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MY VAGINA IS DUKHA?

Is any other human body cavity quite so laden with symbolic value, not to mention monetary worth, particularly for exclusive access? Even today, play your cards right and a vagina can mean all sorts of social rewards. In what other system of exchange can you trade exclusive access to an orifice for a lifetime of monetary support? 

Laura Kipnis, The Female Thing

 

I think my uterus is sticking out through my vagina. I can see something reddish jutting out when I pee. I WhatsApped my gynaecologist friend.

 

The pinkish, red-veined thing scared me.

 

In her clinic that afternoon, she made me spread my legs wide on her examining table and

I went through the dreaded pelvic exam. She stuck her gloved fingers into my vagina, then my rectum. She prodded and poked. I winced. Something hurt really bad.

 

Cough and relax, she said. Cough and just relax. RELAX, please!

 

I coughed. But relax?  How the hell do you relax with a gloved hand prodding and pressing your vagina and rectum?

 

Your rectum is hard. Are you constipated?

 

Yes, somewhat.

 

Your full rectum is putting pressure on the vaginal wall and the bladder.

 

She suggested a laxative for my rectum’s hard-on.

 

Eat lots of fibre.

 

I do.

 

Drink lots of water.

 

I do.

 

Go for walks.

 

I do.

 

Well, then there’s nothing wrong with you, she pronounced. Just take a laxative for two days.

 

I’ve been really depressed, I say.

 

Why?

 

Everything. I don’t know. Life? The pandemic. My mother passed away. Then, my beloved dog. I don’t know when I’ll see my daughters … my empty nest, I guess.

 

You miss them? Why? I don’t miss my daughters. If they were back living with you, they’d drive you crazy. They’d criticise you, tell you this has to be done this way, and that has to be done that way, and all that. Enjoy your time alone. You’re a writer. Write.

 

But what’s this throbbing pain I have around the tailbone? I said, feeling achy, naked, vulnerable, and unsettled.

 

Stop worrying. It’s not your uterus, she said.

 

Then?

 

It’s just your vaginal wall. The full rectum’s putting pressure on it.

 

Is that why it’s sticking out? I was scared to see it all red and swollen.

 

Weak pelvic floor muscles. Common in post-menopausal women.

 

Isn’t the vagina a hollow space?

 

It is. But it’s a muscle. It has walls, na?

 

Right! Will it always hang out like this? I asked, alarmed. I had always imagined the vagina as a nicely held-in receptacle.

 

It won’t. Start pelvic floor strengthening exercises. Kegels. Like you’re trying to stop peeing. Can you imagine pushing out the head of a baby through that narrow opening? Things just never go back to their original tightness after childbirth.

*****

Rewind thirty years.

 

I’m pushing pushing pushing till I can’t push anymore. For 13 back-shattering hours. Who can forget that sort of pushing? My daughter’s head barely peeped out through my vaginal opening even after 13 hours of trying to push her out. Everybody was sick of waiting, nobody more than me. So the doctor said consolingly, push once more and I’ll pull the baby out with forceps. She made a cut in my vaginal wall to help the baby emerge. I was totally exhausted. Bloodied. Relieved. Not thrilled at the miracle of birth; only relieved at the cessation of pain.      It felt more like having escaped death by torture just in the nick of time. Episiotomy sounds a lot better for the brutal cut I received and the slow healing that took weeks. Peeing and shitting were both hellish rituals for days. The doctor didn’t tell me anything about strengthening my weakened pelvic floor muscles. Maybe she forgot or thought I was pretty young and my pelvic floor muscles would just snap back into place, my vagina tight as ever.

 

Another pregnancy, another vaginal delivery, and still nobody mentioned strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.

 

Fast-forward three decades.

 

Another gynaecologist who is sort of a friend, though we don’t meet often. She’s a busy woman. But on the day I visited, she had no patients due to the lockdown. She was in the mood to talk and give me advice. I was sitting six feet away from her, and both of us were talking through face-masks.

