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A Letter I Can’t Send – It Gets Better

Dear Mom and Dad,

I have waited a long time to write this. High school, college, my first job, my first apartment.

Your firstborn is finally an adult.

We’ve addressed the issues before. Usually at the kitchen table, or as you stand in my doorway while I cry in my bedroom. I have yelled. I have called you assholes, terrible parents.

I blamed you for fucking me up.

You did fuck me up.

But.

I am an adult now, so it isn’t your job to parent me any more. To teach me acceptance of self. To tell me I am beautiful; perfect the way I am. To tell me I deserve only the best. To tell me that guy who broke my heart is crazy for letting me get away. To tell me I am a catch. A good person. A talented artist. A fountain of possibility. A woman with an amazing life ahead of her.

You weren’t there for me when I was bullied in middle school and high school. You wrote it off as “being a kid” or “well, that’s high school,” but I was a kid. I was in high school. That’s all I knew. I didn’t have your hindsight.

When I found the note in the garbage during science class, the one that was written about me by two girls in the class, you weren’t the ones who held me and told me it would be okay.

You didn’t acknowledge the pain that I felt when I read those words – ‘she’s such a stupid bitch. I wish she’d just like jump off a cliff.’

You told me they were being stupid and childish. You told me to brush it off.

You found the suicide note that I penned at 11 years old. You were going through my stuff. I was so mad at you. You sent me to therapy, and we never spoke of it again.

When I was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, you didn’t help me shoulder the burden. You didn’t cry with me. You didn’t buy any books on the topic. You didn’t do the Walk for Mental Health charity 5k that I KNOW happened several years ago.

Why didn’t you do that?

Why?

When I overdosed in college and you came to pick me up, you silently drove me home to your house, two hours away, where I stayed the entire weekend to “get away from everything.” On Sunday night, you asked if I was okay.

Sure.

I’m okay. Two days ago I tried to kill myself, again, but you know, sure, okay, I’m fine.

And then you put me on a bus back to school.

And we never spoke of that weekend again.

I stayed in therapy.

When I gained all of that weight, because of the PCOS, and I was sad, miserable, and feeling less than worthy of anything, you bribed me with a new car to lose 20 lbs. You didn’t tell me I was pretty. You didn’t tell me size was just a number. You didn’t tell me to go out and have fun with my friends, to not care about what I looked like, to know that it was the inside the counted the most.

You told me you’d buy me a car, and when I starved myself for two months, you handed me the keys.

You never told me it would get better.

But then there was your second child.

I know now that parents have favorites. Do you love all three of us? Of course you do. If something were to happen to any one of us, would it break you? I would hope. But when all three of your kids stand in front of you, you know who your favorite is.

He is your favorite child.

He grew up bubbly, fun, surrounded by friends. Smart, adorable, well-behaved. Charming.

I hated him from the beginning. Remember the time I spilled hot soup on him when he was three? Remember the time I yanked a huge chunk of hair out of his head when he was seven?

I was, undoubtedly, your angry child.

But somewhere along the path of growing up, he became my favorite too. When you guys didn’t care about my broken heart, he did.

When I needed help with stats, he always knew the answers.

When I was in my darkest moments, fearing the end, I remembered that while I idolized him more than he looked up to me, I had a little brother to take care of.

He encouraged me when you didn’t. He took me seriously when you brushed me off. He laughed at my jokes. He asked to spend time with me. He got to know me beyond being his sister and your daughter.

All the while, he shined. Confident, secure, compassionate; he encompassed everything you’d look for in another human being. He made for great company.

He is gay.

You didn’t bribe him to change. You didn’t encourage him to shy away from his friends because he was getting used to his new skin. You just didn’t.

He was still beautiful. He was still talented. He was still smart. No matter what he “was” – he was still your son. My brother. And you loved him for exactly who he was, exactly who he is, just as you did before, just as you always will.

The acceptance was instant. It was non-negotiable.

He was surrounded by your love – the same love I lacked when it came to my yearning for your acceptance. Your non-negotiable support.

I resented you. I resented him.

In the wake of the recent suicides within the LBGQT community, I am so thankful that my little brother was one of the few who was enveloped in love and support from the very beginning.

That he became so much more that could define him other than his orientation.

