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Autobiography of a Broken Vagina (yeast infections, irregular periods, HPV... etc.)

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  • Autobiography of a Broken Vagina (yeast infections, irregular periods, HPV... etc.)

    Sharing my vagina story in hopes that it helps some other chronically itchy/sore/uncomfortable women here!:

    For as long as I can remember, my vagina has been broken.

    When I was a toddler I would get these raging bacterial infections. My mom was terrified. My pediatrician, a very nice middle-aged man, had no idea what could be wrong— four year olds don’t have vagina problems! So my mom brought me to the only place that had a speculum small enough to examine a baby-sized vulva: Planned Parenthood. Turns out, I was having a bad reaction to soaps with artificial fragrances, especially bubble baths. Mom was much relieved, and my Mr. Bubble was promptly replaced with a bar of oatmeal soap. Shout out to Planned Parenthood for being my first successful gynecological experience!

    Unfortunately, however, bubble baths weren’t the only thing to cause bacterial overgrowth. Other culprits included: leggings, tights, synthetic underpants, synthetic athletic pants… and basically every other fashion item for kids in the 90s. I had a yeast infection for a solid decade. One of my earliest memories is getting called out by a little girl on the playground for covertly tugging at the crotch on my leggings. I was flooded with shame, and cursed the broken machinery between my legs.

    A few years later, I got my period. That actually helped clear out the bacteria, so it was a nice monthly pain vacation… sort of. Except for the fact that my period consisted of such intense cramping that I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning or uncurl from the fetal position, and it lasted for three weeks at a time. Yeah, three weeks. I would bleed for approximately 20 days, and feel good for 10 to 15. Not great. So, back to the gynecologist I went for a low-estrogen birth control pill. I promptly gained 20 pounds and three cup sizes— not awesome for a tiny, gawky 14 year old with no self-esteem. But, it was either that or endless hemorrhaging, so I accepted my tragic pubescent lot in life, and started wearing big sweaters.

    Cut to: college. The pill’s going fine, and my roommate/best friend also suffers from chronic yeasties, so we’ve got a good thing goin’ on: big containers of yogurt in our mini-fridge, a shared appreciation for breathable cotton underwear, etc. But now there was this new thing called sex. Which, of course, was terribly painful and weird the first time, and kind of painful and weird the second time, but so much worse than the commonplace trauma of those experiences was the moment I learned that when I don’t pee immediately after intercourse, I contract a UTI. Like, a crazy UTI. Like, immediate blood in my kidneys, death seems imminent-UTI. So now, I had this cool new variation on a theme, where either my labia felt like they were made of sandpaper or my urethra felt like it was filled with broken glass. I could finally, truly say “f- you” to my entire vagina; it couldn’t get any worse. Or so I thought.

    When I was 23 I contracted HPV from an ill-advised, drunken hook-up that I wish I could forget. Unlike most lucky ladies who aren’t sure which partner gave them HPV, I had the privilege of being certain of this guy’s culpability, because his strain came with some very aggressive genital warts that showed up promptly two weeks after our encounter (and you’d better believe I didn’t have any sexual contact in between, or for a long time after). I was a student living in the UK at the time, and I quickly experienced the country’s free gynecological services in a big way. The first doctor told me it might be herpes, or HIV. Unfortunately, neither of those tests were rapid result, so I had a fun 24-hour waiting period. After the results all came back negative (yay!), I had no further information regarding the painful red bumps that had sprouted all over my vagina (not so yay). So I made another appointment at another free clinic. This gentleman very quickly and dismissively told me that I had genital warts, and they weren’t a big deal so I shouldn’t worry about it. I asked him if they were contagious, and he said yes. To this I responded that, in that case, I’d really rather not have them, especially considering they kind of hurt a lot, also. He rolled his eyes and prescribed me a cream that is said to help the immune system attack warts. Sometimes.

    As you’ll recall, I am the girl who contracted vaginal bacterial infections on a regular basis, quite possibly from birth (I don’t remember that far back, but I do know I was a fussy baby— probably not for nothin’). My immune system doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to my ladyparts. After two months with the cream, I had nothing to show for my efforts but a ton of scar tissue from all that low-grade burning, and a crotch so itchy I’d have to take mid-day bathroom breaks to shove an ice pack down my pants. I have never felt so betrayed by my body, so utterly broken, so resentful of my femaleness. Forget childbirth; the Curse of Eve is an unending flare-up of genital warts in an already broken vagina.

