My Mother Would Be Horrified

As a child, I was guilty of speaking my mind without thought to what others might think and as a very inquisitive child, this horrified my mother. Very little made me uncomfortable, and everything intrigued me. I was always eager to learn, and always asking questions. Social norm didn’t occur to me, and I was completely unfamiliar with peer pressure. I asked hard questions, without appreciation for whether such discussion was appropriate or not. I don’t mean to say that I humiliated my mother as a child. Rather, I genuinely shamed her.

Certainly my character required discipline as I grew older, but I have learned to appreciate this particular attribute in myself. Serving women in such an intimate way, as a midwife, puts me in a unique position. I am privy to very private thoughts, concerns and experiences. I am not uncomfortable or embarrassed. Rather, I am honored that women trust me with their secrets, those which are otherwise shrouded in mystery, or even shamed. My mother, having been born in the late 50’s did not tolerate such discussion, or thinking. It just wasn’t talked about, and I was quickly hushed if I were to engage. This leads to feelings of rejection. So, this blog is dedicated to her… a sharing of questions I am frequently asked during an average clinic day.

What do you teach your children to call their private parts?

There is likely no right or wrong answer here, but I teach my children that their arm is their arm, their thigh is their thigh, and their penis is called a penis. I do remind them to wash “their privacy” in the tub, because while taking baths together, I want to remind them to keep their penises to themselves which little boys aren’t always inclined to do.

Why is it that sometimes I smell fishy?

This is an infection that many women suffer, called bacterial vaginosis. Unfortunately, many women assume this is nothing more than a hygiene issue. Some tolerate it, or maybe change their underwear more frequently, while others douche fairly regularly in attempt to decease the odor. I have to restrain myself from pulling a woman aside in a public restroom after she has left the stall and an intense odor consumes me. Does she know this can be rectified? You don’t have to suffer with this odor.

It is typically more potent after sex or at the end of the day. Any disruption in your normal vaginal flora can cause an overgrowth of the bad bacteria, creating the fishy odor. Sex with a new partner, more frequent sex, or even less frequent sex can cause an imbalance. Some women have bacterial vaginosis, or more simply called BV, after their menses and many suffer this fate after a round of antibiotics. Often we haven’t any identifiable cause, although pregnancy and childbirth are other common causes. My standard recommendation is yogurt therapy, but if this is a routine scenario every month, I suggest Chasteberry because it is likely related to a hormonal imbalance.

Will breastfeeding make my boobs droop?

Nope, but pregnancy will make them increase in size and following pregnancy and lactation they will “involute” like an inflating balloon and sag to some degree. Age will do the same.

How should I prepare myself for a pap smear?

Most shower, some trim, and the overly eager woman may spritz on a little fragrance prior to the pelvic exam. Beyond the shower though, no extra fuss is really required, and those who douche should really not. This not only negatively affects pap results, but when your vagina is that squeaky clean, it can be rather difficult to advance the speculum with gentleness. Instead, the plastic will stick to the vagina walls in spite of our lubrication, your discomfort will be greatly enhanced.

Another little piece of advice, avoid the cheap toilet paper in your physician’s office. It always leaves behind wades of paper in the nether regions. This is another reason to choose Believe Midwifery Services, LLC. We invest in high quality toilet paper so you aren’t dangling bits of white paper when you present for your pelvic exam! Yes, we care that much.

Have you ever had a client lose their tampon?

Yep. Several. It happens. Don’t be embarrassed, but don’t wait for it to fall out though once you’ve realized your tampon is beyond reach, because it gets more and more fragrant the longer you wait and although your nurse-midwife or physician will be very compassionate and sympathetic, after extraction you might be abandoned in the exam room as the odor disperses. Yes, this can be a shocking aroma.

I can’t stand the smell of my husband when he is aroused.

This isn’t uncommon when a woman is pregnant. There are very few aromas women can tolerate. My best suggestion is to add an essential oil or lotion to your upper lip for the few minutes that require distraction, or engage in intimate acts within the shower. This position is also favorable to pregnancy, although be cautious not to slip!

What is the purpose of pubic hair?