That his life was so filled with possibility, he never wanted it to end.

You did not grace me with an abundance of love at the times I needed it the most. Perhaps it was because I was your first – your oldest – your first “go” at all things parenting. Perhaps you had no idea what to do, so you chose to do nothing. I know that as a child, I was different. I had different needs. As an adult, I can understand that. And I can empathize.

But thank you for being exactly the type of parents my little brother needed.

If you had been different, if things had been different…well, I don’t know how to even write the words that follow. I can’t write them.

All I know is that I am grateful for him – the one person that in my darkest hour will tell me, “Caroline…it gets better.”

My little brother.

Planting The Seeds

It’s estimated that between 5-10% of the female population is affected in some way by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

This is her infertility story.

I’m a lesbian. Ordinarily that isn’t super-important, but I’m at the point that I want kids, so it becomes very important.

Once people find out that I’m gay and want kids, I get asked, “So you’re planning to adopt, right?” There seems to be a socially-held expectation that being gay means you must adopt. Once, someone told me that adopting was “my social responsibility.”

However, my response is always, no, I want to carry my child. I want to experience pregnancy, with all its ups and downs. I want to feel my child grow. It’s my experience, and no one should try and take that away.

While I was never big into kids, I’ve dreamed about being pregnant since I was a teenager. I always vaguely knew it was something I had to do at some point.

Then, about two years ago, suddenly a switch flipped and it was all I could think about. I started reading about it, talking about it, doing everything I could to get near it.

And one day, my partner and I decided to start trying.

My partner and I have tried to get pregnant for a year and a half. We tried to get her pregnant because her cycle was regular. Since I cycled irregularly, and we didn’t know what it would take to get me regular enough to become pregnant, it seemed the easy choice. We started tracking her cycle, found a donor, went through a contractual process that took months, and finally started trying.

Every month we’d try, watch her symptoms, get excited, take the test… and it would be negative. Twice we got hopeful. But eighteen months and two miscarriages later, we’re back at square one.

During those eighteen months, I ran through every emotion imaginable. The worst of which was the jealousy; jealousy that I wasn’t able to carry our child. I consoled myself by saying I’d carry number two. However, by the end, we both felt defeated, deflated, and devastated. I also felt a fierce determination; a determination that I wanted this so badly, I’d do anything I needed to do.

After 18 months of failure to get pregnant, I decided to see an endocrinologist. I’ve always had a really irregular cycle, so I knew something was wrong. However, it took me a long time to be ready to face the possibilities of what that might mean.

After meeting with the endocrinologist, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS. PCOS has major fertility implications – PCOS means that I don’t ovulate. No ovulation = no baby.

I’ve started a treatment regime including medication and weight loss, that so far has been unsuccessful in booting my system – no easy task. Next month I start an ovulation drug that will allow me to ovulate regularly.
All of a sudden, this got very, very real. My coping strategy involves researching the hell out of my options. I’ve been sensitive to my options for a while, because, by now, we’re up $2,000 in to plane tickets, doctor visits, and everything associated with a bootleg-approach to getting pregnant.

We tried working directly with our donor. We had him tested for fertility. We got ourselves prepped. It costs a lot of money. Starting our adventure with the endo and getting my cycle regulated meant we had to consider some options.

My options are to start fertility drugs.

Once I do this, I can try either a home insemination, or an Intrauterine Insemination, or IUI. This whole TTC thing gets complicated, overwhelming and expensive really quickly. My understanding is that IUI, in which a tube is placed in my uterus to flush sperm in to the area as I ovulate, is my best option.

Of course I know how baby-making works, but damn.

I hate that it has to be so clinical. I hate that there is always someone else in my bedroom. I hate that this can’t just be mine. I hate that I can’t be surprise. I hate that we will pay an $800 price tag for an 18% chance of success. It’s just not fair.

Despite all of this, I’m optimistic. Still looking forward to the future. I know it will happen, and I can’t wait until it does.

As long as there is that tiny pinprick of light, I’ll keep the sputtering flame of hope alive.

Ask The Band: Post Abortion Coping

I’ve decided to have an abortion. It was a very difficult decision, but I know it is right for my partner and me and he is fully supportive. We have a 6-month old, we are completely financially strapped, and having a baby was so out of the question for us right now that I actually had an appointment to get an IUD inserted 6 days after I peed on the stick.

