My Story. Part 2. Recognizing Something was Wrong and the Diagnosis

Hey there. It’s me again. Ready to write some more. I feel hesitant already, knowing that this will surface some deep emotions I try so hard to forget. But, I know I need to do this. Here goes nothing.

Intercourse was painful for me. So, very painful. Like crying-in-the-fetal-position-for-hours-after kind of painful. We discovered this in 2012, on our honeymoon. And to be honest, I have done a good job of locking those memories in a box and forgetting those early traumatic experiences. When AJ comes home next week, I want to sit with him and ask him what he remembers. Hopefully, we can spend time processing that together.

But even without the vivid details, I can remember how it affected us. And it was rough.

I come from a very conservative background. I did not talk to friends about sex. I turned off shows if they lingered too long on the subject. I knew sex was something I wanted to only experience with my husband, so I kept that subject in a pretty tight box. Luckily, my mom was open with me about it and she gave me some good advice before we got married. I will write about that another time.

The one, glaring downside to not having a resource of people to talk about sex with was… I didn’t have someone to talk to about how painful it was for me. I mean… my main source of knowledge about how sex was supposed to feel was from Gilmore Girls. Lane comes back from her honeymoon and confides in Rory about how awful sex is. And this stuck with me. So when intercourse was awful for me– I just assumed it was kind of normal and I would either get used to it or I would just have to suck it up forever.

Over the years, I have become much more open and comfortable with discussing sex (I mean… I have a blog about my vagina… sooooo). But in that first year it was still a very taboo subject for me. I tried reaching out to my friends- but I didn’t explain myself very well. I remember a couple of them saying that it is uncomfortable at first but it gets better. That gave me hope, but I kept wondering how long it would take my body to get used to it. I reached out to my doctors- though I still didn’t know how to explain or assert myself very well in this area- and they essentially said the same thing.  I am really disappointed with the number of stories I hear where women with vaginal pain aren’t being taken seriously by their doctors. Like, come on, people! 

After speaking with a couple of friends and GYNs, I kind of resigned myself to the fact that my body would never get used to it and I would just have to suck it up. That is a LOUSY place to be. And all the while, each painful experience with intercourse chipped away at my already damaged emotional core. Pretty soon I started to build up strong walls around intimacy. Any intimacy. Even a sweet text or side glance would cause me anxiety. My body would clench up as my vagina essentially screamed, “Oh, heck no! I know where this leads! Get that thing away from me!” 

Thankfully, Hubs and I found other ways to experience intimacy and sex together.

In our relationship, it is VERY important to differentiate between SEX and INTERCOURSE. They are not the same. INTERCOURSE is sex with penile penetration. And over the years we have learned to stay away from that. And I am happy to say that we both feel fulfilled and happy with where we are at. Though it took a lot of vulnerable communication, therapy, humility, doctors, and work to get here.

So we lived in this limbo– this intercourse is painful so we stay away from it and are intimate in other ways, but Grace’s emotional walls are super hard to break down and it is very taxing on our relationship limbo– for years. I would get so caught up in feeling like a failure of a wife. Feeling broken and like AJ was eternally handcuffed to a woman who couldn’t fill his needs fully. I know this isn’t true and he does not feel this way, we have talked about it enough for me to feel confident with that… but my mind would often take me there. To that dark place.

Every now and again I would convince myself that intercourse wouldn’t be painful anymore. I would then convince AJ to try intercourse again but it always had the same result. And I would spiral. I began to be depressed and developed anxiety…

This is so hard to write about.

……….

Anyways- on a lighter note… I got pregnant! And we had the twins in 2014. After having the twins and moving, I had to find a new GYN. Luckily, blessedly, I found Dr. Susan Chasson. She is amazing.

Having my pain be dismissed (even unintentionally) by friends and doctors led me to approach GYN appointments with dread. And fear. And… humor? I learned to use humor as a shield because then if someone didn’t believe me I could brush it off later and not have that very vulnerable piece of me picked at. Dr. Chasson saw through that.

I remember lying on the table with my feet in the stirrups. As she was coming at me with the speculum (gosh, I hate pap smears), I instinctively started recoiling away from the edge of the table. She eyed me, but continued with the pap smear. I started crying when she put the speculum inside me. She apologized, finished the exam, and as she was cleaning up I jokingly laughed through the tears and said “Oh- haha- it’s just that nothing’s been down there since the kids were born.” I was 5 or 6 months postpartum.

She whipped her head around, surprised. “Are you… being serious?” she asked timidly. It was the first time a GYN hadn’t brushed off or acted uncomfortably by the tears and the cover-up. I stammered out something like… “Well, yes… and no… I mean we’ve tried intercourse a couple of times but it is always super painful for me so we usually do other things instead…” I was very embarrassed by the fact that, for the first time, I was actually describing my true experience to anyone other than AJ.

She paused, sat down on the chair, and told me that intercourse was not supposed to be painful. She asked me to explain how long this had been going on for. I told her that it had been happening for our whole marriage and that I absolutely abhor pap smears/pregnancy pelvic exams.

She looked at me with the kindest eyes and said, “I bet you always hated riding a bike, didn’t you?”

I started crying. How could she have known? The more questions she asked, the more eerie I felt. She was describing me. She believed me. And she had helped people like me before.

“I think you have a condition called vulvodynia,” she said.

And for the first time, I felt real hope.