When our body suffers, 99.9% of the time we’re willing to divulge the details to friends and family, overshare the news on social media or with our support group. A broken foot, a sprained knee, a fractured wrist – all injuries that we wouldn’t lament over or hide, bury in the back of our mind and remain silent about. There are, however, two areas that we hesitate on – our mental health and our reproductive health. The former I could go on and on about, but that’s for another time – this right here is about the later.
As we push forward into the 21st Century, you’d think we’d have absolved ourselves from living with a very catholic guilt about our reproductive systems by now – but no, not in the least. Less the fact we all came from one, or that half the population is the proud owner of one, and another large proportion of the world simply enjoys them: reproductive health for both genders is taboo to discuss even though we all ubiquitously contain a set, and in some rare cases both sets, of organs. Just one mention of reproductive health brings to mind STIs and STDs, unprotected sex, condoms and awkward videos from High School health class. Those ideas are a roadblock, what’s preventing us from getting beyond it and discussing a wide variety of other common issues that we might not even be aware of.
After being diagnosed with a Bartholin’s Cyst last year, I’ve stayed deep on the hunt for any and all relevant information. Scouring forums and digesting mountains of medical research, it dawned on me that if women were as open with each other about personal problems down under as they were with their wardrobe or the latest celebrity gossip, we’d have gotten a lot further in the vertical of female reproductive health.
When I first got my cyst, I joked that my vag was ‘broken’, but I could only make that joke to near and dear people that I could count on both hands. Though it made me giggle from time to time to say, inside I had to swallow a hard truth that it’s a lot easier to talk about literally any other organ besides my vagina. Even now, I’m anxiously laughing while typing this and in the back of my head, I know I’ve never used the word so much as I’m doing now. But maybe that’s part of the my point: to desensitize, to engage, to see past what society has told us we need to see and face the real issues.
I promise, I’m not bringing this up because I really want to talk about my vag – quite the contrary, I don’t; I’m awkward about talking about my privates like a 13 year old figuring out their first kiss. But the first step to being real with myself about it is talking about it, or in this case – writing about it. Writing is my catharsis, my therapy, and the way I get through things – but what good is getting through something for yourself, if you can help others get through it too.
The one thing I’ve realized the more I talk with my doctors, family and mentors is this: you’d think women’s reproductive issues like cysts, and endometriosis would be rare based on the lack of current conversation, but in fact – they’re not uncommon whatsoever, in fact – cysts occur in one out of every 50 women, abscesses are three times more likely to occur than cysts and 1 in 10 suffers from endometriosis. Meaning the chances of you knowing someone who has had, or will have one is incredibly likely – and now that you know me, here I am – your trusty data point, ready and waiting for instruction.
What’s interesting to know, is that the vagina is the only organ in our body that naturally produces cysts: after our eggs leave the ovary, they travel to the uterus to create a Blastocyst, which them forms into the embryo. Sometimes, they’re on the larger side – sometimes, they sit on top of the ovary – and sometimes, they dissolve back into the body, unnoticed. That’s fortunately what happened to me.
In a followup appointment a month ago, my OB/GYN discovered a second cyst. This time, 6 centimeters in diameter and sitting on my right ovary. If I said I didn’t flip the fuck out, I would be lying. Which is why I’ve been trying to pen this for almost a month. Between my pride and my anxiety, the flutterings of an ego attempting to hold on to the last notion that it’ll all be okay and a mental state that screams I’m anything but, I’ve managed. I wanted to sweep this all under a rug, never talk about it and live in a state of semisweet ignorant bliss – but that was all null and void because what I want most of anything is for my karass out there to be aware of what can go on down there.
So, here’s what you can do. First and foremost, make sure that you’re up to date with all of your doctors appointments. And I mean, all of them; blood-work from your general practitioner could come in handy when you least expect it. Secondly, always go in to your doctor with a checklist of questions and or concerns, and if you don’t want to write down the answers – ask if you can audio record the session to take notes later on. If you get labs, check beforehand that the right medical codes are on them – and do some price checking so you’re not stuck with a $1000+ bill on what you thought was a routine test. There’s never enough research, but do yourself a favor and get yourself off of WebMD – your doctor is excellent, and if you don’t think so second opinions exist…but from the girl who self diagnosed with spinal meningitis at the age of 10, maybe save the diagnoses for the real doc. Last, but certainly not least – raise your voice to your support system, you never know which shoulders you can lean on.