 

Nighat, what do you look forward to in life?

 

I don’t know. To not get Covid? A good death without dependence on others?

 

Don’t worry about death. Death is not in your hands. What are your goals for your life?

 

A good death is one of my goals. What do you look forward to? I asked, trying to deflect attention from myself.

 

I want to be happy. I think it’s a crime to feel sad. I want to make as many people happy as I can. Even if it’s with a smile as I am walking down the aisles on my daily rounds.

 

Wow! I said.

 

Sadness, happiness, pain, pleasure, it’s all in the mind, she went on. The body keeps growing old, it’s the body that suffers. But we make that suffering mental because we become so attached to the body.

 

I miss being with my children.

 

Don’t. They’re not children anymore. Be happy they’re doing well. Your children are not your children. Your husband is not your husband, she said.

 

Really? Wow.

 

It’s true. Attachment is all in the mind. People think non-attachment is insensitive. But when you’re non-attached, you also set the other person free to become independent.

 

How right you are, I said. I didn’t think of it like that. It’s taken me so many years of reading and meditating to even begin to detach. I’m still not there, I said, pulling up my pants. I slid off the examining table, and folded the laxative prescription.

 

I keep feeling the urge to pee, I said. What’s that?

 

Oh, it’s all in your mind, she said. Just ignore it.

 

We should go to the baradari[1] sometime, I said as I was putting on my sandals. It’s lovely in the rainy season. We could sit there and watch the Ganga flow by and have tea. Did you know about this place?

 

No, I didn’t! she said.

 

I left her clinic triumphant that I at least knew something she didn’t, and wondering if the urge to pee and the burning pain in my butt was all in my mind and I was suffering because I was so damned attached to my bodily sensations.

 

 

*********

 

I am putting a diaper on my mother. She’s lying on the bed, insisting she doesn’t need a diaper, but I am more insistent than her. She’s unable to make it to the toilet, and watery stuff has been running out of her all day. She looks shaken and shrunken, trembling and twitching like a mouse. She doesn’t want to go to the doctor.

I’ll go tomorrow, she said weakly.

We have to go now, I say. Tomorrow is Sunday. The doctor won’t be there. Your appointment is for today.

She agreed because I was dictatorial. She refused to let me take off her underwear to put on the diaper. She was hanging on to vestiges of her dignity.

What’s the point of putting on a diaper on top of this? I said impatiently, but in the end I had to respect her wish.

With the help of the domestic help, I got Ammi dressed and diapered.

As we are walking towards the car, I tell Abba I’m taking Ammi to the doctor. He’s sitting in front of the TV watching a reality show and eating melon.

He’s unfazed: Tell the doctor to tell her to be careful with what she eats. She doesn’t listen.

He seemed so cool and calm. Not at all worried. And there I was worrying myself sick about what would happen if Ammi’s loose motions didn’t stop.

We arrived at the doctor’s clinic. I wheeled Ammi in a wheelchair and told them she wasn’t able to get to the bathroom,so they agreed to see her first.

She was not dehydrated, her pulse and BP were ok. Get her stool culture and stool test. Keep giving her probiotics. No antibiotics. Give her ORS. You can take her to a gastro-enterologist for a second opinion, he suggested. But they’ll want to do an endoscopy, he shrugged, as if to say, do you want her to go through all that at her age?

No, I decided. No, I don’t.

Ammi was able to keep down a little khichri that night. I gave her two sachets of probiotic, three hours apart. I went to her room at 3 am to check on her. She was fast asleep.

 

A few months later, tired of her eighty-one year old, ill-at-ease, non-cooperating body, Ammi decided to vacate it for good.

 

SHITTING IN MY PANTS

 

The body is dukha[2].

Aging is dukha.

Living is dukha.

Dying is dukha.

My vagina is dukha.