The decision is made, the procedure is rather straightforward, and I’m not worried at all… until the moment I have to leave the clinic after my abortion.

I’m most afraid of how I will cope emotionally after the all is said and done. I’m sure I’m doing the right thing for our situation, and us but I don’t handle emotional stress well.

My first pregnancy was plagued with severe antenatal depression and I worry how that will play in.

For all of you going through infertility treatments and struggling with all the emotions that go along with that, I’m so very sorry and I don’t mean to be insensitive.

Have any of you been in this situation?

How do you handle the inevitable emotional fallout after an abortion?

Did you regret it?

Because, oh my goodness, I’m so scared I’m going to regret it. Choosing abortion is, in part, choosing the path that will be the least psychologically damaging for me in the long run. But I’m still so scared.

My Uterus Is An Asshole

I’ve been commiserating with my little sister about the assholery of our uteri.

We may not be biologically related, but we have both had our histories of hysterical tissue issues. Mine are rooted a bit higher, in my ovaries with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Hers, a bit lower in whatever was left of her cervix after multiple surgeries to remove cancerous bits, with fibroid growths to really get a party started.

I started menopause about a year and a half ago, with missed periods here and there, and she’s being chemically induced into menopause to bitch-slap her uterus into better behavior.

My uterus, not to be outdone by hers, has decided to head for the nearest exit. The technical term for this is prolapse. I think my sister correctly called it when she told my uterus to fuck off and quit being an asshole. Being more muscle than brain, my uterus simply flipped her off and continues it’s exit strategy, crawling out of my vagina.

I thought I was going to have a nice and easy peri-menopause, progressing without hiccup into full menopause, thus creating a permanent détente to my chronic battles with PCOS.

Up until this, I wasn’t having nearly the issues my mother had. In fact, by my current age, my mother was completely done with menopause, although hot flashes were a thing for her for quite some time. When I first started skipping periods, sometimes for up to three cycles, I went to my gynecologist, who gave me some brochures, tested my thyroid (all my doctors are convince there’s a thing going on with my thyroid, despite ever so many tests proving to the contrary) and told me that this was all very typical for a woman my age.

My sister is right. My uterus is an asshole.

Fuck you, uterus.

If You Don’t Take Care Of This

“Can you not do the whole, um, pap smear?” I quickly made eye contact with the nurse, who, up until then, had been fumbling with the crinkly OB gown, the one she wanted me to put on.

“Any reason?”

“I’m not sexually active and, I just, it’s really not necessary I know I’m fine.”

“Well,” she hesitated, “I can certainly let Dr. Jeffrey know your request, but just so you know,” she quickly flipped through my chart, “it looks like you haven’t gotten an internal exam in…over 2 years.” She stared at me. “And we really like our patients to have an annual exam once they turn eighteen.”

With that she closed the door and left me alone to change into the paper dress, waiting for the knock from the doctor. I sat on the edge of the table and took deep breaths.

You’re fine…you’re fine…this is routine…everyone does this.

The knock came.

“Hi Caroline.”

“Hi.”

“You don’t want an internal?”

“No.”

“Can I ask why?” She wasn’t warm. She wasn’t kind. She didn’t sit down and pull her chair in close to me and put me at ease. She didn’t see that I was clearly bothered, tell me to put my clothes back on and come into her office to chat with her about what “the issue” was. She just stared at her clipboard. “You’re 22, Caroline?”

“Yes.”

“Sexually active?”

“No,” I started, “I mean, yes, I’m sexual but, I don’t have sex, not,” I motioned to my vagina, “intercourse.”

“So other things?”

“I guess.”

“Oral sex?”

“Yes.”

She looked at me again. “What’s “the issue” with the pap smear?” she asked.

“It makes me uncomfortable. I squirm. I just…it hurts. I don’t like it, I tense up. It happens when I try to have sex, too. I mean I don’t try that often I’ve just tried a few times. With my boyfriend,” I added.

She “mmhmm”d and continued to look at her chart, “and how long have you been with you boyfriend?”

“Two years.”

“And you’ve never had sex?”

