I really hated my OB/Gyn rotation as a medical student. It was all women residents, and all women patients, and all women nurses, so I thought, nothing good can come of so much estrogen in one place, both flowing from the patients and oozing from the doctors and emanating from nurses. There were a few exceptions. One of the notable few was the chief resident – what the heck was his name? – who was like a bossy important solitary rooster among many clucking hens. Not saying the women were hens, just saying he acted like they were, and he was their cock. I mean, rooster. It didn’t help that he was very handsome, and very aware of that.
Gosh, I really hated that rotation. I’ve always found the whole conception/birthing process extremely embarrassing and unjust – and still do, to some degree. I mean, women are at risk for so many things with childbearing, from stretch marks and weight gain to liver toxemia, heart failure and, well, DEATH, for example, and all just for fulfilling their supposed biological purpose! Not to mention, starting at the moment that second pink line appears on the peestick in your hand, you cease to be yourself, becoming instead a factory, a physiological machine, a vessel with tubes, fluids and toxic waste, all to be measured, recorded and charted, for the greater good of the product. I had no acceptance of the “mysticism” of the pathway to motherhood. No magic to it; just biology, and not pleasant biology at that – everything that comes after the moment of conception, that is. Plus, once you’re pregnant, you’re all out there. Stomach, boobs, acromegalic nose, belly button–all of it–and everyone knows exactly what you did, WHEN you did it, and what’s going on inside you right now. Just… embarrassing.
So, seeing laboring women, bored husbands and all sorts of complications… It wasn’t good for me. Although, to be fair, when the baby would emerge from a messy playing field, all grey, and slimy, sliding out like some sort of alien, like a shapeshifter, and within seconds turn pink and become a little human being… all pissed off and screaming… my mask fogged up invariably, in spite of myself.
The first delivery I watched was traumatic to say the least. The young woman was a Vietnamese primey (primagravida = first baby), which means everything could be more difficult. The husband was in the room, but decidedly uncomfortable with the whole thing, and really, I don’t blame him. After, what, 3 hours of pushing, the attending decided it was time for desperate measures, and called for the forceps.
Now, the forceps, when invented back in the 1500s, revolutionized obstetrics, with the potential to save mothers and babies alike. In the tradition of justice in medicine, they were kept a secret from the dirty masses, and only used for the Royals for like a century and a half, but that is beside the point. The point is that the contraption has not changed very much since it was invented, and still pretty much looks like a torture instrument, its true purpose notwithstanding. I mean, it is made up of parts called “shank,” “blade,” and “handle” for goodness sake.
So, they brought out the forceps, and it was like that old Russian story about pulling the turnip out of the ground. Grandpa grabs the turnip, Grandma grabs Grandpa, Granddaughter grabs Grandma, doggy grabs Granddaughter, kitty grabs doggy, mouse grabs kitty…. and the all pull as hard as they can… and the baby falls out into another medical student’s trembling embrace. Like, POP!
The med student then retreated unsteadily to the pediatricians, who’d examine and dress the baby, and the rest of us were left to assess and repair the damage to the mom’s “area.”
Asian women have short perineums, I was told. (What the hell even IS that?!) They often get tears. (Oh gad) And did she ever! I’ll spare you any more of the details; suffice it to say, I was absolutely traumatized and horrified. I stood there, mouth agape (no pun intended), and I think, I may have involuntarily released some utterance, like “Oh my god…” or some such.
The rooster chief then bestowed upon me the following pearl of wisdom:
“Don’t worry. The vagina is a very forgiving organ. It’ll be back in business in no time.”
Nice, right? It’s a vote of confidence for the vagina! When I was trying to get pregnant, and doing fertility treatments (which, fortunately, turned out to be fertility treatment lite, just an IUI), I kept repeating that to myself. It’s a forgiving organ! It’s a forgiving organ.
But also, I didn’t realize that the vagina was in business or out of business or in any way involved in business either before, during, or after childbirth? I was already kind of crossing my legs after watching this delivery, and after he said that I just wanted to put an extra loincloth over my scrubs, just for an additional layer of protection! From the world!
But even so, I’d still prefer that to what I heard sometime later, from someone in my own department! We were reading up on a novel surgical technique, called NOTES, which stands for Natural Orifice something something surgery. You’ve seen the stories of trans-vaginal appendectomies? Meaning they pull the appendix out through the vagina? That’s what it is. And why not. I mean, you can basically pull an eight pound parasite out through the vagina, so a tiny little vestigial piece of intestine is nothing. Anyway, my colleague said, “I think transvaginal is the way of the future. All that minimally invasive surgery, gallbladders, appendices, all of that will be done through the vagina.”
So, I said, “Well, the vagina is a really forgiving organ.”
And he says, “Is the vagina really an organ? Isn’t an organ solid? Isn’t a vagina just an empty space?”
So, now, unlike its very solid (if you’re lucky) male counterpart, it’s not even an organ, despite its forgiving nature, and all of its various uses, including the novel surgical access point. It’s an empty space.
Eff you, a**hole. By the way, also an organ AND an empty space.