 

I swallowed 30ml of the liquid laxative as instructed by the gynaecologist and went to bed. I was rudely awakened by my growling, groaning, writhing gut.

 

I couldn’t believe my gut could hold so much shit. It just kept pouring out. I had lost control of my anal sphincter. Warm, foul-smelling, brown, semi-liquid shit kept coming out as if it had a will of its own. On my underwear, on my pants, on my thighs, on the bathroom floor. That night, I thought of Ammi many times. I spent hours washing my body, washing the soiled clothes, the bathroom floor. My hands turned paper rough. Spraying bleach and disinfectant. Flushing the toilet countless times.

 

Bodily trials make you forget everything else. I didn’t miss anybody. I was just grateful that I had a bathroom of my own and nobody else had to see or smell my shit. Grateful that I had running water to wash all those things and flush the toilet so many times. I was so full of shit, it wasn’t funny.

 

Around 4.30am I made the last loo trip. I peered into the toilet bowl thinking I was shitting blood. But upon closer examination it turned out to be watermelon. The sweet, juicy watermelon at dinnertime transformed into red flakes after it’s journey through my alimentary canal.

 

I  am scolding Ammi. Why do you eat watermelon? Look, it’s all come out in your pajamas. You know it doesn’t agree with you.

 

Ammi gets defensive. I ate only a few pieces.

 

After my last evacuation, which included squished watermelon, I apologised to Ammi’s spirit for making insensitive remarks to her.

 

When I was totally emptied out, the only other thing that could possibly come out of my gut was my gut. My uterus,though, was still peeping out. Correction: My dheela-dhala (loose) vaginal wall was peeping out. My head swam from no sleep. I swallowed a tranquiliser. How else could I get over the ghastly night spent in purgatory. Still no sleep. I opened the book I was reading, which serendipitously happened to be May Sarton’s novel (As We Are Now) about old age and the abuse experienced by older adults in an old age home. What May wrote about old age applies equally well to aging vaginas:

 

The trouble is old age is not interesting until one gets there. It’s a foreign country with an unknown language to the young and even to the middle-aged.” Older vaginas are also not interesting until one gets to have one.

 

The Buddha said the body was dukha. The body was dukha 2,500 years ago, and, notwithstanding the fantastic advances made in cosmetic surgery since the Buddha’s time, the body is still dukha. Is this the vagina that turns on men to the point where they are ready to pay huge sums for exclusive access? The right to exclusive access, for which duels have been fought, vaginas forcefully violated, even wars waged? My vagina that night didn’t look worth all that trouble. It did look scared, and in need of gentle care and tenderness.

 

I googled vagina, rectum, bladder. They are stacked together in a narrow space. Such compactness. All held in place by the pelvic floor muscles. So if my hard, constipated rectum presses against my vaginal wall and bladder, I am likely to feel the urge to pee more often. And I may see my vaginal wall poking out when I pee if my weakened pelvic floor muscles can’t hold it all in place compactly.

 

VAGINA  REJUVENATION

 

Another thing my gynaecologist friend mentioned was to tell me how lucky I was that I didn’t have to worry about forced sex.

 

Do you know how many post-menopausal women come to me, she said, so upset that their vaginas are dry, and when their husbands insist on having sex how painful it is for them. They don’t enjoy it at all. On top of that, their husbands complain about their dry and loose vaginas.

 

As post-menopausal, post-childbirth women with saggy, loose and dry vaginas, what are we waiting for? If one’s husband is not happy with one’s vagina, and can shell out the moolah

(vaginoplasty will set you back or ahead, depending on your point of view, by Rs 60-80 K. If you combine labiaplasty with vaginoplasty, you can also get your labia to look more sexy, by shelling out 30-50 K extra), why not go for it? It’s a small price to pay for tautness. And  enhanced sexual pleasure.