“No. But we’ve tried…I’m really just overwhelmed by the idea of it…I can’t get myself to um, open up…”

“Caroline,” she flipped all the pages so that her thumb rested on the top page, “we won’t do an internal today. But you need to take care of this. Or your boyfriend is going to leave you.”

And with that she left the room.

Her last sentence continues to echo in my head. And that conversation?

That conversation happened two years ago. And my boyfriend did leave me. And I am a 24 year old virgin, terrified of sex.

***

Instead of drinking, I dyed my hair. Instead of partying at 15 years old, I would go for car rides with boys and let the lyrics to popular songs guide my adolescence.

Shy. Self-conscious. 16 years old. The bottles in my backpack read: clinical depression. Therapy since I was 13 years old. Would later attain more bottles. Bipolar disorder.

Friends started to have sex. There were stories of bleeding and awkward mornings after.

I’d say “I haven’t had sex yet because I haven’t found anyone I loved and trusted enough to want to roll over and see next to me in the morning, and not, you know, like, puke.”

“You’re so smart,” they’d tell me when their high school boyfriends were sleeping with girls at other lunch tables.

I met Chris on the first day of college and the outline of his body pressed into my bed sheets for 8 months. Both virgins, we planned on being each other’s firsts. But in the dark moments we moved together not knowing how or what to do. And so we would kiss, and feel, and love so hard, sharing smiles that said this was enough for both of us. And then we broke up.

I spiraled downward with my first broken heart. I threw away the bottles of medication that made me fat. I tried to sleep over the soundtrack to the rest of my friends going out and living life. I was not meant to live, I thought. But I ended up living anyway.

My parents could see I was unhappy. So they did what they thought good parents should and would do – they bribed me in order to motivate me. 6 months later, I traded an unhealthily lost 47 lbs for a brand new car.

Overnight I went from being fat, awkward, unpopular, and lonely, to being beautiful, thin, living in my first apartment up at school for the summer, dating the popular guy at work and sought after.

My phone would ring all day long.

What are we doing tonight? Party at your place?

For 30 days in my 19th year, I led my idea of a perfect life.

On the 31st day, I woke up alone in my bed after a party to find my popular boyfriend asleep with another counselor in the living room. He continued to fuck her all summer long, but pose as my boyfriend in our happy relationship.

And I let him. I wanted the pictures of me in a bikini being tossed over the shoulder of my hot boyfriend much more than I wanted someone to hold me as I fell asleep.

I had tons of pictures from that summer.

Not an ounce of trust.

I didn’t know what I had done to deserve so much continual rejection, but I was determined to pick myself up and keep going. After all, this was college, I would tell myself. It doesn’t mean anything.

College was coming to a close when Dave and I were four months into our relationship. Our love started out as best friendship – the kind of partnering you pay 13.00 to watch in a movie theater on a Friday night. I was sure this was it. I surrendered and waved the white flag, fully prepared to leap.

“I’m ready,” I breathed.

“Ok,” he kissed my forehead and pushed forward.

I tightened up.

“Babe, relax,” he said.

I started breathing in and out, in and out.

“Is it in?” I asked, wincing.

“No, babe.”

“Now?”

“No.”

A single tear rolled down my face. I was twenty two fucking years old with the sexual capability of a senior in high school. I felt like a fucking idiot. Why did I think this would be so fucking easy?

“Just fucking put it in, Dave.”

And then I felt it. Immediately my legs closed and went into fetal position and I kicked Dave off of me, the balls of my feet against his chest.

“What the HELL?!” he shouted, “Are you fucking out of your mind?”

“I AM NOT DOING THIS,” I screamed, “I can’t. It hurts. I’m not ready. I just can’t. I can’t do this, Dave.”

He stared at me.

“My body won’t let me,” I whispered.

Days and weeks and months passed by. Seasons ran their course, semesters ended, final grades were received.

“Do you wanna try, babe?”

“Um…maybe,” I’d say, but then we wouldn’t.

A year had come and gone and Dave stopped asking, and I stopped trying to put tampons in or finger myself with lube or even read up on “the issue”.

