[ed. this post candidly discusses topics that may be triggering – particularly the institutionalized violence of the health care industry as it is wielded against laboring bodies and other traumatic, first-hand experiences of the author.]
I am asked to suffer in silence. I am lied to by my doctors.
I was uninformed going into my first pap-smear at the age of 18. I went into Kaiser for a standard physical for one of my many odd jobs. On my way out I was asked if I’d had a pap-smear. I said, “no, I don’t know what that is.” The woman behind the desk said that they are routine and that I should schedule one while I was there.
I didn’t have a car and when it was time to go back, my best friend Sam gave me a ride. She asked why I was going to the doctor and I told her that it was a pap-smear. I told her that I had never had one before and didn’t know what it was. She was surprised they didn’t explain it to me when I made the appointment and began to fill me in on what I was about to walk into.
I was scared. I had never had anything penetrate my vagina except for tampons before this and it felt bad to me that the first person to finger me was a complete stranger (no matter what the reason). The young asian doctor thought I was lying when I told him that I wasn’t sexually active. He felt my organs from the inside and I had silent tears going down the side of my face. I felt invaded. Coerced.
Years passed with many pap smears, anti-biotics for clamidia, Birth Control in the form of Pills, an IUD, Implanon, Nuva rings… I tried them all… and my body has rejected all of them except for the pills.
- IUD – caused horrible contractions, cramping, and bleeding – Once my body finally got used to it – my partner didn’t like the fish wire feel poking out of my cervix… so out it came.
- Implanon (a small stick implanted right beneath the skin in between the bicep and tricep…with a slow hormone release) – Nice not to think of the pill, but it gave me horrible painful adult acne and dark (almost brown) thick period discharge.
- Nuva Ring – Yeast infections.
I went into the Planned Parenthood for my colposcopy because of an abnormal pap. I took a pain killer before hand which was stronger than I was expecting. She was really rough with me and my body felt like it had been aggressed against. It was violent and the pressure was uncomfortable and painful even with the strong painkiller. The recovery was more intense than I was expecting (or told) there was extremely painful cramping and prolonged sensitivity long after the clumpy bandage came out. I felt bagged, tagged and processed.
She saw what she said was a mole on my inner labia that she wanted to biopsy and had me schedule an appointment. I rescheduled with a new doctor at the same planned parenthood clinic. One of my partners was there for that experience and had really good, insightful things to say about the healthcare institution being capable of violence just like the state… so when we think of court support… we should think about it in the larger context of institutional support. My partner was caring and supportive helping me process the trauma of the first experience. The people working for Planned Parenthood did not tell me that I would need to take time off of work.
When I went in for the vulvar biopsy my partner was there with me for institutional support and to help me make “on the spot” decisions. I double checked that I had a new doctor and told them that I had had a negative experience with the last doctor. While in the waiting room I read the vulvar biopsy handout carefully with my partner:
When I went into the doctor’s office alone (because you have to go alone), she talked about my colposcopy results with me and asked me if my partner (a person I don’t use protection with) had any HPV warts. I said yes. She said that my partner was most likely re-exposing me to HPV, so it looks like I’ve never healed even when I have been healing and then just getting re-exposed. I had never been told this EVER and I’ve been having regular paps and now two colposcopys because of my HPV. I realized that I probably didn’t even need the colposcopy to begin with and I realized that my partner should have the unobtrusive small flesh colored bumps burned off for the general health of my vagina and other sexual partners we have. I felt angry that they gave me a colposcopy without first considering that maybe I should try something else before taking chunks out of my cervix (to make sure I don’t have cancer).
I asked more questions about the vulvar biopsy procedure, the recovery, why they were taking the biopsy, I had her show me what they were looking at, I told her that I had had a bad experience last time and wanted to make an informed decision about my body. I was extensive and she answered all of my questions seemingly with care and kindness. She told me that she would step out of the room so I could talk to my partner on the phone. She made me feel as though I was making an informed decision about my body.
After talking through all the options with my partner, I decided to allow her to do the procedure. I was already crying and scared – my body deep down knew that I shouldn’t trust them. But I wanted to do what was “right” for my body… I mean, who wants cancer?
They are checking to see if it’s cancerous or not. Don’t you want to know if you have cancer? Won’t you feel stupid if you said no, and then ended up needing something way more invasive because you opted out. Are you an idiot?
