Sexually Transmitted Shame.
My whole body is rigid as I sit in my backless, pale blue hospital gown.
There is an elderly woman moaning in agony, separated only by a thin curtain.
Machines beeping, a blur of doctors and nurses running by.
The place reeks of pain, of death.
I am exhausted from being here all night. For being poked and prodded, my most private parts scanned and analyzed in the most intrusive way.
Shame, fear, guilt and rejection wrapped over my heart.
My mother stands outside the thin curtain in front of me, protective with her presence.
The nurse walks in. There is something about her that is too harsh. Perhaps it’s the sharp angle of her short hair, the demeaning height in which she carries her chin, her frozen touch.
She tells me about the fluid in my Fallopian tubes, the inflammation. She tells me that I have Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
She starts to speak about treatment, and I interrupt, “But why?”
She lists sexually transmitted diseases, ignoring my comment that I tested negative for such things the previous night, and a month before.
“False negatives can happen.”
I stared at her, shaking.
She looked me up and down with a hint of something I could not quite place. Distaste? Envy?
“Look, you’re a young woman, I’m assuming you’ve had many sexual partners.”
Anxiety filled my chest.
Shame clouded my vision.
I said nothing.
“What, you’re telling me you’ve only had one partner?” she sneered.
I told her that was correct.
“Right. Well, you’re a young girl, and I assume you want to have children one day…”
My heart sank. I heard very little of what she told me next. Only understanding that my fertility, my ability to create life, was at risk. How did I get here? How did I let this happen to myself? How could this woman burden me with shame for the situation I was in?
A confusing list of medications was given to me, and a giant needle stuck in my thigh too quickly. I hobbled away, wincing in pain.
As we walked away in silence, my mother’s face said it all.
This is shameful, and this is not okay.
A day later, I sat facing my Naturopath. Her office was soothing, familiar smells and a friendly face allowed my body and mind to soften. Allowed me to feel. She held space for me to cry, space for me to speak, and I did. We spoke of my shame around having this disease. We spoke of the man who treated me so cruelly before this happened.
We spoke of me accepting less, allowing life to be sucked away from me through unhealthy partnerships. We spoke of my grieving heart. We spoke of this as a psychosomatic reaction. She told me I was lucky for the pain, as most women don’t feel anything, do nothing, ending up unable to have children. She told me this happened to her. She told me that there were many, many reasons this could happen. She told me I did not have to be afraid.
In the months that followed, I was met with a combination of understanding and rejection from friends and family. Some tried to understand, held me close when I needed, allowing me to rest. Others averted their eyes in shame, unable to hold space for me. Reminding me that this is how it is. Sexual health issues are more often than not spoken of only behind closed doors, in hushed tones.
The risk of infertility is too big of a burden for most to admit, as it goes against every ingrained should there is for women. I was told to not share, to make up a reason for my absences from school and work. To take my medication quietly, and never speak of this again.
So I decided to speak about it again.
I am speaking of this not for me, but for you. This is for every woman or man who has ended up in the hospital after days of ignoring the pain that resides below, crying behind the bathroom stalls and bedroom doors, filled with fear. This is for the women who don’t even know how to answer the doctor’s question “Is your vaginal discharge normal?”, because no one has ever spoken to us about what the normal is.
This is for everyone who met a diagnosis with feelings of guilt, for we live in a world where these parts of our bodies are not to be spoken of. This is for the women who have been told they might not be able to have children. You are still a woman, this does not diminish your worth. This is for anyone who has been shamed based off of their bodies’ responses to abusive partners, toxic relationships or unknown diseases.
Whether it is a diagnosis, low libido, or a deep-seated fear, I promise you that there will be a day when you will no longer be afraid.
You do not have to carry the weight of this shame, for it is only the pressure of what is unspoken weighing down on you. I urge you to speak, to share. To lighten the load of this burden. For you are not a bad person, only a person experiencing a difficult thing. For it is finding common ground that heals us, realizing that we are never, ever alone.
“Don’t let life harden your heart.” ~ Pema Chödrön
May you heal.
May you love.
Annabelle Blythe is a holistic nutritionist, Yoga guide and writer, promoting self-growth and empowerment through self-exploration. Her toolbox is varied, and she draws from her background in psychology, nutrition, Yoga and meditation to guide her clients back to feeling amazing in their bodies, minds and lives. You can visit her at her website or find her on Instagram.