Our relationship became tense and unloving. It was strained. I found myself in a mindset that I imagined infertile women were in when they’d see their pregnant friends, the ones who “weren’t even trying to have a baby.” I’d watch shows like Teen Mom, or hear my 17 year old cousin ask me for sex advice and I’d become beyond agitated.

I wanted to shake them and tell them they were way too young to be having sex. And I wanted to shake myself because I WASN’T too young. But I couldn’t do it.

Dave eventually did leave me, citing “you need to learn how to fuck” as the largest of our irreconcilable differences in our almost three year long relationship.

I became his survivor story. I was the sentence said over tall glasses of Blue Moon in dark bars with friends.

“I can’t believe you haven’t fucked in 3 years, dude.”

“I know,” he’d say.

“We need to get you some pussy, dude.”

“I know,” he’d say.

No longer a lover. No longer a friend. Just someone he never fucked.

And now I lie in bed awake almost every night in my apartment alone. I think about the secrets I won’t tell people, I think about the guys who I won’t go home with. I think about the amount of time it will take for a guy to become invested in me for him to not want to leave when I explain this ridiculous fear that manifests within me.

I think about the marriage I want, and the children I want. I think about how it must feel to be loved unconditionally for every flaw.

And I think about the fear of letting go and letting someone in. And I think about how not metaphorical that idea is.

I think about that conversation with my OB/GYN 2 years ago. I think about how I drove home that day, determined to figure out my fears and my anxiety and my thoughts as soon as possible. I think about how 2 years ago I swore that in 2 years, I’d be fine. I’d be on track.

And then I think about how quickly two years can come and go.

And then I cry, hard and heavy tears.

The only things I am able to let go of.

The Vagina Monologues

I’ve attempted to write this post so many times. And every time, I fail.  Either the two small people that inhabit this house are at my feet, refusing to let me write, or words just fail me. This isn’t one of those light-hearted, witty posts where I talk about poop, that you’re all so fond of.

No.  This one is about my vagina.

Writing about this has been something I’ve toyed with for a while.  Because, unlike my boobs, which the entire internet has probably seen by now, my vagina is a different story.  Unless of course it had something to do with my infertility and my making fun of the fact that there’s a line of people waiting to get a look at the goods.  DOCTORS, people.  It’s not like I’m a slut.  Also?  I guess a lot of people have seen my vagina.  Never mind, then.

After a while I figured, well, if blogging about my experiences can help even one person, then isn’t it worth it to share?  I mean, isn’t that what I blog for?  Because I like to overshare?

Back when I first had sex, at the tender age of 18 or so, it hurt.  Anyone that says that sex doesn’t hurt the first time is a liar.  But I had no idea how much it was supposed to hurt, all I knew was that it HURT.  A lot.  I wondered how women ever went on to have more sex, have babies, or worse, do porn, or make any other sort of living having sex.  Because I wanted no part of it.

I tried marching on, like a good little horny soldier should.

But it never got better. I went to the gynecologist. I told her my problems. I winced in pain as she shoved the speculum in my girl parts and fished around with her fist for my ovaries.  She never seemed to notice, told me that the pain was all in my head and sent me on my merry way. I should have found another doctor at that point, but I was young and naive.  When I went back again the next year complaining of pain, again, she told me it was in my head and to maybe find a good therapist to talk to.

And it was at that point that I didn’t go to the gynecologist for another few years, because her bedside manner was atrocious, and I figured they were all like that. Really there’s nothing fun about getting fisted and then walking around like you have a snail in your pants for the rest of the day, all the while your nether regions feel as if they’re on fire.

Fast forward a couple of years. I was at the hospital waiting for my then soon-to-be niece, to be born. The midwife who was delivering her seemed to have this aura of goodness and light surrounding her. I made a mental note to make an appointment with her, and it was the day that changed my life forever. The midwife’s name was Vivian. And if it seemed that she had an aura of goodness and light surrounding her, it was because she was such a sweet woman.  She cared deeply about her job.  Her craft.  Her patients.  We went over my history. I told her about my last doctor, and told her about my problems. She immediately told me that no, my issues were absolutely not at all in my head.   She told me that I had a condition.  A condition that other people suffered from.

My problem!  It had a name! And I wasn’t alone! She told me that she was no expert, but it sounded like I had something called vulvar vestibulitis.