 

Whose pleasure? Your man’s, of course. Just think how pleased he’s going to be with your surgically tightened, rejuvenated vagina,  that will fit his penis like a glove. And this thought alone should give you the courage to undergo vagina rejuvenation. Isn’t vicarious sexual pleasure good enough for you? Think of all the compliments you’ll receive in bed.

 

And while you’re at it, why not tuck in other unsightly, bulging, saggy bits? The belly-fat you haven’t been able to shed no matter how many hours you spend at the gym? Saggy breasts? Furrowed forehead? Saggy double chin? Saggy, lined cheeks? A little botox jab can smoothen  and plump them up. A redesigned you in just a few minutes and you don’t even need anaesthesia!

 

One woman, who underwent laser treatment to rejuvenate her vagina, gushes about tightening her vagina as the ultimate act of self-love. “Most notably,” she writes, “it’s supposed to make sex feel incredible.” Am not sure for whom. “As for whether I felt tighter, I didn’t notice a difference, but, again, I was told it usually takes up to three procedures to feel a firmer grip on your partner’s penis. My husband’s response: ‘It felt amazing.’”

 

Amazing, how educated women don’t worry about the known side-effects of vaginoplasty. With laser tightening, you don’t experience those nasty side-effects. But the vaginoplasty websites are required to mention the potential side-effects by law. Things like post-surgical bleeding, fistulas, urinary retention, scarring, infections, pain and discomfort during sex, decreased sensitivity and vaginal prolapse, shouldn’t scare you away from the procedure. Although one has to wonder about decreased sensitivity and pain during intercourse. Isn’t the whole point of vaginal rejuvenation enhancing sexual pleasure and sensitivity?

 

It does make me ask whose side God is on. Males in need of penis-rejuvenation have only to swallow a Viagra pill, an hour before contemplating coitus. And the cost? About Rs 20/pill. Why do womyn get a raw deal with everything? Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, vaginal rejuvenation.

 

Ok, so what’s the point? 

 

The point seems to be to foster genuine self-regard for our ageing bodies, including our vaginas. In a marketplace rife with cosmetic surgery options that promise to redesign almost every part of your body, this is not an insignificant leap of faith to make. Ageing vaginas in ageing female bodies are joked about. But a vagina shouldn’t have the task of pleasing anybody but itself first. To begin with, we’ll have to love and respect our vaginas in order to pleasure them. Love them just as they are. If they feel a little dry, don’t despair. Use a lubricant or a little coconut oil. If my labia are unshapely, they’re still my labia and respond very nicely to gentleness and tenderness. If I don’t love and respect my ageing body, in need of gentle, loving, patient care, then who will, for God’s sake?

Maybe by popping into my view my reticent vagina wanted to remind me what genuine self-regard is. As to whose side God is on, She’s on the side of all people with vaginas. She never asked us to alter the shape or size or tautness of our vaginas to suit societal expectations.

May Sarton called old age a disguise that the young couldn’t see through because the real person was concealed behind wrinkles and other seeming horrors of ageing:

Old age is really a disguise that no one but the old themselves see through. I feel exactly as I always did, as young inside as when I was twenty-one, but the outward shell conceals the real me—sometimes even from itself—and betrays that person deep down inside, under wrinkles and liver spots and all the horrors of decay. I sometimes think that I feel things more intensely than I used to, not less.

I think I can safely say the same about my vagina. Hidden under its apparent dilapidatedness, its capacity to feel pleasure and pain is as intense as it always was.

 

[1] Baradari is a pavilion with twelve doors to allow free circulation of air. ‘Bara’ means twelve  in Hindi/Urdu, and ‘dar’ means door.  Hence, baradari.

[2] Dukha is the Buddhist concept of unsatisfactoriness with life as it is; dukha causes  suffering, anxiety and mental anguish. And to ward off dukha, we seek various distractions in the world.

Cover Image: Pixabay

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Article written by:

Nighat Gandhi is a writer and psychotherapist. Her most recent collection of short stories is :WAITING (Zubaan, Delhi, 2019).

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