emily's lessons about trauma, not from a book

I’ve been really fascinated to read other people’s experience with IUDs – both good and bad. It seems like there is a great deal of variability in women’s experiences and also in the approaches that different medical providers take to inserting it. Thanks everybody for commenting!

I’ve spent the last week with gradually diminishing cramps; at this point it just feels like a bad period, manageable with meds. It turns out that a judicious combination of naproxen and alcohol is the most effective approach – not good in the long term, but it’ll do for the time being.

The whole experience has given me a much more profound empathy into the experience of survivors of all forms of genital trauma, especially childbirth. Everything from sexual violence to childbirth, the vagina, cervix, and uterus are targets for pain, but there’s a cultural paradox around more-or-less voluntary physiological trauma like IUD placement or (more significantly) childbirth, where you experience it with full consent and even appreciation, but your body really doesn’t know the difference between that and, say, being shot.

I’ve taught about the changes that come with motherhood – physical exhaustion combined with emotional upheaval combined with the potential for tearing, scarring, and sensitivity – that can cause a woman’s interest in sex to take a nose dive. But before my IUD placement, I don’t think I adequately appreciated the ways that the juggernaut of childbirth could transform a woman’s relationship with her vagina, altering her entire body’s feelings about her pelvis and genitals.

See, by Sunday afternoon I was thinking clearly enough to notice a kind of “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS” mental block around my entire pelvis. My brain was definitely in self-protection mode, after just the small, brief trauma of having the uterus penetrated with something less than half an inch in diameter.

With childbirth, the fundamental MEANING of those body parts would change, from sexual to… well, women with different cultural backgrounds/baggage would construct different narratives to account for it, but essentially, they’d be transformed into a lockbox.

If motherhood were vital to your identity and sex never was, you might view your genitals and pelvis as sacred and untouchable. You might view yourself just as a mother and not as a subject of sexual experience.

If you always enjoyed sex and want to continue enjoying it, you might experience the lockdown as “being broken,” a symptom of damage that will go away once the baby sleeps through the night, once the baby stops breastfeeding, once the baby is in daycare, once the baby goes to school… waiting for the life event that will unlock the door, when in fact the lock is triggered not by external events but by internal processing of the physiological trauma.

Like, my sister IM’d me just now to tell me that she’s cooking “tasty chicken thighs” for dinner. And just the word “thighs” made me lock up a little bit inside. If my minuscule little IUD experience can slam on my psychophysiological brakes to such an extent, what might happen inside the embodied mind of a mother?

I’ll be going to a couple somatic experiencing sessions to move through the physiological trauma. I know enough about this process that I could probably do the work on my own, but having the guidance and supportive of a practitioner gives focus and intensity to the process.

So I guess some advice: if you’ve experienced any kind of genital trauma, whether voluntary like IUD placement that goes poorly or childbirth, or involuntary, like sexual assault, the key to reversing that “lockdown” experience (what are other useful ways to describe it?) is to grieve, to listen to what your body knows, to move all the way through the stress response cycle, allow it to complete, so that your body can relax and begin creating a new meaning.

Also, use lube. I cannot stress this enough.