I married in 2010. I was 29 years old, still a virgin, and petrified of sex. Everyone told me my fears about sex were warrantless. Even though I had never been able to use tampons, never been able to submit to a pap smear, sex would be different.
But it wasn’t. It was far worse than I had imagined. It wasn’t a one time pain. Penetration was impossible and attempts involved intense burning sensations. I had vaginismus, a condition that is still isn’t well known and is often grossly misunderstood.
This is my tale of coming to understand myself.
Part I — The Event
My memories went like this:
I am four years old, and I am lying in a room on a strange table or bed. I’m bottomless. There are medical staff all around me. My legs are spread and there is a male doctor doing something “down there.” There is also something inside my body, something he put there.
I am crying hysterically. Everyone around me is telling me to “go potty”, to urinate while lying down and not on a toilet and with something inside my body down there. The medical staff is obviously frustrated with me because I’m not “going.”
Then the doctor between my legs says, “The needle is out. Now go potty.”
I think, “THAT THING IS A NEEDLE! HE STUCK A NEEDLE UP ME!”
I am looking frantically around the room. I believe I’m calling for my mother. I want her to pull me off of this table and save me. I can’t find her though. I then see what appears to look like a IV bag filled with yellow liquid. I think they injected urine up me the wrong way and now want me to pee it out with the needle still inside of me.
I’m terrified! I don’t recall ever being as terrified as I was at that moment.
I finally find my mother, but she’s with another woman who is escorting her out the door. Mom is not even looking at me.
I think, “Maybe she’s mad at me. Maybe she left me because I did something wrong.”
There are calmer memories related to this one: events that happened before, events that most likely happened afterward. I remember standing at the fridge with my mother sometime before this event. She was giving me the last of the antibiotic and she warned me there would be no more after this. I had this sense that she was either warning me not to make myself sick or not to lie about it to try to get the good tasting medicine again. I was rather upset about not being able to have the medicine again.
I remember when the UTI came back again, my mother had made Spaghetti for dinner. I didn’t feel well. The spaghetti didn’t taste normal, and even though I had just been up to the bathroom, I felt like I had to go again. I told my mother this, and again there seemed this warning, this level of wanting to deny what was happening to me again. I felt like it was important I stop it or at least convince myself that nothing was wrong. But I couldn’t ignore it and when I went upstairs, what little urine I could get out burned terribly when it came out.
My grandma later tried to make me excited about going to the hospital. I’d be able to ride in a wheel chair. It would be fun. I remember that it never happened. After one of the procedures (probably the one I was put under for), I remember a nurse bringing me to the waiting room and telling me I could go to my parents now. I thought now was the time to ride the wheel chair, but it didn’t happen. Instead I was shoved into a waiting room with tons of adults. The only thing I was wearing was a thin hospital gown and no underwear. I felt unprotected and vulnerable, and I couldn’t find Mommy and Daddy. I started crying again.
Finally, my Dad picked me up, but in a manner that neglected my desire for modesty in that room of people. I hated that he was the one who picked me up. In fact, I know that after that point, I wanted to get away from him.
I learned years later that some in the family had suspicions that he molested me, but I know this was never the case. And I remember my grandma having me watch more than one program that involved child molestation and then questioning me afterward. Her questions only confused me, as did the videos. All they really taught me was that strangers were dangerous and that people weren’t allowed to touch your private parts.
I can’t deny that I didn’t start avoiding my Dad a lot, and I know this hurt him. I definitely became uncomfortable around him. But the only thing I can relate to that is that he was the one who picked me up in that waiting room, my bottom felt vulnerable and he seemed completely clueless toward it, and I wanted Mom’s comfort, not his. He may have simply not passed me over to my mom soon enough. I know he was always jealous of affection mom got from us kids’, all while mom complained of being smothered by us.
If anything, I can speculate that I still longed for the comfort only a mother can give you. And I suppose I was always insecure with it afterward. No one could undo that she left the room, and it wasn’t until I was 11 that I found out why.
What had happened to me was the tale end of a medical procedure, an IVP. I actually don’t remember the procedure. I learned later that it involves injecting contrast material into the vein and that a series of X-rays are taken at timed intervals to show the shape and size of the urinary tract on x-ray. They had inserted a catheter into my urethra. I panicked because I was potty trained and “big girls” use the potty. My mom told me that she became upset that I was so upset. It was difficult for her to watch me go through that. And she fainted. In fact, I was told that she frequently fainted when her kids’ got shots. So I saw her leave with a nurse so that she could recover.
No one did anything wrong to me. There really isn’t anyone I can be mad at. The medical community had no idea and even did not acknowledge such an event could be traumatic until a couple of years ago. In fact, I took part in a study in 2012 on the long term psychological effects of these exact procedures and, apparently, it was one of the first real study done on it.
No one knew to think “this child might be suffering from PTSD.” No, my Dad was instead suspected for child molestation. I was an unexplained problem case at school — too shy, struggling with grades. I was tested for several learning disabilities. Whether I actually had one or became convinced I did and that the ritalin helped I still question. I became depressed and suicidal in middle school. I felt I had been rejected by all my peers. I went through periods of attempting to burn tampons (they don’t burn easily) as a way to calm my anxieties, and I always was thinking about those memories when I did. Sometimes I’d intentionally dream that I was attacking that doctor with tons of needles I could stab him with. Anything related to needles and labs tended to cause dizzy spells. And not only couldn’t I submit to vaginal exams and nearly faint with needles, but I also had the resist the urge to kick doctors in the face or attack the nurse. I never did these things. I just felt that threatened.
In fact, I’d even speculate that my obsessively rule-following and my fear of anyone ever being anger with me may be related. It may touch on why I have trouble getting close to people, why I fear rejection so much that I feel like displeasing people will result in something unknown atrocity to occur, and why I feel like I’m always burdening people when I need help, why asking for help always comes with the fear that my need will be the last straw and I will be abandoned during my greatest time of need.
I went on and off to counselling. I was told my relationship with my mother was problematic. I was told I had low self esteem. I was told that the reason I couldn’t use tampons or submit to gyncological exams was because of sexual guilt ingrained in me from my religious upbringing. I was told I was merely sexualizing these events. And at one point I was told by a counsellor that the IVP couldn’t have been traumatic. “What makes you so special that you alone would be traumatized by it? Don’t you know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of girls who go through that and they’re fine?”
I’m not saying that other events in my life had neutral effects on me, but this event, I believe, tainted all the others. My starting point and my prospective were unusual and the world did not know how to deal with me.
I lost faith in counselling several times because I often felt like they were trying to put my problem into a box. Here I was, this big tangled knot, and they’d pull at one string, address one point. It always felt like in trying to pull at it, they were pulling the knot tighter.
Part II will cover Childhood Triggers — How these memories effected me before puberty.