When I was in primary school, around 10 years old we started to do some sex education lessons…
In the first of these they showed us a cartoon video, in the video it showed a diagram of female anatomy and then the insertion of a tampon and how this looks from the inside.
I remember so clearly getting very sweaty and clammy, then losing my vision completely, and then not being able to hear anything.
I put my head on the desk and tried to stop listening to the video…
My friend laughed as she thought I was pretending to sleep but I actually was passing out and having some form of panic attack because I had definitely stopped breathing!
I was really confused as I had never felt like this before and couldn’t work out what on Earth had caused it.
Afterwards we all got the chance as a group of girls to discuss starting periods with the school matron.
I didn’t tell her about what happened to me during the video as I was embarrassed… I can’t even remember if I told my mum.
I then remember going home and watching a similar cartoon video on YouTube about how periods work…
I saw a cartoon of a womb shedding its lining and I had the exact same faintness reaction again! I lied on the floor and put my legs in the air and was shocked it had happened again.
When I was 12 I started my period. My period always seemed to coincide with going on holiday and wanting to go swimming… So eventually I sat with my mum in the bathroom and tried to put in a tampon.
All of a sudden, I felt extremely faint again, I couldn’t do it.
This is before even attempting to put the tampon in – even just holding it at the entrance to the vagina caused this reaction.
I gave up trying and decided to just settle with sanitary towels.
Another few years went by before I considered I had a problem…
My mum had said I was young and that it was normal, so it didn’t bother me too much until then.
When I was 15 I became passionate about having a future career as a Midwife (so ironic).
I did so much research and knew so much about Midwifery before even starting the course. I decided at 16 to go to Poland and do some work experience on a maternity ward.
I got to see a delivery, I wasn’t phased at all by the blood, needles or hospital setting!
Every time the midwife introduced something like a finger (to assess cervical dilatation) or an amnihook (to break the waters), I was overwhelmed by the faintness feeling. I had to leave the room!
I remember going into the toilet and crying that I still had this problem, and that I would never be a Midwife. I phoned my mum and she encouraged me that I could get through whatever was causing this problem.
The next day I went back in to placement and saw a procedure called an ERPC (Extraction of Retained Products of Conception). This is done when a woman has a miscarriage and her body has not expelled the contents of the uterus by itself and some parts are retained in the uterus.
When the procedure started the doctor inserted a speculum, I instantly became unwell again and this time barely made it out of the room before falling over.
My mentor told me it is normal to faint at the site of blood, but I knew deep down it was nothing to do with the blood – I had seen caesarean sections performed and was not at all affected by this.
I then knew there was some sort of association between vaginal penetration and my fainting.
I decided I could overcome this.
People overcome phobias all the time!
So why should I give up my hopes of becoming a Midwife and even having the potential to help others with the condition?
At the time I didn’t know I had vaginismus, I thought it was just some form of phobia.
I confided more in my mum about this, and she said I should become more familiar with my body and see if I could insert a finger slowly into my vagina.
I did this in the bath (which in hindsight was probably not wise given my history), I tried to relax knowing I was in a safe environment (kind of…) and that I didn’t have to carry on if I felt unwell.
Even the thought of touching down there made me disgusted.
I didn’t want to know what the inside of my vagina felt like…
I don’t know why as I have no history of sexual trauma or abuse. It was as if what I had lived through in a previous life had caused this phobia – there was no reason for me to react this way.
I applied and got into Midwifery, but soon started panicking about how I would cope in lectures when vaginas were discussed in relation to examination, or episiotomy!
My mum thought it would be a good idea to have some therapy to try and overcome the problem prior to starting placement for my course.
I saw a hypnotherapist and we dug deep into the route of the problem.
I remembered that when I was about 3 years old I was on a family holiday in Menorca, I became really unwell with a fever and refused to take my Calpol (because it is gross).
I was taken to hospital and the doctors insisted I had a suppository to help bring down my temperature as I wouldn’t take my medicine.
I remember being held down whilst they inserted the suppository into my anus (even though it wasn’t my vagina, I was too young not to associate it with this).
I don’t look back at this event now and feel traumatized (it is just something that happened), but subconsciously it significantly affected me…
Resulting in consequences that significantly affected many aspects of my life.
I avoided sexual relations with guys not because I didn’t want them, but because I was embarrassed to explain my problem to partners. And because of the fear that they would then not want to be with me.
2 years later, I have had 2 sexual relationships but did not have sex in either. I still haven’t had sex because of the pain I experience when penetration is attempted.
I AM now able to insert a finger into my vagina without any pain.
I can feel myself tensing making it difficult for anything wider than a finger to be inserted…
I am taking my time to practice becoming more comfortable with inserting my finger.
A big part in this story is recognizing my progress…
I have now delivered 11 babies and can perform vaginal examinations for women when needed.
If there is any positive benefit to my vaginismus, it is that I care for many women who fear vaginal examinations and I have learned ways to help them relax because of my own problems.
I never experience the fainting anymore which is a relief as I am now in my 3rd year of Midwifery training!
AND I’ve met an amazing boy training to be a paramedic and he’s been so amazing with the whole problem and so supportive and patient.
Together we have worked through it and I’ve managed to overcome my vaginismus!
It’s still quite selective so some situations I struggle with but more or less is completely gone!
More details on that are to come!
– Becky (21 years old, Reading, USA)
P.S. 2 years ago I could not have even written this story out without feeling faint!