    So I did what any desperate young woman in my situation would do: I used my credit card to acquire the services of a private gynecologist. And that fancy, overpriced, boutique gyno saved my life. Her name was Sarah and she looked like a curly haired Roma Downey with the wardrobe of Michelle Obama, and she deserves every humanitarian award there is. That woman took one look at my vagina, and the sympathetic pain in her face was enough to flood me with immediate tears of gratitude. Finally, someone understood what I was going through. Over the course of the next four months, Sarah carefully, kindly administered freezing treatments that, while awful, gradually diminished the warts until they were gone. And they were gone for two years. Two beautiful years. And for that I will always love her.

    Two years later, I’m newly back in America trying to save a failing long-distance relationship with my boyfriend, and the warts come back. Upon hearing this, he promptly breaks up with me (which, in retrospect, I’m sure had nothing to do with the fact that he was already regularly sleeping with his coworker). Heartbroken and uncomfortable, I track down a strange but kind old lady doctor who accepts my health insurance. Her method of choice is trichloroacetic acid— not so pleasant, but not entirely dissimilar to the freezing. So, we go a few rounds with the acid, and the warts seem to be gone— until they aren’t anymore. Unfortunately, in the time between flare-ups, I’ve lost my private health insurance, and my doctor has retired: a double-whammy. So I find another gynecologist who accepts my new, not-so-private healthcare, and hope for the best.

    He (already a red flag) starts off by giving me the speech about how warts aren’t a big deal and I shouldn’t care. I respond with my now-equally-practiced speech of how my warts are particularly aggressive, will not go away on their own, and are quite painful, actually, so could you please get rid of them? He starts to write me a prescription for the "crotchfire cream" (as I have now lovingly deemed it), which I politely decline before requesting either the freezing or the trichloroacetic acid. He initially balks at the idea, but finally concedes to the acid, if that’s what I really want. At first I don’t understand why this is so unfathomable, but I soon find out. As opposed to the dainty little dab of acid my previous doctor had administered, this Dr. Kevorkian brings down the acid-doused q-tip on my inner labia like a branding iron. This was years ago; I still bleed after intercourse, now, where the skin has been burned away.

    So where does this leave me? Well, I still try to go to a gynecologist every six months or so for a pap smear, to make sure the HPV isn’t turning precancerous. But when I get a warts flare-up, I just ride it out and do my darnedest to boost my immune system: cut the booze, cut the caffeine, chug water, eat kale, throw some cider vinegar in there for good measure. I’ve found that oftentimes the warts are accompanied by a bacterial infection. That all-encompassing pain and discomfort used to scare the heck out of me. But now, it just means I spend some Friday nights at home, airing out my privates and sipping immune boost tea.

    Sex is often off the table because I’m hurting. That’s a bummer. But I still managed to find a partner who loves and desires me, and he’s awesome (and also has HPV - twinsies!). And when we do have sex, we’re both communicative to ensure that things feel good and nothing’s hurting— it’s delightful, and I highly recommend it for everyone.

    I have my fears for the future. I imagine stuff will get complicated when we start talking babies. And of course, I worry about cancer, and benign growths, and endometriosis, and all the other weird stuff that can happen with vaginas. But my vagina has always sucked. I assume it will continue to suck. And I will continue to live a happy, fulfilling life in spite of my itchy crotch.

  • Welcome to WH! Best wishes for things improving.
    I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience.
    Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

    From a speech by Patrick Henry on March 23, 1775 at St. John's Church, Richmond, Virginia


    • Wow.
      Welcome to the community. Hope you've found a doctor that is helpful.


      • Welcome to WH! I enjoyed the interjected humor and sarcasm in your writing.

        It's certainly been a tough road for you. I'm so glad to hear you've found someone who appreciates you. That makes things much more tolerable I'm sure. Due to the HPV (and other reasons that apply to everyone), frequent checkups will always be important. However, you never know but what you will have healthy happy pregnancies.
        "Be what you're looking for."


        • Thanks so much! It definitely hasn't been easy, but I've been super lucky to have found a partner who helps me remember that my gynecological issues don't have to diminish my quality of life. I remember how terrified and sad I was when I first got the genital warts diagnosis, and I hope my story helps other newly diagnosed women feel less alone and afraid. I still have my moments of frustration, but once I started viewing the issue as a minor inconvenience rather than some horrible, disfiguring plague, it became so much easier to forget about and just live my life! But yes, I will always have to do the regular OBGYN visits. Trying another new one out next week - hoping for the best!


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