Learning to Love Your Vagina
When I first started experiencing the dysmenorrhea or as it's more commonly known, severe period pain, I hated my body and I hated my uterus. I didn't know what was happening and I didn't know what it was, but I wasn't as concerned as I was angry. I clearly remember begging my then boyfriend to punch my abdomen, on several occasions, as I knew the blow would bring me distraction from the severe menstrual cramps. Once I was diagnosed, my feelings didn't change that significantly - I felt removed from what was happening to my body and hoped that the further I pushed it away from my mind, the more I could push endometriosis and the resulting dysmenorrhea away and avoid it coming back. It never even occurred to me to look into how to care for my body with endometriosis - no one suggested it, not even the doctors. As far as I was concerned, my body was doing this to me, my body had let me down - it was up to my body to sort itself out, not me.
I had never really felt any level of love or respect for my womb and I certainly didn't love my vagina. I didn't have much of a sex drive and most of the time sex was excruciating anyway, I starved myself of a light period in my teenage years, so I never really had to worry about that or pay any attention and I didn't want children, so that respect and admiration that often comes with knowing one day your womb will bring you a child, wasn't really there. I also didn't identify with my womanly features - I hated bras, so hated the fact that as a woman I had to wear them and I didn't seem to have any reasons to like my uterus. Whilst I grew up a raging feminist and conducted social experiments in my household between my parents, furious at the male/female stereotype roles and determined to be a strong and powerful woman (my ex said he expected me to turn into a male hating lesbian), I somehow didn't connect my female intellect and spirit to my female body. So in short, it was much easier to hate the thing that was 'causing' me pain.
It was only when my endometriosis and dysmenorrhea returned, that I very slowly began to change my opinion. As I learnt about what my body needed and took the time to read about endometriosis, I realised I needed to stop blaming my body and start feeding and supporting it correctly. Instead of hating my uterus, I began to feel respect. What an awesome creature I am to withstand so much pain and what a strong and dedicated body I have, when the pain makes me feel like dying, but my body has kept going anyway. There is not enough known about endometriosis except that it is a life long disease, the exact causes and theories are debated - so what good was it for me to go about my life blaming my uterus, when it was a disease causing my pain?
I see so many social media posts about hating our wombs, that our wombs are murdering us from the inside, that our wombs are possessed by the devil, that our bodies have let us down. Whilst I understand these messages - and please believe me I do and I still get angry with my body and have negative self-talk - I don't think these messages we are telling ourselves and our bodies are helpful. People and even plants respond to positive touch and words, why should our bodies be any different? We may think we're directing our hate and anger to just one place - our uteri - but we are our uteri, we are our bodies. Could it help if you began learning how to love your vagina instead?
The Impact of Negative Self Talk on the Body
When we tell ourselves we hate our wombs, we are hating a part ourselves. The brain and body responds to positivity and negativity - optimism and positivity have been shown to enhance health and well-being and prolong life, as well as provide protection against cardiovascular disease. Yet "anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans". Whilst positive emotions have also been shown to naturally enhance our ability to be resilient when facing difficulties - which we all need with endo! Even if you're not depressed or anxious, telling yourself over and over that you hate a part of yourself isn't going to make you feel stronger or support your general well-being. Repetitive negative self-talk can heighten stress levels and cause changes in the brain, creating a habit out of negative self-talk and making it easier to believe the bad stuff. The impact of negative self-talk on the body can lead to depression and anxiety and stress negatively affects endometriosis, often causing flare ups in many women.
So what's my alternative? I appreciate it's so hard to be positive when dysmenorrhea kicks in and maybe learning to love your vagina won't happen overnight. I'm not suggesting we walk around trying to deny the pain and tell ourselves we feel great. What I am trying to do personally is instead, show my body love. Instead of telling my body how much I hate it when I'm in pain, I send messages of support. I thank myself for being strong, if I can walk home from work, I thank my body for doing that, I promise my body a nice rest at the end, I tell myself how well I'm doing. I stop zooming in solely on how bad it feels - I try to zoom out and see what I am achieving or at least how I'm surviving, despite the pain.
We all like pampering ourselves, so if it's easier to begin with physical actions before you can change your thoughts, how about learning to love your vagina with some of these tips -
- Abdomen massage with magnesium oil - magnesium reduces muscle cramp and massages help alleviate stress and allow us to feel connected to our body. You don't need to be a masseuse, just spending some time gently massaging the area in a way that feels good and comfortable to you.
- Vaginal steam with yarrow - yarrow helps ease muscle cramp and heavy periods and the heat from the vaginal steam relaxes muscles and the mind. To find out on vaginal steaming and yarrow, listen to this awesome Forage Botanicals podcast interview with Kathie of Into The Wyld.
- Buy the jaw-dropping Vagina, by Naomi Wolf, which will blow your mind with her research on just how powerful the vagina is and just how connected we are to it. It hugely upped the level of respect and admiration I have for my uterus.
- Spend some time meditating on your womb, sending it healing light and energy. Or try connecting to your womb with this beautiful guide, again from Into The Wyld -
Start by finding some quiet time and space and lay down, a pillow under you head and one under your knees. Close your eyes and allow yourself to soften and relax as you breath deeply for several breaths. Place your hands flat, with thumbs and finger tips touching, creating a heart shape on your pubic bone but below your belly button, over your womb space. This is where she lies. As you breathe in, visualise that you are breathing in light, down through your heart and right down into your womb space. As you breathe out visualise the breath-light coming back up through your womb and your heart and then out again. Carry on for as long as you feel comfortable, creating a circuit of breath-light, relaxing into the practice and feeling your heart-womb connection. When you are ready to end, thank yourself for being present and when you are ready, open your eyes and have a nice stretch and a wiggle. Return to your daily life, carrying your experience with you.
What do you think? How do you show yourself love and care when you have severe period pain?