes.

Now, I’m elated that my period hit exactly 21 days after my last period since I’ve almost never been regular. That excitement is short lived given that I had to break down and put in a tampon for something other than swimming. Why? Well, tampons hurt, or at minimum are very uncomfortable until completely soaked, at which time they’re supposed to be changed anyway.

“You’re bleeding heavily? Maybe you’ve developed fibroids!” So many people said this to me, and my reply was always the same: “Okay. So?” Between my phobia and my reasonable distrust of the medical field both generally and personally, I would rather live with this than so much as have a medical professional look at me in the literal sense of the word. Do you know what “looking at” entails in the contextual sense? They shove an ultrasound wand into your vagina, and they are not nice about it because it has to be pressed against tissue to see through it. My cervix is so sensitive that the cotton swab for a pap smear gives me blinding, contorting pain. I did that once and said never again (I got the HPV vaccine at the same time, too). You think I’m going to let some stranger in me with a dildo? It doesn’t matter how high tech it is or how professional they are, the answer is an unequivocal, resounding “NO!”

So, am breaking my own rule and complaining about something I’ve chosen not to do anything about? No. I can live with hand-washing and spot-treating seats and mattresses and clothes and sheets. I always have. I can walk out of meetings to change my pad every hour; old male coworkers be damned. I can plan my road trips with stops every 45 minutes. I can figure out how to get through a 2-hour choir concert (intermission and black pants, duh). I could even figure out how to deal with going to a water park if I had to (which was almost a necessity when I wrote this; I had free tickets for the following weekend).

The only unavoidable disruption I have ever dealt with was in high school, when I had to wrestle up a weight class because I was so bloated that I weighed 136.2 instead of my usual 133.4. That was the only time the coach ever asked me what I was going to do about my weight (usually they were all over people, as the sport demanded, but eating disorders in females were actually monitored and I was not Varsity). I looked the head coach dead in the eye and said, at 16 years old, “Well, if you wanna push on my lower abdomen and squeeze some of the blood out-” He immediately walked away. A kid on the other team assented to wrestle me in the 140lb weight class instead of 135lb, and the show went on.

The last time I ventured a professional inquiry about my vag three years prior, the bitch of a general practitioner ignored me, and then referred me, changed her mind about which gyn she was referring me to… and the guy turned out to be an oncologist. His office wouldn’t schedule me because I don’t have cancer. I still remember the inhuman sound of exasperation, scorn, rage, and laughter I made when the receptionist told me that. It was a yelp of sorts… and I was done.

Oh, and a note about Planned Parenthood. They don’t have any special knowledge so they can’t help, but they seem to be obligated to be much more polite than anywhere else I’ve been. But sad, smiling apologies don’t soak up blood. If anything, they are just another example of why access to women’s healthcare is hollow. If we want healthcare, we need it funded, and we need talking and asking about it to be destigmatized and normalized. In the 50s, Masters and Johnson (dramatized by the show ) had an extremely hard time gathering information because the only women who would participate in their research were prostitutes and later those with conception issues. These samples of people are not representative of the population at large, just like 30 French women from the 1800s aren’t relevant here or now, yet we still cite that shamble of a study every time we repeat phrases like “your biological clock is ticking” and “over 30 is too old to have a kid.” Seriously, that’s where that came from, and it still shapes our society!

In 2015, I read an article and titular book, . In 2010, a gynecologist, a urologist, and a sex therapist put their heads together in the last few years and made a comprehensive book for laypeople. I highly recommend it since it will teach you much more than health class or clinics ever get a chance to cover. There are still things in the book that are blatantly wrong, but detailed diagrams both inside and outside can help you figure out what exists where something hurts, for starters. They also talk about the same thing I just did: without funding and participants, gynecology is going to remain a world of catch-all terms and cure-all prescriptions.

So rip my uterus out of me. Freeze my eggs while you’re at it: that should cover the cost, right?

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Possessed of a Bachelor's in Psychology and years in the white-collar world, both my career and my writing aim to synthesize previously unrelated notions.

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Anne Maurer

Anne Maurer

Possessed of a Bachelor's in Psychology and years in the white-collar world, both my career and my writing aim to synthesize previously unrelated notions.

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