“Tampon adverts used to make me feel like I was dying inside”
I used to think that only period-having-baby-making-vagina-owners were women, and that the red flow that turned up in your knickers as a teenager defined entering womanhood. When I found out I had MRKH, I also found out I had an underdeveloped vagina and no womb, and that I would never have a period. I felt lost and confused about my existence in this world as a woman.
At 15 years old, I could see that all my friends were excited about their periods, but I could also sense that periods were inconvenient… and pretty awkward to talk about. My friend once leaked all over our classroom table. There was blood everywhere and she was in floods of tears, bursting with embarrassment. I helped her hide it and clear it up. But despite having witnessed this and other experiences as a teenager, I was still desperate to have a period. I firmly wanted to be part of the bleeding club.
I knew I had a vulva, a clitoris and boobs, but something didn’t seem quite right since every girl I knew had a monthly bleed. At 15, we were all talking about contraception. I would avoid any period conversation, which in turn meant I didn’t know much about them. I started to get frustrated with my body for being different, and started to pretend I had a period each month. But, my lack of knowledge meant I would forget when my fake periods were supposed to be, how long I was supposed to be on for and how long a tampon-inserting-toilet trip was supposed to last. My non-periods were a huge inconvenience to my growth as a confident woman. Instead, I was anxious, confused and felt worthless because my body was not complying to societal norms. I felt like my absent periods, coupled with the fact that I knew I would never carry a child, defined my incompleteness. I remember my first period story because it was the day I decided to pretend my body was something it wasn’t. Ultimately, it was the day I decided my body wasn’t good enough.
I remember actually trying to insert one of my mum’s tampons into my confusing vaginal canal, which didn’t seem to end up anywhere other than surrounded by its own walls.
I remember actually trying to insert one of my mum’s tampons into my confusing vaginal canal, which didn’t seem to end up anywhere other than surrounded by its own walls. I just wanted to see what it all felt like, so I would feel more comfortable talking about them. But it was an awful experience – I didn’t know what lube was then! I tried to have sex a few times too; I was really putting my body to the test. This was all before I knew what was going on for me and after a while, pretending wasn’t cutting it anymore. Sex resulted in the only vaginal blood I had ever experienced and I knew it was time to figure out what was happening with my body, so I went to my GP. I had scans and internal examinations, and found out that my body was one of 1 in 5,000 people worldwide who have Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome (MRKH). What it means is that I was born with an underdeveloped reproductive system – I’ll never have a period, I have an underdeveloped internal vagina, no uterus (or tiny remnants of a uterus, which I call my uterine horns!) and no cervix. As a teenager, I went through a process to stretch my vagina called dilating – essentially, this was holding white, clinical dildo-looking things into my vagina with pressure every morning and night for three months.
When I’d watch tampon adverts, they used to make me feel like I was dying inside. I would immediately feel my face going redder than any bleeding girl’s knickers. These adverts were always an instant reminder of my body and I worried immediately that the family member next to me would be thinking about my vagina – my stigmatised mind spiralled for any period or pregnancy test advert, and I was always aware of the fact that I had MRKH. Always.
As I have ovaries, I do ovulate monthly. It was only actually a couple of years ago that I realised a pattern. While I still don’t have periods, I noticed that at the beginning of every month my boobs would feel sore and swollen, I would have mild tummy cramps and my emotions would be all over the place. My birthday is on the first week of the month and I’m pretty sure I cry on every birthday, no matter what! My boyfriend was actually the one who noticed my invisible period symptoms. Now, I would love to track my periods properly and I didn’t even know this was possible until recently. The conversation surrounding ovulation tracking is heavily related to trying to conceive (or not trying to conceive), which may put off any women with MRKH due to a lack of resources and understanding. This is something I’m passionate about raising awareness of, because I’ve had really bad cramps in the past but have never felt confident enough, until now, to say I’m having… period cramps! I proudly say now that I’m on my invisible period. With MRKH, it’s a constant process to learn more about my body, especially when the most telling part of my cycle doesn’t exist for me.
It’s a constant process to learn more about my body, especially when the most telling part of my cycle doesn’t exist for me.
I launched Va Va Womb to continue the conversation about periods and vaginas, and to help others break free from stigma. In doing this, I’ve used the platform to really empower and celebrate all bodies, raise awareness of different conditions, and talk openly about them in creative ways. It’s also helped to improve my relationship with my own vulva, which was definitely tainted after my vaginal dilating experience. If things weren’t quite right on the inside, what was it like on the outside? Did that make my vulva ugly, or weird? Now I realise it isn’t, but I did go through so much of my life worrying about the appearance of my vulva. I’m reminded every time I look at my genitals that I have MRKH – there’s a combination of painful and haunting memories, but also a reminder that they’ve been through amazing things and are proud owners of 8,000 nerve endings.
In hearing and being more open to learning about my friends’ and loved ones’ experiences, I’ve been part of really insightful, important conversations surrounding periods. People should not be ashamed of their natural reality, and should have access to the products they need as a basic human right. Conversations about periods should not be looked down on but normalised, and they aren’t just women’s issues. These varied, diverse period stories are so important. For some they are a reminder of infertility. For others they are a painful and debilitating experience. Whatever the story is, adding shame to an already stressful experience is the last thing we should be doing.
My experience with MRKH has led me to feel strongly about shaking the stigma surrounding periods and health conditions. I broke out of the walls of shame and battled against my body’s lack of ability to be the same as others. Over the years I’ve learned so much about period stigma, poverty and the taboo that still exists around periods, like the assumption that all women bleed, or that men don’t have periods. For me, it’s important to take my experience and journey with my own body to continue learning. To shout loudly about period blood or the lack of it, which is something I never thought I’d be doing.