I got my first period when I was 14. I was at my grandma's house playing hide and seek with my cousins when I went inside to take a break (cheat) and pee. While in the bathroom, I looked down at my underpants and saw some weird brown stuff. I promptly decided that I would deal with it later, pulled my pants up, and got back to playing outside. Little did I know I had just blossomed into adulthood.
"Dealing with things later" is kind of how I got into this situation in the first place. A day later, when my mother kindly explained to me what that brown stuff was, I started using pads. The thought of tampons weirded me out, even though most of my friends were already pretty adept at using them. However, after missing out on a few pool parties and getting tired of waking up in a pool of my own blood (sorry) for almost an entire week every month, I decided to give it a shot. How hard could it be?
I unwrapped one and unsuccessfully tried to insert it. When that didn't work, I stopped and thoroughly read the directions on the tampon box. Unwrapped another. Did the same exact thing I did before I read the directions. Repeated that pattern a few times. Decided to check out what it looked like in a little hand mirror. Saw a lot of pink and got creeped out. Tried a few more times. Ran out of tampons. Decided to deal with it later.
Fast-forward to the summer before I turned 17. I didn't have a driver's license, but my best friend had just gotten hers and a pretty red car along with it. She wanted to use it to take us to the beach (without our parents — squeal!). Then I started getting bummed out.
"Dude, I'm on my period. I can't go."
She got agitated and told me to just stick a tampon in. I decided to give it another shot as I had sporadically tried to do in the three years since getting my first period. But this time I was getting upset and frustrated — I wanted to go with my friend to the beach! And more importantly, I didn't want her to think I was immature or stupid for not being able to put a tampon in. No matter how hard I squished those suckers up in there, they were not budging once they got to a certain point.
Probably more than an hour later, with tears in my eyes and sweat on my brow, I texted my friend back, defeated.
"Try harder," was her only response.
I got out my makeup mirror and checked out what was going on down there. There was a teeny hole, and I poked at it and tried to get a tampon in, but realized it was not happening. (I later found out that was my pee hole. Why don't they make a bigger deal about the two-hole thing in sex ed?)
My darling friend then started sending me pictures of vaginas that she found on some medical website. I told her to stop. I was completely freaked out. I hadn't done much exploring of my own vagina, let alone someone else's. But once I got over the panic of looking at pictures of strangers' vaginas, I looked up the website she was getting these vagina pictures from and I started to notice something: they were all different sizes, and shapes, and colors, but mine didn't come close to looking like any of them. Mine was definitely missing something important.
"Dude..." I texted my friend tentatively, "I think I don't have a vagina hole."
"LMAO you have a vagina hole," she replied.
She was right — I had to have a vagina hole. I got my period, so it wouldn't make sense for me to not have a vagina hole.
I finally swallowed what little pride I had left and went to the person whose vagina hole I came out of.
My mother did not want me to use tampons. She thought they were unsanitary, and when she was younger, she knew someone who died of toxic shock syndrome. Up until then, I hadn't really questioned it. When I first explained the situation to my mom she was obviously hesitant but then relented.
"Do you want my help?" she asked awkwardly.
Some mothers and daughters can talk about sexuality openly and honesty. We were not that mother and daughter. I asked her to make an appointment with a gynecologist. I was under the impression that there was something I was doing wrong with this whole tampon thing and a gyno would just be like "Ah, here's the problem," and then I'd be a savvy tampon-wearing motherfucker.
About a week later, I was sitting face to face with the first person, aside from myself, who would ever look at my vagina (post-diaper). She was the nurse practitioner at my mother's gynecologist's office. I told my mother to sit in the waiting room until I was done (like the very mature almost-17-year-old that I was). I explained to the nurse practitioner that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get a tampon inside of me, and then asked her while blushing and looking at the ground if she could help me. She chuckled a patronizing chuckle and lead me into a room where I would strip off the bottom half of my clothes. I dug my heels into those little stirrup things and started to freak the fuck out. My vagina was completely exposed in a way it had never been before.
She started to examine me. She poked her finger around while making small talk, and then started getting a confused look on her face. As I got more and more nervous, she got a little q-tip and started poking around.
And then she said the words that no one ever wants to hear the first time someone is looking at their vagina: "Well, that's odd. I think I'm going to have to get the doctor."
At this point, I was in full "I want my mommy" mode. The doctor came in and, without saying much to the panicking teenager, started doing similar things that the nurse practitioner had done. She then said — without much bedside manner, I would like to add — "You don't have a vagina hole."
She then amended, "Well, you technically do but it's very small."
I whimpered that I wanted my mom in the room. A nurse went out and got her, and the doctor explained to both of us about my lack of vagina hole.
"It's probably smaller than the tip of a pin. Just enough to let the blood out each month." She explained that usually, when this happens, it's caught much earlier because the hole is completely covered by hymen and no blood can come out. A girl in that situation will be in so much pain that she will be taken to a hospital and surgery known as a hymenectomy will be performed so that she can release the blood. However, I was not so lucky.
"You have a vagina hole so small that nothing can get in. You won't be able to have sex, much less put a tampon in unless you get surgery," the doctor explained to my mother and I.
I was horrified. I was already self-conscious of the fact that most of my friends had started having sex. Now I was learning that I couldn't even make an attempt. Maybe that's why guys were weirded out by me — maybe they could tell just by looking at me that my vagina was horribly deformed. (My lack of sexual experience could have nothing to do with the fact that I was as chubby as I was shy.)
My mother and I uncomfortably discussed the possibility of surgery in the car. For her, a conservative Catholic, it was out of the question. I honestly think that she thought the second I got my vagina spliced open, I would start rampantly having sex with any male who looked in my general direction. I also think she kind of had this weird thought that I would sort of be "losing my virginity" by having this surgery.
Then came the following weeks where I had to convince my mother to allow me to have a vagina hole. I'm talking pie charts, Powerpoint presentations — the works. I remember sitting down with a list (God, do I wish I still had the list) of the reasons I should be allowed to have a vagina hole. I think one of my points was that it was not the 1950s and whoever I wanted to be my husband in the future would not only be okay with me having had the surgery but would be okay if he wasn't the first person that I had sex with. I had that written down on a list for my conservative Catholic mother to read. Desperate times called for desperate measures.
My father wanted nothing to do with any of it and amended that he would go along with whatever my mom decided. Eventually, she relented (whether it's because of my sound evidence or how unrelenting I was, I'll never know) and I was granted the rights to my very own vagina hole.
The rest I honestly don't remember too much of as I was unconscious. I do remember having to take a pregnancy test before the surgery and thinking it was insane and not being able to pee right away and being very annoyed because how on earth could I be pregnant? Wasn't that the whole reason we were gathered there that day?
After the surgery, I bled like I would for a period but had super-bad cramps. I wasn't allowed to be overly active or go to the pool, which was fine with me because I was and continue to be a sedentary creature.
To this day, I occasionally bring up to my mom, "Remember when you almost didn't let me have a vagina hole?" to which she replies that she has no idea what I'm talking about and blushes a lot. Ironically, I still do not use tampons, and it would be a few years before I'd actually have sex with anyone. But at least I got to have a vagina hole like all the other girls.