Vagina: The Owner’s Manual.

Woke up Friday morning to a BFN and felt such overwhelming hopelessness and void (I actually allowed myself to believe I was prego, like a total moron), the kind that no amount of therapy can quench. And I say that as a therapist.

Struggling for some sense of forward motion and agency, I decided to ring up the old Fertility Doc. I’m ready to get a bit more proactive again, after taking about 7 months off from any kind of assisted conception treatments. I just got sick and tired of being a giant roiling vat of insane hormones and weepiness. I haven’t seen Dr. S since June, right after the Big One when I went in begging for something that would knock me up instantaneously, so that instead of having to actually feel the bone-breaking loss of miscarriage I could just pretend it was one extra long pregnancy with a little break in the middle when I’d be able to drink. You get a little crazy after a miscarriage. Don’t judge.

I was unprepared for the surprise spanking I got. As I mentioned in the previous post, I opted to go rogue for the insemination in July, and it appears that he was not a fan of that decision. There was a lot of talk about “maybe it’s time to let go of some of the control” and “I know you like to do things by your own ideas and all, but…” Several times he called me “independent”, and it was clear to me that this was not praise. I had no idea what a thorn in his side I had become.

It’s an odd place to stand. On the one hand I felt like saying, “Um, listen up Dr. Pushypants. It’s actually MY VAGINA we’re talking about here, and I sort of enjoy getting to make decisions about it based, yes, on my own ideas. That I come up with in MY head. Which is just up the road from MY vagina.” The man was literally peeved at me for making my own reproductive decisions without him. I’m sure you’ve all noticed a decidedly feminist slant to my writing, so you can imagine the kind of “say what?” that was happening for me. At one point he suggested that I relinquish control and allow him to “push my ovaries a bit”. I mean, what the fuck do you do with that?

On the other hand, I am mortified and saddened to admit that he actually knows more about my vagina – or more broadly, the various hormonal choreography that affects the functioning of my vagina and uterus and other associated business – than I do. And that, frankly, feels like more of a pressing feminist issue than the grumpiness of a mildly judgy fertility doctor who is, after all, just trying to do his job.

And this brings me back to all the things I never knew about when we started this mad adventure two years ago. Two years ago I was 35. I had owned and operated this very same vagina and uterus for 35 years, and I thought I had a pretty good understanding of how they worked. As it turned out, I had been missing like two thirds of the manual. I had a basic sense of the rough schedule – ovulate, fill up, flush out, ovulate, rinse, repeat. But I’m pretty sure that despite living in the most technologically advanced nation in the most technologically advanced period of human history, any 14th century midwife could probably have schooled me on the all the stuff that was actually going on in there.

What do you remember about sex ed? I wrote my master’s thesis on sex education in the United States, so I’ve actually spent quite a spectacular number of hours thinking about what I remember. Mainly I remember fear. I remember dread and anxiety and a creeping unspoken sense that this thing I was walking around with could basically explode at any minute if I didn’t absolutely ensure that no boy ever got near it. We must have received some kind of information about the mechanics of reproduction, but it was almost entirely drowned out by a kind of apocalyptic warning siren that was constantly going off – ALERT! ALERT! VAGINAS HAVE BEEN SHOWN TO BE LINKED TO TEEN PREGNANCY. PLEASE PLACE YOUR VAGINA IN THE PROTECTIVE HYGIENE RECEPTACLE PROVIDED FOR YOU AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS SEMINAR. THANK YOU FOR NOT PROCREATING.

And I grew up in a liberal, highly educated town. We protested outside the high school for a program that would allow nurses to hand out condoms and safe sex material, and we got it because the majority of parents were totally behind us. In my freshman year our female principal resigned to focus on choosing a sperm donor and becoming a single mother. And that information wasn’t just whispered in staff rooms and parlors, she gave a speech at an assembly about it. And we applauded. From a superficially feminist perspective, we were loaded for bear.

So then how exactly did I reached the age of 35 without having any idea that, for instance, your cervical mucus is essentially a hostile sperm-killing agent throughout the majority of your cycle, but changes completely and turns into a biological Slip N Slide right before you ovulate? Or that your temperature drops dramatically on the day you ovulate and then rockets up the chart afterward, dropping again only when you begin to menstruate? This shit is seriously amazing. Our bodies are seriously amazing. Why don’t we learn about this until we’re forced to by trying to facilitate a process that we thought was not only easy, but downright looming?

I think it’s the same reason that one used to substitute charming little euphemisms like “in a delicate condition” for the word “pregnant” when in polite company – pregnancy involves vaginas and stuff you do with them, and we just don’t talk about that. It’s the same reason that I lurk shamefully into and out of the pregnancy test aisle, holding the label to my side so that no one sees it. When I walk into that aisle, I am carrying shadows of the shame and terror with which I walked into the drugstore at 18, convinced I was pregnant with the child of a foreign exchange student. At 18 I knew exactly what kind of girl bought pregnancy tests. Despite all the Free-To-Be-You-And-Me liberal self-love with which my home community tried to provide me, I had still received the message that sex = shame.

With the result that I now feel obligated to be condescended to by Dr. Pushypants, who possesses arcane and secret knowledge about my ladybits and syringes full of hormones that will cause me to be a traveling crying jag. I am not at all comfortable with this, but he does have one thing right – infertility is ALL about not having any control over things, and clearly it’s time for me to give up even more. *Sigh*

8 thoughts on “Vagina: The Owner’s Manual.

