*** content warning: explicit description of female anatomy, allusions to sexuality, and honest emotional expression included in this piece ***
This is a story of something small that happened, something truly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, something that could have just fallen into my past to be forgotten by all but me… but here I am, with the decision to dig into it and share it, if only because to me it felt bigger than it looked. And if it was big for me, then maybe underneath this experience is something important for someone else. And maybe the enormous emotion I felt about it shouldn’t be swept under the facade of normalcy and rational action. Or maybe I’m just looking for an outlet and a way to express myself!
So it goes.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
A week or so ago I got my period. For the past year or two I’ve been handling that monthly ritual with my good friend the Diva cup – a reusable silicone cup that catches menstrual blood. It’s the eco-friendly alternative to the tampon or pad, and popular among people who look out for things like that. Unfortunately, Diva cups don’t *always* play so well with another friend of mine, the IUD.
Oh, birth control… another ritual most women go through, the act of protecting the uterus from impregnation. There are many different ways for women to alter themselves to become temporarily infertile. This one seemed like less of an offense to my body than the hormones; it would just sit quietly in my uterus, a little T-shaped piece of plastic wrapped with copper… a stand-in baby for my womb. When I went to get it placed three years ago I was expecting an easy and painless procedure, and was in for an unpleasant surprise. I left feeling disturbed, vulnerable, crampy, emotional…. but protected from babies I wasn’t ready to mother! We can call that a win. After a couple weeks I was back to normal, and I went on with my life.
Yes, the paragard IUD and I had a good run for the past three years. I couldn’t really feel it inside me but I would visualize it sometimes, knowing it was in there, my little copper baby. And I could reach inside myself and feel the little string coming out my cervix, assuring me all was still well in my uterus. In the time I’ve shared with the paragard I’ve become more aware of my own anatomy, the fact that my cervix would change size and position throughout the month… also the fact that the IUD ‘works’ with my body means my uterus is fairly normal-sized, whatever that means. It’s cool to get more in tune with your body.
Anyway, I mentioned the string. The string is there to let you know you still have an IUD inside you, and it’s also an exit route for the IUD, when the day comes to get it removed. That day came early today, because a week ago I was trying to get the damn Diva cup in place properly, and some combination of suction and maybe string-catching caused a movement of the item in my womb. I knew this could happen and had always tried to be careful… but fate only needs one careless moment! Such is life as a human, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, I’m here now writing about it because this whole experience has been weirdly inspiring and helped me touch on something bigger. My feelings, my body, my womanhood. But yes, in a moment of carelessness, I pulled on the IUD and caused it to shift. I felt inside me and could feel its plastic tip in my cervix. Drat! Well okay, I thought, maybe if I think calming thoughts, put my hands on my belly and my intentions on the IUD finding its way back to its comfortable home… Maybe it will be back to normal in the morning. And if not, I’ll deal with it then.
Well, you know how it goes. Still there in the morning, still there at the end of my period a few days ago. Okay. This baby’s probably gotta come out.
It’s kind of a big deal to me to go to the doctor. I was thinking about it on my bike ride to the gynecologist’s office, as I rode by Duke Regional Hospital and looked up at its gray drab exterior, rows of windows offering people glimpses of the concrete parking lot outside… I think I’m realizing that the American medical establishment is a legitimate fear of mine. Like, when people ask you what you’re afraid of, they expect a silly shallow answer like snakes or spiders. My usual answer is the ocean, or waves, because when I was a kid I had a scary experience of being stuck in a wave, not knowing which was was up, and freaking out about not being able to breathe for a minute. Normal stuff. (Okay, all those things can be pretty deep if you get into it and talk about it, but that’s another conversation for another day.) People don’t usually answer that question with the fears that are integrated into their lives – our real fears are kind of blind spots, or at the least are a little more honest and vulnerable than we’re usually comfortable with. Yeah, I’m afraid of dying alone. I’m afraid of living a fake life. I’m afraid of not being true to myself. I’m afraid of what people think about me.
And I, Emma Arata, am afraid of the medical establishment! I’m afraid of bills from my health insurance. I’m afraid of hospitals, those sterile places filled with sick people, dying people, people afraid to let go, helpless people, mechanical people, overworked & unhealthy nurses and doctors, people being treated as numbers, in one of the richest countries in the world, with some of the unhealthiest people in the world. I have some kind of respect for people who devote their lives to Western medicine – you all are strong and brave people for going into that warzone! I’ve personally managed to interact with that part of our world as little as possible, but while it feels like I’ve dodged a bullet by staying away from it, it does leave me feeling afraid and defenseless when I do have to use my health insurance for something… and today was that day! Because stubborn as I am and independent as I’d like to be, I wasn’t about to pull my IUD all the way out by its little string. (Maybe when I get the bill I’ll regret my choice. We’ll see.)
I arrived at my appointment early and was processed through the system pretty easily. I signed in at the desk, filled some paperwork out, had all my vitals checked, got weighed – welp, didn’t want to see the number, but I’ve put on a few pounds just like I expected, cool – and was left in a room and told to strip down and put a sheet over my lower half. It’s a formality, and unnecessary, but it’s nice of them to try to make people feel comfortable. I know it gets weird showing sterile people your intimate bits, let alone letting them poke instruments inside you while you lie there. Maybe if we have a little sheet to cover the whole procedure from our own view we’ll feel more decent and less vulnerable. I guess that’s the idea.
