Five years ago, I was certain I would never be able to have sex, much less have a child. A few weeks ago, I gave birth to a son.
I have vaginismus, which Vaginismus.com describes as, "a condition where there is involuntary tightness of the vagina during attempted intercourse. The tightness is actually caused by involuntary contractions of the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the vagina. Vaginismus is the leading cause of unconsummated relationships because vaginismus tightness causes burning, pain or stinging during attempted intercourse.” And I am no stranger to unconsummated relationships. I previously wrote this article for xoJane about my ex-husband leaving me because were never able to consummate our marriage.
As I detailed in the previous post, it took years of physical and emotional therapy, but I was eventually able to have intercourse with my now-husband. I also revealed that I was pregnant and was apprehensive about how having vaginismus would affect the delivery of my child. Several of you commented that you would be interested in hearing the follow-up after the birth. So, here it is.
The first seven months or so of my pregnancy were very uneventful. Each doctor appointment pretty much consisted of a routine blood test, heartbeat monitoring, etc. However around the seventh month, we got to the part I had been dreading: the pelvic exams.
I cannot relax my muscles and allow for a normal pelvic exam. I just can’t do it. I try. But every single time, I tense up. Every single time it hurts. Every single time, the doctor can barely perform the exam.
It was no different during pregnancy. She could barely get one finger in to feel if my cervix was dilated. I was freaking out about how this would go down when I was actually in labor. The doctors and nurses need to check you periodically during labor to see how you’re progressing.
Finally at about week 36, my doctor said the magic words: “You’re probably going to want to ask for the epidural as soon as you walk in the door.” Relief. I was glad she understood.
My doctor decided to induce labor when I was 39 weeks and 4 days into pregnancy. This was it. I was so nervous and also excited. I thought being able to have a vaginal delivery would actually help my vaginismus. After all, a lot of my issues are psychosomatic and stem from past trauma. I thought if I could see that my vagina is capable of passing an eight-pound baby through it, maybe it would help me not tense up during routine exams and sex.
The day I went in for the induction I was worried the nurses might not take my issues seriously. After all, the first doctor I ever saw completely blew me off and said my issues would, “work themselves out once I was married.” Yeah, no. That didn’t happen.
It turns out I had nothing to worry about. As soon as she took me back, the nurse said my doctor had already given her the heads up on the early epidural and she had ordered it. For the first 18 hours of labor, the most traumatic thing that happened was my veins collapsing when they tried to put in the IV.
Having the pelvic exams with the epidural in was actually kind of awesome. I could feel the nurses and doctor when they were doing the exam, but it didn’t hurt and I didn’t tense up. I kept thinking, this must be what normal people feel during these exams.
Everything progressed normally until it didn’t. When the nurse checked me for the last time, she told me I was 9 cm dilated on side...but not the other. She needed to call the doctor. The doctor came in an hour later and did her own check. She told me the baby’s head wasn’t descending and that if it didn’t start descending in the next couple of hours, we would have to do a C-section.
I was devastated. I didn’t want the C-section. I had prepared myself for a vaginal delivery. I wanted to do this. I wanted to see what my body was capable of. A few hours later, the nurse came in and had me start pushing to try and get the baby’s head down. It didn’t work. She called the doctor back in.
At this point, I had been in labor for 21 hours and just needed my baby to be born healthy, so I agreed to the C-section. They upped my epidural and wheeled me in to surgery. My husband stood by head as they cut me open. Almost immediately, I heard the doctor say, “Oh yeah. He’s stuck in there. I’m going to need the forceps or a suction. There was no way he was coming out on his own.”
I couldn’t see what happened next, but my husband said they attached a large suction cup-like thing to my baby’s head and pulled him out. He didn’t cry. I panicked. I shouted, “Is he okay?!”
“He’s perfect. Look at those long eyelashes,” the doctor replied. Next I heard the two most beautiful sounds of my life -- his cry and my husband saying "he’s beautiful." He was here. He was okay. All was right in the world. I started to sob.
They spent about 20 minutes finishing the surgery. All in all, the whole thing took about 30 minutes. We spent four days in the hospital and then were allowed to come home. I’m not going to lie, the recovery from the C-section was awful. I remember getting up in the middle of the night that first night and literally not being able to put one foot in front of the other because I was in so much pain.
But eventually the pain subsided and I began to heal. That’s my birth experience. I’m so in love with my baby and I’m so glad he’s healthy, but if I ever have another a child I plan to request a VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section). I want to experience birth. I want to see what my body can do.
Vaginismus did affect my birth story, but it didn’t define it. Vaginismus affects a lot of things in my life, but it doesn’t define my life. I choose to write about this issue because when I was first experiencing it, no one was out there for me. I saw doctors who had never heard of it. I saw doctors who didn’t take me seriously.
But eventually I was able to find an awesome therapist and doctor who were able to help me overcome it. That’s why I write about it. To encourage anyone who may be having a similar experience to not give up. I remember feeling so alone. I thought I was the only one going through it. But, I wasn’t and you aren’t either.