It’s possible that you’re the least informed woman you know when it comes to female anatomy. You recently took an online quiz called, “What’s Your Vagina IQ?” You scored five out of 13 points and were labeled, at the end, a “Vajay Jay Virgin.” You were slightly hurt, but not surprised.
Most of your friends have babies. In fact, most of your friends have babies and are currently pregnant with more babies. Some times, at night, your husband looks at you instead of at the television. When you ask him what’s on his mind, he smiles sweetly, shakes his head. “You’re sure you don’t want children?” he says. “You’re not just saying that because you think I don’t want children?” You want to punch him in the face.
Your mother believes you don’t want children — sort of. Your mother-in-law, on the other hand, points out a little too frequently that nobody likes other people’s babies. “But when they’re your own,” she says, trailing off, a dopey smile on her face. Your friends, for the most part, have the decency not to ask. They assume you’ve tried but can’t. You’re happy letting them think this because it’s easier than explaining the truth, which is that you’ve never had the craving, which comes across either as a judgment or a shortcoming. This way, your friends feel slightly sorry for you, which is perfect since you feel slightly sorry for them.
You don’t know if your ignorance about your body is linked to your disinclination to have children, but if this is the case, so be it. None of this is to say you don’t take care of your body, don’t get your annual check-up, don’t know how to insert and remove (on time!) a tampon. You do. You do and know all these things. But beyond that you’re basically clueless. When you complain to your husband about having cramps, he asks — because he is a good and caring husband — why and where they happen. He looks at you like a baby fennec fox. He is all ears. He genuinely wants to understand. You tell him the cramps occur in your stomach, and that they feel like little hands clutching and squeezing your urine bag. You tell him they happen before, during and after your cycle. You use air quotes when you say cycle because you’re afraid of appearing too serious. He says he doesn’t know for a fact but he’s pretty sure you’re wrong. He says he’s pretty sure cramps have nothing to do with urine bags and, further, he questions whether or not urine bags even exist. “Yeah,” you say, nodding your head. “I know what I’m talking about here.” But you don’t. You have no idea.
At your next annual exam, you tell your doctor that you’d like to be sterilized. You’ve thought long and hard about this even though you have no idea what it entails. Is it the same thing, for instance, as having your tubes tied? Your mother had her tubes tied, so maybe it runs in the family. But maybe nothing tubal is involved at all with sterilization. Maybe it concerns a cauterizing iron and a sizzling sound. You truly don’t know. All you know is that you don’t want children — that the thought of growing a foreign body in your body keeps you up at night. So you bring up sterilization at your annual Pap smear, and your doctor laughs at you. This is par for the course when it comes to you and the medical community. But you have no inkling why she’s laughing now. You are not, for instance, stupid enough to have told her you think sterilization and tube tying and cauterization are potentially the same things, and yet … And yet it’s almost as though she can read your mind. While you wait for her to stop laughing, you let your legs, naked from the knees down, dangle over her examination table. You feel like you are 15. Finally, she tells you you’re too old to be sterilized, which doesn’t make any sense — you’re only 34 — but rather than ask for an explanation you decide to let the information linger there, on the tip of your brain, waiting for the time when you will simply make up a satisfying explanation for why 34 is too old. (Withered uterus and angry vulva will afterward come to mind as possibilities. What won’t occur to you until much, much later is that your doctor — a kind, owl-faced woman who has known you even longer than you’ve known your husband — doesn’t believe you don’t want children. She doesn’t believe that a healthy, happily married woman couldn’t possibly imagine a healthy, happy life without babies, and so therefore counseled you towards a reversible option. People are never taking you at your word).
You end up opting for a copper IUD. At home, when your husband isn’t looking and about a week before the IUD will be inserted, you look up the acronym. You find out it means intrauterine device, which is not very far off from what you’d thought it meant before you Googled it. The doctor, who, again, has known you almost a decade and therefore has gotten to know you and your squeamishness and your tendency to giggle at inappropriate times, warns you repeatedly that the procedure will not be comfortable. She gives you a one-time prescription for Xanax, which thrills you but which you also forget to have filled in time and so — when she asks (your legs already in the stirrups) if you remembered to take it — you lie and say yes, and you can see that she’s rethinking her relationship with the drug since its effects are clearly letting her down.
“Do you have a joke for me?” she asks.
You were told to bring a joke. The idea being that it would relax you. But now you think a joke — any joke — might be inappropriate. Now all you can do is imagine her laughing at you. Again.
“I forgot my sense of humor,” you say.
“Now that,” she says, “is funny.”
The first five minutes you are a total trooper. You are fine and dandy. You even find yourself thinking — aloud — This is nothing! This is the easiest thing since pie!
Your doctor informs you that worst part is about to happen. You brace yourself for it. And —
It’s nothing! You say, “It feels like a warm explosion!”
She looks at you over the hospital sheet spread across your legs. She isn’t exactly frowning. But you can tell she’s thinking something — something not necessarily polite. Her head dips back beneath the sheet.
“And the device itself goes in now,” she says.
You feel a hollow poking, followed by a prodding. It’s nothing outright painful, but nothing pleasant either. The prodding continues. Then it continues to continue. You start to get worried. The doctor says, “Come on now, get in there.” You understand that she is not talking to you. And yet you feel her disappointment. You look at the wall, at the BMI index. You try to find your height and weight as a means of distraction. You think you might vomit.
The doctor asks how you’re doing.
“Not good,” you say.
“We’re close,” she says. “Sometimes it can be tricky.”
The pain, you now realize, has increased. The hollowness has been replaced by the feeling of those little hands not just squeezing but pulling and stretching and ripping. Your belly feels not unlike those unfortunate times in your life when you’ve suffered from acute and immediate diarrhea. The mere connection of that pain to this one makes you think you might in fact have to go to the bathroom.
The doctor says your name.
“I don’t feel well,” you say. There is a very good chance that you should be sitting on a toilet and not lying on a bed with a doctor between your legs. You feel that you should warn her.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” you say. You roll onto your side, your legs still open, still facing the doctor.
“Two more seconds,” she says.
“I’m passing out,” you hear yourself say. You are in exquisite pain and yet you are also aware of a wonderful lightness, of gray dots circling your periphery and bees buzzing in your ears. Just as you lose consciousness, you feel your legs being closed and lowered to the side, and you hear your doctor, at the door to the exam room, calling, with no small hint of panic, “Help in Celestial! Help in Celestial!” And then you are gone.
And then you are back. But now you are surrounded by two or three nurses, as well as your doctor. No one is laughing. There is a washcloth on your forehead and one on the back of your neck. A bowl the shape of a kidney is in front of your mouth.
You hear your name being said. You hear your doctor’s voice: “She tried to climb off the table. She tried to escape.”
She isn’t talking to you; you know that. But you feel the need, even in your compromised state, to explain. You say, “I nearly pooped on your head.”
There is silence. Then the doctor thanks you for controlling yourself. You feel nearly as much relief as she probably does.
When you are well enough to move about, they perform a sonogram to make sure the IUD is in the right spot. It turns out that fainting isn’t a normal reaction. (Secretly, you love that you aren’t normal. Secretly, you love that you fainted. You think this fainting thing proves something, though you don’t know what.)
As you are climbing off the table the doctor says, already halfway out the room, “It’s probably a good thing you don’t want children.”
You smile, but say nothing. At last! Someone believes you.