Then I waited, and I let myself use that time to tune into my body. Lot of stuff going on lately. I’ve been doing this new job, changing my whole lifestyle, feeling really uncertain about it. This whole year has been a trip of a healing and growing journey. And it feels like I’m making important choices and not totally at ease with that. I’m close to really stepping up my adult game but sometimes it feels like I’m betraying parts of myself that are perhaps less ‘logical’… ok, committing to working here for another year is an obvious choice for my career, but my heart misses nature so much and wants to be closer to it. I dream of the Yuba river and the mountains. I miss the PCT. I miss my family. I feel my dreams of living somewhere new have stagnated too long already. I fear the time that will pass and take along with it the experiences I never lived. Maybe that’s inevitable.
I’ve been binge eating lately. I thought my eating disorder was dead and gone, but this has been a tough year for that part of myself. Really all year. Addictions are so rough. But I do believe there is a gem inside of it, a beautiful lesson. It’s polishing me. Nina at Global Breath studio says that sadness and depression are here to teach us the value of integrity and virtue. And so though I have moments of hatred for it (and myself), and deep pits of grief inside myself I’m working through, I also work on loving myself and accepting life as it comes, and myself where I am. Whatever it is, it grew in me to serve a purpose, and I’m in the process of growing in the direction that better serves me now. I wish it happened overnight. I wish it was something I could control. But my attempts to control are part of what created it. I have to let go and trust. I have to love myself and trust. I have to be more present with life and live with my heart. I have to go through the process of healing and opening my heart! We all try to protect ourselves and it backfires! But we’re softening. It’s where evolution has to take us now, so we can feel our way back into harmony with life and nature. I really believe it’s happening. But it’s a process and it’s not always easy.
Anyway, I was on the table by myself, thinking about the number on the scale and all the time I’ve spent feeling uncertain and out of control lately, and damn, I can just feel so scared of everything! Is my health the cost of this job? Or am I just in a transition? Am I just creating these problems for myself with my uncertainties and fears?
One of the feelings my body is telling me is a hollowness. It feels like a deep, deep loneliness, the emptiness that is me when I am not fulfilling my purpose. I cannot exist in isolation, I must find a way to live here and contribute, or else I am not whole. That’s what the feeling said to me, at least. It said it hurts not to belong. It is infinitely painful and sad not to feel I’ve found my place. Then my mind says, is this feeling happening because I have the wrong job? But I don’t think it’s so simple. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem to be solved. Maybe it’s just something to feel and acknowledge. Just feel, and send it love.
So I felt it, and laid on the table crying for a little while. I’ve been crying a lot lately, but I think it’s a good thing. Like, a proper part of a balanced life. Part of the full spectrum.
Eventually the doctor came in, took a look up there at my cervix, and said yep, this thing needs to come out. I was feeling tender and afraid, and I asked to hold the nurse’s hand. I don’t know if they ever get asked that. We’re so hesitant to touch each other sometimes, but you know… it helps. We can share the experience with each other and make it more meaningful, less lonely. She took one of her latex gloves off to hold my hand through it, and I took it without shame.
For some people these procedures are inconsequential. But for me, even with nice people and the hand holding, it feels invasive and deeply disturbing to have a metal instrument opening up my cervix and poking around my uterus. It felt worse when I got the thing put in but still was pretty bad today. My uterus cramped up, I felt a deep discomfort, and I had to breathe into it and focus all my attention on getting through, holding the nurse’s hand all along and feeling small and helpless and water-like, tears welling up and coming out of me silently. Part of me can’t believe I ever did this. My body has its own wisdom, its own rhythm, and my fertility is a part of me. Maybe I’ll never alter it again. Maybe altering my body to make myself more sexually available severs me from my body and my sexuality. Maybe it’s just another way we numb ourselves and try to control life. Life isn’t supposed to be tame, not the way our minds want it to be. Life is a flowing river, angry and violent where it cuts through mountain rocks, peaceful where it meanders through meadows, complete in its totality and finality. Eventually the water meets and mixes with the sea.
Right now our rivers are polluted, our oceans are polluted, even our rainwater is polluted. Our minds are polluted. We don’t trust ourselves. We make ourselves helpless and hand over our power when it comes to our health… we hand it right over to the medical establishment, the pharmaceutical industry, these powers rooted in the same Western materialism that brought us to where we are in the world now, and what do you think of the world now? It’s pretty crazy! It’s time to do things differently. Maybe I’m just an emotional woman and I should just write off the illogical thoughts. But maybe there’s a deeper kind of knowledge in the body wisdom, and maybe it’s my duty to be true to that. Maybe that’s what the world needs right now, some balancing of the masculine and feminine energies.
The doctor and nurse didn’t quite know what to do with my emotional expression. When she saw that I was crying she asked me what was wrong. I said, that was just pretty intense for my body. I hope it didn’t make her uncomfortable. But also, I want us to be more free to express our emotions. They’re real and meaningful. How could this experience not touch me deeply? I’ve had a piece of copper-coated plastic down in my womb suppressing my fertility, and you just pulled it out! That’s a big deal. What it represents is a big deal. This moment of showing you my soft, vulnerable truth is a big deal.
What’s the point of all this? I don’t know. It feels important to me. I think it’s important that we feel life deeply. I’ve been feeling a lot lately, and I just wanted to share a piece of it. I think we women carry a lot, and I don’t know if it gets talked about in the right ways. I think men carry a lot too. I don’t think the imbalances in the world truly serve any of us – we all suffer for it. It’s time to create a new world, starting with ourselves and each other. This is one of my ways of opening my heart to the world. Thank you for hearing me.