I’ve wanted to write this for a long time. I have wanted to post this on this website and scream it at every woman who asks me for a tampon (I know it’s not your fault and no, I don’t have one, I think they’re for pranks), guy I’ve ever slept with who asks why I’m not on the pill and my doctor when she asks me when my last period was and then promptly remembers then says, “Oh, God, I’m sorry. Stupid me. I have a lot of patients.” Thank you for bearing through the angry intro. I can begin now.
I did not feel like I was punched in the (bloated) gut because I thought my regular, brutal boot camps aren’t working or the keg party I went to on Friday is physically manifesting itself on my stomach. I felt like I was punched in the gut because I will never be pregnant. I have a “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join you, it sounded like fun! Love, Uterus” note in my abdominal cavity. My DNA determined me a woman, but my body never got the memo and took my uterus away at that stage in the zygote/embryo/fetus (oh, biology 100 where art thou now) stage when all these little details are determined. I do not have a uterus and have never gotten my period. That feeling when you were in junior high and got that Kotex “you’re going to start mysteriously bleeding, but it kind of seems like a nonstop Lisa Frank party” kit and you stare at it like an asteroid just fell from the sky and you are slightly excited and terrified that the world is ending kind feeling never materialized into a feeling of being lied to? Not for me.
When I was 17, I was diagnosed with something called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome, or MRKH. I had to copy and paste the long form because I barely remember what the damn thing is called. I had gone through puberty normally, developed breasts, hair and all the other things that traumatize you upon their arrival on your body as a teen, but I was missing one little bloody thing. My mother, bless her, who was a much more petite human than I, assured me that I was just like her and she didn’t get hers until she was 17! She finally caved and took me to a terrible doctor in New Jersey who I really hope has retired or generally f**ked off the face of the medical world for her insensitivity in treating me with a (thankfully) non-detrimental – but psychologically heartbreaking and identity-shattering – diagnosis.
They gave me hormones to see if that would kick my lazy ones into gear to no avail. I was given an ultrasound in which the technician slowly went over the same section on my abdomen with furrowed brows. “What is it?” I asked, hoping she knew. She could not say. This is not good. They put me in a CAT scan. They said I could play my favorite CD. Naturally, I chose This Desert Life by Counting Crows (Adam Duritz, thank you for aiding my emotional self-indulgence via musical accompaniment from the years 1996-2003). I dare anyone with claustrophobia to sit in a CAT scan with ‘Colorblind’ playing. You will understand the true meaning of psychological warfare. Ryan Phillipe didn’t even meet me on the other side – bastard. Guess I needed an escalator.
Back to the evil doctor. My mother brought me in. I remember she kept readjusting the strap of her watch. I, however, was calm. I knew I wasn’t “normal” and I was almost more worried how she would handle whatever they told me. The doctor started reading from a giant book that was larger than if every Tumblr post in the history of time professing reasons why Ryan Gosling is the perfect man was bound in one place. She put on her glasses, flipped to page 7,037, bumbled through the pronunciation of the syndrome as she “only heard about it in med school once” and abruptly told me that I have no uterus, may have uncomfortable sex my entire life, but am lucky that I am not deaf or it is not “worse”, whatever that means. She closed the book carelessly and my mother wept immediately. My mother was a woman who had raised five children and whose identity was largely based on birthing humans. What woe I faced, as she saw it. Her reaction is what is deeply impressed on me – she knew the tragedy that lay ahead. Maybe not now, maybe not in college, but at the health food store when I am 26 and some lady calls me pregnant and she is no longer alive to call.
I remember a few days after the diagnosis, I lay in my bed in the dark, weeping and curled up cradling my stomach. I felt as though I was mourning what never was. How do you mourn what does not exist? What is the process for that? My mother came in and tried to comfort me. I hissed at her, “You don’t know what this feels like.” My mother, the soft spoken, quiet therapist she was, replied back with a retaliation that jolted me, “Don’t you tell me I don’t know what loss is.” She pulled back her blouse to show me the scar where her breast once was. We sat in silence in the dark, both missing bits and pieces of ourselves. She hugged me and I felt a bit more whole.
The events of the past ten years and the story of my relationship to my body and sex and my inability to bear my own children is perhaps another post or maybe even a book. While I maintain an extremely complex relationship with my body and will perhaps always struggle with what it means to be a woman, I will continue to explore that identity in terms of what it means to me – something we all have to do. As for motherhood – there are few things I know in this life. One of them is this: one day, in some way, I will look down a little face that I will call my own and I will say “thank you” for the way things are and not what they could have been.