Whenever I tell people the story of my vagina (which I inevitably do, I always do) I start with this; the smallest tampon... I start. Then, I drop in a fact: Before I gave birth it was a huge struggle to get the smallest of tampons inside of me. Oh yeah. The smallest of the tampons.
Here is a story about that: Before I got pregnant I was a stripper. You strip to make money and you don't let a monthly reminder of your fading fertility put a stop to that. If you find yourself working the strip club on your period then you must remove the blue string. A stripper will be spreading her legs, wide. To have the blue string hanging out would be niche. You want money? Niche is not the way to go in a strip club.
Cut. Off. That. String.
Then you do the test. You spread your legs as wide as you can for your fellow strippers, they don't mind.
Tampon spot check.
Can you see it? No? Get on that stage girl.
* * *
My gynaecologist invites the nurse over to take a look. She looks down, then into my eyes trying to suss out if she can tell the absolute truth. My look to her tells her she can't. Please don't, my eyes say. I- already- know- the-truth.
She sticks to the facts, I like those; "There is a lot of scarring. You've...had a tough time...down there. Um, I can see trauma."
The doctor keeps things positive "But you've seen worse, haven't you nurse?"
She doesn't pause "Oh yeah, oh...yeah."
* * *
12 weeks pregnant: I am told that I will be having a C-section. At 10 weeks I fled an abusive relationship and would be living my pregnant life within the confines of a safe house. The first two weeks of my stay is a constant assessment of both my mental and physical well being; social workers, psychiatrists, midwives, gynaecologists, police officers, solicitors, key workers, housing officers.
The verdict: Too depressed, too fragile, too weak to push. My pregnancy is deemed high risk. I'm told a caesarean would be taking place at 38 weeks.
The gynaecologist - she jokes; you're too small to get a baby out of that thing anyway!
I have a story about that, I tell her. I tell her the story; it's 5am at the strip club and I've been on shift since 6pm. I have over a grand in £20 notes spilling out of my purse and at no point have I had an opportunity to change my tampon. I explain about the missing blue string and the doctor seems to understand when I explain how hard it is to remove this 11th hour string-less tampon whilst wearing acrylic nails.
And I was crying in the changing room, the house mum and all the other strippers trying to comfort me.
Tonight was the night I would die of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Only I didn't.
Two beautiful old timers sat me on a sofa in the corner of the changing room, they spread my legs and yanked the soaked pad from within me. They cheered. "It's a blood soaked tampon" they declared and threw it at the face of a security guard.
The doctor nodded like it was a story she had heard a thousand times and said "I think if you gave birth naturally it would be of great harm to you physically...and mentally."
A C-section would be happening at 38 weeks. Done deal.
* * *
Something went wrong at roughly 30 weeks, not with me and not with my baby but the midwife who I had seen seeing every Friday since my 12 week scan. Disappeared. Taken sick. Her replacement listened to my baby's heartbeat, then she examined my stomach then a wave of concern crossed her face. She ran off to get a second opinion.
Breech she said. You'll need another scan and a caesarean. Its ok I said; I'm already having one.
* * *
34 weeks: The scan. My new consultant briefs me on the C-section and provisionally books me in for 23 September 2010. My daughter will be born on 23 September 2010. During the scan she tells me that my baby is no longer breech, no need for a major operation! I can give birth naturally, you can go back to your birth plan.
This is my birth plan.
Change your birth plan.
11 October 2010: My daughter made her entrance via my vagina, back when you could still call it that.
One minute before her arrival the doctor said: "There is no way this baby is going to come out naturally. We haven't got time to prep theatre. Cash, I'm going to slice your vagina, are you ok with that?"
Thank you, I say. Thank you. Slice my vagina all of it. My vagina it means nothing to me. Just give me my baby.
And she is here and she is safe and healthy and I love her. Life is complete.
45 minutes later and I come around on a slab in the theatre. They are saving my vagina.
Three days later and I am home, with my little love. Beginning motherhood. I do not feel the loss of my vagina at this point.
Gained a daughter, lost a vagina.
These things happen. Fourth degree tears. It means my vagina and my arse are one hole. They tried their best to stitch it up but it wasn't really very successful and I'm just... one hole.
I am a David Cronenberg creation.
* * *
It's almost five years since I gave birth. The really big tampons, you know the ones? They just... fall out of me. It happened to me, in the swimming pool. I had stuffed the biggest widest tampon I could find in order to take my daughter swimming and I kept the blue string attached. As we left the pool it... just fell out of me. It fell out of me. Everyone saw. All the other mums and dads saw.
I picked it up and stuffed it in my towel, but everyone saw.
* * *
In the strip club my vagina was a spectacle now it is suitable for the freak show.
Presenting the One Holed Woman.
My physiotherapist asks me how my 'vagina' feels. How does it feel?
Well...physically I feel nothing. It is a numb place. In autumn when the wind blows I fear returning home with a dozen crisp leaves inside of me. Random objet d'art just appearing up there. How did THAT get up there?! I say. She doesn't understand.
It feels big, I say. I say it feels like my sexuality has been stolen. I say, I have not had sex in over 5 years.
It feels like... nothing.
The people in the room take a closer look.
And that is the story of how I lost my vagina.
'How I Lost My Vagina' has been shortlisted by Lionel Shriver for Best Writer at the Mumsnet Blogging Awards 2015.