Vestibulitis is basically a condition where the vestibule (or entrance to your vagina) is inflamed, causing stinging and burning and redness to the nerve endings.  As I understand it, it’s an excess of nerve endings.  The inflammation can range from severe, as in you can’t even wear pants, to mild, where it’s basically aggravated by something being inserted into the vagina such as a penis, or tampon, or a Buick Rivera.  Whatever you fancy, I don’t judge.  (I guess I still can’t avoid wittiness.  Even when I’m trying not to be).   Mine ranges on the mild end of the spectrum where it kind of feels like there’s a buick being shoved up my yang when I’m having sex, but otherwise, I can wear pants, sit, and walk if I so choose.

Vivian referred me to one of the best people to deal with this condition. Her name is Susan Kellogg-Spadt, a nurse practitioner (PhD) who is considered a pioneer in the field of pelvic and sexual disorders.   I am extremely extremely fortunate that she is based in Philadelphia and that I only have a 40 minute drive to see her.  There are people that fly here to see her.   I didn’t walk, I ran to see this woman. She made me understand I wasn’t insane. What killed me was that from being on birth control (which I find so funny, after going through fertility treatments for years), I always had a chronic yeast issue.

The stupid asshole gynecologist that told me everything was in my head just threw pills at me, and whenever I went in, she told me, “you don’t have an infection, just have yeast.” And that should have been my second clue to flee from her care. Because of this chronic yeast problem that only temporarily went away with things like Diflucan or some sort of vagina suppository containing foul goo, it was most likely the cause of the condition. When I first went to see her, she started me on an estrogen/atropine combination that I applied topically. I graduated to a capsaicin cream, also applied topically.

Did I mention that not only did she help me, but this woman is all sorts of awesome?

I know I just heard screeching brakes in your brain.  Hold up.  WHAT?  Why on earth are you putting the equivalent of a jalapeño on your vagina?

I know, right?  It totally sounds like backwards logic and it kind of is.  The first time this was applied by Susan herself, she gave me full on “no bullshit or sugarcoating” warning that it not only was going to hurt but that it was going to hurt like a bitch. And then she proceeded to stand near my head, because she’s obviously not stupid.  I would have full on donkey-style, kicked her right in the teeth. But then, once the burning wore off and I stopped swearing, I realized that it calmed the nerves down, and helped with the pain.

It was ten years ago that I sought care from her.  And where I’m at now is basically, well, I’m uncomfortable.  Sometimes sex is still unbearable, sometimes it’s a lot less painful and I can handle it.  The pain has not completely gone away.  My next option is surgery. Even though it’s knives coming at my vagina, I’m kind of at the point where I’m ready to take that step to see if it will make my quality of life better. Recovery is very tough from what I’ve heard.  No heavy lifting for a really long time.  I went for a consult when the Mini was about LG’s age now and I just couldn’t bear not being able to pick him up for that long.  Even going through what we were with him at the time, when the doctor told me that I couldn’t lift him up, he got up from where he was playing and climbed in my lap and nuzzled his head under my chin.   Even though it seemed as if he was checked out and not paying attention, he knew.   And then a few short months later, we found out about matlock baby. And now she refuses to be put down, ever.  I’m not ready to put her down yet.  This time with her will go fast enough.  But I’m ready.  I’m just waiting.

Why am I telling you this?  Because there are so many women out there with this condition.  I thought it was something that was rare.  Something I was one of the few that suffered from it.  And I’ve learned that I’m not and that it’s not uncommon. People just don’t talk about it.  It’s a shame.   I don’t go around talking about it like I do developmental delays and Autism.   Because that just makes for an awkward introduction.  But I do share it with people I’m close to.   I guess I’m close to you, internet.  I don’t want people to feel afraid or like they’re a freak.  It’s so damn common that every time I make an appointment to see Susan, it’s like a three to four month wait.    So it’s obvious that it’s a secret hell that so many women are going through.   It’s a sad thing.  It’s a frustrating thing, especially for your significant other.

But you’re not alone.  And if that’s how you feel, then talk to me.  Ask me questions.  Or tell me what you know.  I want to give you a hug.  I want to bump fists.

Most of all, I want you to feel like it’s going to be OK.