I t’s been six years since I made love with my husband. Six years since we had our daughter. It’s obvious that the two things are connected but not in the way that most people including doctors assume. A lot of jokes are made about never wanting to have sex again after you’ve been through labour but they don’t make me laugh because it’s true for me, it’s far too painful. It’s too painful even to be touched down there, even to use toilet paper never mind a tampon, so as for sex, forget it. But the problem is there’s nothing to see so everyone just thought it was in my mind and some even laughed because they said everyone feels like that after childbirth but it will go away. It hasn’t gone away and it’s not just in my mind.
It took five years of doctors finding nothing and me being angry and frustrated before I got diagnosed with vestibulodynia. It means that the area inside my labia but not inside my vagina, in other words not the whole vulva, has got an overgrowth of nerve endings and they are too sensitive. That explains why every single touch is painful, but no one knows why it happened after I gave birth. And there isn’t a lot that can be done about it, so it’s still too painful to consider sex. That’s devastating for us as a couple because we wanted four children, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough now to have another even if we do manage to have sex.
At least we know what’s wrong now. At first I was given treatment for thrush even though I had no discharge or itch – I think now that they were just fobbing me off because they couldn’t see anything wrong. But the thrush treatment made the pain even worse, so I refused to have that again. Even so, I still kept being told that there was nothing wrong, because there was nothing to see so everyone assumed it was in my mind and told me to relax, have a hot bath and a massage and lots of foreplay and lubricant and of course we tried all that but even when I was really turned on the pain still made sex impossible. We both got quite depressed about it, so then it really was in my mind as well as in my body.
Next thing I got was steroids, again I think I was being fobbed off – it’s like steroids and thrush treatment are ways to make someone go away. But I kept going back until eventually I think they just got fed up with me and sent me to a gynaecologist to make me go away. Lucky for me, this time it was the right thing to do.
It’s a relief to be taken seriously, that’s one thing. Treatment so far hasn’t really worked but it’s helped so it’s giving me hope. Local anaesthetic cream is good, it helps when I have to walk or sit down for a long time – at home I lie on the sofa to watch TV. It also means I can use tampons which is actually such a relief because pads made everything worse by rubbing, some brands have quite rough surfaces.
I have been given a set of dilators, which don’t look very appealing at all, they are horrible pink plastic, they’re like a set of tools rather than something to give pleasure. But they come as a set of different sizes which is useful because I was nervous to use them so I was able to start with the smallest, thinnest one along with the anaesthetic and I discovered that once it was inside there was no pain in there, so at least that’s given me hope. I was worried that I’d be in agony inside and out.
We’re being referred to psychosexual counselling because another problem is that this is now in my mind as well as my body. When you have pain like this all the time, you become afraid of the pain so you try to do everything to avoid it and you can’t really, when just sitting down can be uncomfortable. The gynaecologist said it’s normal for the fear of the pain to make you tense up if you try to have sex, and there’s stuff they can do to help with that.
I’ve also got Amitriptyline, which is an antidepressant but it’s used in a lower dose than if you’re depressed and it works as a painkiller by blocking the way the hypersensitive nerves communicate with my brain. I took a bit of persuading about that. I’ve spent so long fighting the idea that this is in my mind that it was a proper blow when antidepressants were mentioned, I was like, no way! I thought you were taking me seriously, I’m not depressed and this isn’t in my mind. Mind you it’s a miracle I’m not depressed after all this, but I put that down to the fact that we’ve got an amazing little girl who has brought so much joy into our lives, she keeps me smiling every day no matter what the pain is like.
Hopefully the counselling will do something, it will be a few months before we get an appointment but we have waited six years, so I can wait a bit more. I’d say the amitriptyline has helped a bit, and the anaesthetic too, and so have the dilators. I feel like I am making progress apart from anything else, but also I think the pain is more under control. It gives me hope. And I need hope because if these things don’t work, then the doctors say that surgery to remove the parts with too many nerve endings is an option and that’s really drastic so I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I am quite desperate so I would consider it.
I can’t understand why having a baby would cause this, and it’s really frustrating that no one knows what causes it. What if there is something pretty simple that happens and could be prevented? Maybe I’m going to get parts of me cut off so that I will never be the same again, and it doesn’t need to happen. Or maybe I’d have the surgery and have another baby and the nerves could overgrow again, and then there’s nothing left to cut away.
I’m lucky that my husband is kind and gentle and we have always been able to talk about anything. He was the one who believed me when others thought it was in my mind, and he knows it’s not just because I don’t want to have sex, so he has no problems with feeling rejected. Disappointed, yes, but we are both sad and disappointed. And the same time we are delighted with our little girl. I’d have to say she was worth it :)