Powerless to empowered: De-medicalising my body

Since being diagnosed with MRKH at 17, I have had some experiences of medical care that I remember for all the wrong reasons. I have also had the privilege of accessing medical care that I remember for all the right reasons; care that was driven by choice, collaboration, compassion, and making sure that I felt in control of what was happening to my body.

I have wanted to write about the impact of the former for some time, but haven’t quite found the right words until now. Whether you’re a person with MRKH, a medical professional, family member, friend or anyone else who’s been kind enough to read this, I hope you find something valuable in these words.

————————

Knock on the door. Dread.
I stood resigned, as I undressed
beside the hospital bed.
I lay exposed and uncovered,
eyes streaming with tears.
‘Why are you crying?
There’s nothing to fear.’

‘It’s really not that bad…
just a bit of discomfort.
When you have a vagina,
it will all be worth it.’

She put her hand on my belly,
until my breathing steadied.
When I’d worn myself out,
she assumed I was ready.

She showed me the dilators.
White. Cold. Clinical.

It was only three days,
but the memories have stayed.

As vivid as a movie,
the scenes still replay:

‘Empty your bladder, strip,
lie down, legs spread,
feet to the sides of the bed.
Adjust your hips.
Guide the dilator along the lips.
Get the angle right.
Push.
Push harder, with all your might.’

Sometimes I eased my grip
to try to lessen the pain.
‘If you don’t use enough pressure,
you won’t see any gain.’

So, she would take over.
Anchor herself with one hand on my shoulder.
‘Relax. Stay calm. Deep breaths.’ she would say,
as she harnessed her strength to force it in all the way.

‘Good girl.’

‘Good girl.’

My breath stopped.

She didn’t.

After each session,
they would marvel at my progress.
Their hands examining my body
like I was just an object.

I can still feel their fingers
rooting around inside.
I told myself it was medical,
so it was justified.

I never asked them to stop.
I didn’t think I had a choice.
Yet somehow, I blamed myself
for not using my voice.

I surrendered my body.
I gave them permission.
If I could go back now,
I’d make a different decision.

But,

I was young.

I was vulnerable.

I was powerless.

A ‘treatment’ based on what a man’s penis would measure.
Never even a mention of my sexual pleasure.
Just misguided words of wisdom they chose to impart:
‘Sex won’t feel like a dilator. No man is that hard.’

‘Men won’t know the difference
once you’re fully dilated.’
Like conforming to their standards
was something to be celebrated.

‘You’ll feel more comfortable in your
body and build your confidence.’
But disconnecting from my body
was my strongest defence.

Three times a day,
I put myself in pain.
Trying to push away the
embarrassment and shame.

A constant battle between
my mind and my body.
Severing their connection.
Becoming disembodied.

First, it was done to me.
Then, with their voices in my head,
I learned to do it to myself.

Sex, dilators and pain
became confused and conflated,
I couldn’t break associations
that felt so strongly integrated.

When I found words to talk about it,
I began to realise
That for so long
my body had been medicalised.

I believed I had to fix myself
to be accepted by another,
So afraid of what they’d think
if the truth was uncovered.

While I focused on preparing
my body for someone else,
I lost sight of what it meant
to feel comfortable in myself.

But, now I’m challenging ideas
of how my body should be,
Ideas so ingrained in society.

Tuning in to what I need
to be able to feel free,
Realising it may help
to not hide that part of me.

Working with my body
in a different way,
Taking back the power
to decide what’s okay.

Learning to turn down
the volume of her voice,
Reminding myself
that I do have a choice.

Swapping the clinical dilators…
trading white for pink.
Each small empowering choice
shifting the way that I think.

Opening my mind to what other women have to say,
Resisting the urge to shut down or run away.

Choosing not to distract myself
in the midst of dilation.
Instead, paying attention
to the sensations.

Taking it slowly, gently,
at my own pace.
Allowing the connection with my
body to regenerate.

Still sitting with not knowing
what the future has in store,
But as I give myself
the freedom to explore,
Discovering my body
as something to enjoy
not endure.

No longer powerless.

No longer choiceless.

No longer voiceless.

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