While I felt mentally prepared for the pain of having an injection in my inner most labia (she said it was far more painful than anything done to the cervix), my body was not. I burst into tears of excruciating burning sharp pain in my vagina, I didn’t stop crying while I could feel her use a tool that looked like skinny rounded nail clippers to pinch of a chunk of my labia’s flesh off. While there wasn’t pain (per se) the pressure and the feeling of flesh being removed was very real and very disturbing to feel. I felt like fainting or throwing up. I couldn’t tell if I was re-traumatized because I was in the same room as the colposcopy trauma, or because deep down I knew something had been taken from me. Something I wasn’t actually consenting to… but it felt bad. Really bad.
She said results in two weeks, mild discomfort for 2-3 days and then the black cauterized scab looking thing falls off. She did tell me that the glue would stick to my other labia and that I shouldn’t open my legs if I could help it because it would bleed if I did.
I got into the car and felt weak. We found food. I cried off and on throughout the rest of the day. My outer lips were sealed together for one or two days. She did not say that I would be in excruciating pain every time I peed, showered, or sat down or moved my legs apart at all. I realized on day three that I was just coping, ignoring, suffering through the physical impediment I was experiencing.
We are told to grin and bare it. We are expected to hide our suffering and keep doing our work per usual. She didn’t tell me that I wouldn’t be able to work or have penetrative sex for at least a week. They straight up lied to me. Straight up. They cost me a week of earnings. I should be able to chose that loss of income (or not) and plan for it. Fuck them for making that choice for me.
Think about how the western medical institution is invading and controlling laboring bodies. Think about the broad scope of what a laboring body can be: child birth and sex work are two that I’m thinking a lot about.
There is so much violence done to bodies with vaginas and it’s not always as explicit as a needle stabbing your labia… but sometimes it is far worse… like knives cutting your vagina open (episiotomy) or the pains of labor (especially in hospital rooms). A c-section, for example, is not talked about as MAJOR abdominal surgery. Being induced is not talked about as causing more pain and distress on both mother and child.
Imagine this common chain of events:
- Your cervix isn’t ripe.
- They induce contractions with pitocin because you are past your due date (which makes the contractions stronger and longer).
- The induced contractions cause more pain for the mother and can cause the baby to go into distress (pitocin increases your chances of a c-section by 3x).
- If no c-section, you are more likely going to need an epidural because of the synthetic hormone that causes way more pain. from the stronger longer contractions and from the baby pushing really hard against a cervix that is not ripe.
- You are also more likely to tear which causes a lot of pain during recovery. (I’ve learned that the pain I’m currently experiencing while peeing is similar to this pain.)
But even in a natural birth you are pushing a baby through your vaginal opening. There can be tearing, tight hips being pushed apart, back pain…. there will be bleeding, stretching, uncomfortable and extreme body changes, periods where some kinds of sex aren’t physically possible. Sometimes an epidural is the godsend to a long labor where pain and exhaustion are taking over and the body is no longer able to push when work is needed. An epidural can help you make it to the end with a more enjoyable and clear experience (because you are not blinded by the pain or because the epidural allowed you to rest and regroup).
I’m trying to show that even when there is an intentional and consensual birth, it can be a very traumatizing and violent experience for the laboring body. This is compounded by all the interventions of western medicine taking control and information out of the hands of the person with the most bodily knowledge; instead, introducing fear, confusion and propaganda that is almost exclusively baby-focused. There is a literal expulsion of the laboring body’s experience, changes, knowledges, ect…
Consider these commonly heard phrases:
(a) “The doctor delivered the baby.”
(b) “The baby was born.”
In (a)The actor (subject) is the doctor the verb is to deliver the subject is the baby. The parents are just waiting for a safe delivery, a package with baby inside?!
In (b) the sentence is in the passive tense (no laboring bodies having life changing transitions of the body and mind here?)
What the fuck!?!
The work of laboring down a baby feels intimately connected to the larger network of laboring bodies (including sex workers). In what ways does the industrialization of health care manifest itself in institutionalized child birth and the health of laboring bodies in general? How affected are we by industrialization and capitalism disconnecting and disempowering the knowledges of laboring bodies?
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