I remember once getting a pap smear at Planned Parenthood several years ago and getting a ten minute lecture about pubic hair from the nurse practitioner. Either she had seen a lot of crazy, or she was stuck in a routine of teaching the same material, because she was informing me that waxing, dying, piercing and tattooing my genitals was unhealthy. Clearly, she didn’t look up to see that I was a mother of five and most certainly didn’t have time for that kind of excitement. Her teaching was wasted on me and I felt saddened that this advance practice nurse failed to make any connection with her client, or extend any facet of individualized care, but she did have a point. Pubic hair does serve a purpose. The vagina is a delicate organ that requires some protection. Like eyelashes, pubic hair can help ward off infections. However, one of the more interesting rationales I’ve heard is that the pubic hair (and hair under the arms) traps pheromones, attracting potential mates, and not just any mate but ones with “specific genetics, promoting biologic diversity for the purpose of creating stronger, more genetically healthy offspring who are better to ward of disease” (Rankin, 2010, p 35).

What if I prefer to shave my pubic hair?

To each their own! However, keep in mind shaving has a few drawbacks. Razor burn. Ingrown hairs. Itching. Burning. Regrowth. If you shave, do so with well prepared skin, either soaked first in a tub or with a plentiful supply of shaving cream, and a sharp razor. Go with the grain when shaving. Use a loofa afterwards to remove dead skin cells that clog pores, and then you might try aloe or witch hazel afterwards for cooling.

Why is it the area where my pubic hair grows puffy, or my inner labia longer than my outer labia, or why is there hair around my bum?

While there are more similarities in women’s genitalia than differences, we are all very unique. The mons pubis (puffy area where pubic hair grows) is a fat pad of sorts, with some being more fluffy than others. If you have gained weight, you will likely gain weight here and even along your labia majora. This is the same as breasts. We all store weight a little differently. Sweat gland distribution is also unique to our ancestry and genetics. If you have more sweat glands through your perineum and along your bum, you will have pubic hair here too.

Inner and outer labia offer their own unique traits. Some women’s outer labia completely covers their inner labia, while others have inner labia (inner lips) that hang longer than the outer. Some women even have one labia that hangs longer than the other inner labia, appearing somewhat lopsided. This is all completely normal. Women often ask me about the look of their vagina too, especially following childbirth. It is common, and normal, for the vagina to lay a little open after birthing a child. The tone will never be the same, although perineal muscle exercises can do wonders!

Why is it that my wife’s hymen broke in labor? That doesn’t speak well of me, does it?

It is a misconception that the hymen is a door or a passageway that must be burst through at the time of first intercourse. I like to think of it more as a ring. This tissue is thicker when we are young, to protect our delicate areas from infection before our ovaries are producing vaginal thickening estrogen. As we get older, the hymen is less prominent; however, it isn’t necessarily a one time scenario of hymen perforation.

I like to tell a story about my little sister to explain this phenomenon. (My family is going to be so very thrilled to read this post.) My little sister had a pair of underwear when she was quite young that she especially favored. As she grew older, the elastic bands around her legs grew tighter. Not wanting to depart with these panties, she rather ingeniously took a pair of scissors and cut little slits in the elastic so they would stretch a little farther. Translate this to the hymen, and we can understand that a few minor tears may be necessary for intercourse, and then with the birth of one’s first child, a few more tears may be required to further enlarge this opening.

My husband and I had little to no exposure to discussions about intimacy or our bodies prior to getting married, and are quite honestly, lost when we try to explore down there.

Join our sexuality series!! This is a safe place to talk about much more intimate issues that all women wonder, and are afraid to ask. Men too! We have one class for couples, and another specific to just women. However, there is no shame in sneaking away in the bathroom or your bedroom, with a mirror and taking a good look around.

Being a midwife isn’t about vaginas and boobs, in spite of the focus of this blog post. It is about people, about women. We all want to know that we are normal. I hope this post offers some reassurance that we are all unique, and beautiful, and it’s okay to ask questions. If you are curious about your anatomy, about intimacy and sexual disorders, menses, child-spacing, understanding your cycle, vaginal health, fertility, or menopause, please join our sexuality series!!

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2 responses to “My Mother Would Be Horrified”

  1. Elle Zakou

    I love this post!! It’s fantastic. Very well written and to the point. I deal with many
    “Embarrassing” topics also as a nurse in geriatrics. I often forget that some do not want to talk about certain topics because I am so open myself. Some view it as taboo. Thank you for sharing with us topics that most patients won’t even ask about.

  2. Kristina Michael, CNM

    Can’t say how much I appreciate this blog post! A woman’s body is amazingly created and I feel so privileged to be able to help women optimize their femininity and health. One of my favorite parts of my job is to listen these “embarrassing” questions and be able to help women understand their bodies better. Thanks, Dr. Lane, for posting this!

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