  1. Kitten says:

    It’s VERY hard to give up that control. I thought I knew my body better than any doctor, but I finally gave in and let my RE call the shots. Well, most of them. This last cycle has been more of a collaboration, now that I know my body even better (after all the monitoring and seeing how different drugs affect my body). Letting someone else be in charge is actually quite freeing in a lot of ways.

    I had a similar experience with high school sex ed. Add to that the fact that the women in my family seem to get pregnant at the drop of a hat (everyone except me, that is), I had every reason to believe that I wouldn’t make it out of high school without getting knocked up, despite the fact that I remained a virgin until age 19, when I was still so naive that I went on the pill before having sex for the first time, but was too ashamed to use a condom.

    You’re absolutely right that NOT teaching young women about the details of the female reproductive system should be a more pressing feminist issue. Keeping it a mystery makes it easier to relinquish control to all the wrong people.

  2. That would have been a difficult discussion for me to sit through. I remember when we went ahead and “tried” during the first cycle after my miscarriage, despite being told not to do so by my RE, I was secretly afraid that I would end up pregnant and have to confess my choice to control my own vagina. I imagined my RE’s disapproving look many times throughout that cycle. It’s such an odd thing to feel the need to be apologetic about a decision like this!

  3. I’m sorry you found yourself in the void. Is Dr Pushypants the only re you have access to? You may want to see another Dr if you can… As for “sex ed” I think we had about one week in HS health class and honestly I don’t remember anything from it. But somehow I also got the message that sex=shame. And even though I logically have moved past that, I think it probably still affects me.
    Unlike you, i didn’t really know my body well before TTC… until reading TCYF, I really didn’t know what CM was or what it was for. My step-sister’s grandmother once used the term “crotch rot” and that I did remember. I always felt there was something wrong with me. If I ever have a daughter I will make sure she understands how her body works and why it does what it does so she is able to take control of and not be embarrassed by her choices.

  4. arbrefleur says:

    This is a fascinating post. And the responses so interesting. I, too, remember nothing but shame and embarrassment from “sex ed”…seems like this is a trend. A frightening and dangerous trend that I hope is being addressed?

    As far as REs and vagina-control, I am a massive feminist who was considered a “high information” patient by her RE. (I assume this is RE-speak for “high maintenance” 😉 I refused to let him use the “which one of us went to medical school?” snark with me. (I’ve actually had a doctor say this to me! He is no longer my doctor.) I acknowledge that he knows more about prescribing medication, but that doesn’t mean he knows best for ME in all situations and so I asked a LOT of questions, which helped alleviate the lack of control feeling I think. I mean, I was like a 3 year old or whatever…”why?” …”why?”…”why?” As my dr., you are never allowed to say “because I say so” like you’re my dad scolding me over breaking curfew. You better cite a study or a sound medical/scientific explanation that makes sense to me. If you have a basic understand of biology combined with 30+ years knowledge of your own lady bits, then you have enough knowledge to challenge these dudes on their BS. So go for it! Eyes wide open. If Dr. Pushypants is not up to the task of going toe to toe with you as you deserve, then get a new RE! Good luck!

  5. bustedoven says:

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

    The thing I have been most amazed by in this process is how much I didn’t know before I started, and how much almost every single one of my girlfriends, EVEN THE ONES WHO HAVE GIVEN BIRTH TO CHILDREN, still don’t know. I give myself a stress headache whenever I think about it.

    Also, your thoughts about sex and shame and don’t-get-teen-pregnant really resonated. I was raised in a super Baptist family, so… YEAH. This post reminded me of the movie “Saved” when Jenna Malone’s character realizes she might be pregnant and is repeating over and over, “Please, let it be cancer, please let it be cancer.” Which I SO IDENTIFIED WITH because as a Baptist teenager I would have way rather gotten a terminal illness than teen-pregnant. Anyway.

    This is my first time visiting your blog, so happy to have discovered it!

  6. Embe says:

    First of all I would like to say that I really like your blog! You have a nice way with words and I admire your attitude. And now you can add Sweden to your country collection 🙂
    I also have a strong need to have control over my body and my cycles. If I “take a break” and don’t use ovulation tests and temperature charting, I get frustrated and and anxious. The best way for me to not be obsessed is to obsess 😛 I don’t regularly see an RE, but I have done that on occation, and I’m also very high maintenance.
    I also liked your post on faith. I am as many others in Sweden also a non-believer (only around 30% believe in a god). I would go so far to say that I’m a convinced atheist. I’m also a scientist, that may have something to do with it!
    Just wanted to say hi from inside another catbox!

  7. newtoivf says:

    at no point in my life before I couldn’t conceive was I told ‘hey, you know what it can be really tough to get pregs’! Like you I always assumed from the info I had been told over and over that getting pregs was dangerously easy and it WILL happen if you wave a penis vaguely near the big V! think of all the disinhibited sex we missed out on! 😉

    • And all the money we spent on condoms! Seriously, my husband and I used them for the whole 9 years before we started trying because I didn’t want to take birth control. I’m pretty sure we’d have downpayment on a house by now with all that cash.

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