Category Archives: Reproductive Health

Doing away with the Sit of Shame

I spent an hour in the Family Planning Clinic at the Health Department this morning, doing the Sit of Shame with about a dozen other people.

Although I was there to joyfully confirm a planned pregnancy and get lined up for Medicaid, nobody else knew that. As far as they were concerned, I may as well have had gonorrhea like the married guy begging for an appointment at the front counter, or been on my way to talk to the RN about abortion options like the nervous lady across the waiting room.

But I've been those folks before (ok not the gonorrhea guy, but definitely the abortion lady). Everybody has been those folks before. And while we all kinda avoid eye contact and hope to be as anonymous as possible during the Sit of Shame, all that psychological pressure is bullshit.

There's no shame in an unintended pregnancy, or in a rogue case of the crabs. Those kinds of things can happen to sexually active folks, no matter how good their intentions are or how sexually responsible they are.

So let's do away with this whole Sit of Shame thing and make the Health Department waiting room a place where we can just acknowledge that shit happens.

And to all the folks I tried to be friendly with this morning: lighten up. I know you're embarrassed to be here, patient. And nurse, maybe working in a family planning clinic isn't a dream job for you like it would be for me. But the fact that we all are here this morning is evidence enough that shit happens.


It’s Been Four Weeks, and I’m Still Scared to Use My Vagina.

Four weeks ago, my Bartholin Gland Cyst reared its ugly, painful, infected head.  Three weeks ago, I underwent surgery for it.  One of the many consequences of this ordeal?  It’s been a month since my partner or I have had sex.  And I want to.

So we tried.  And…my partner’s dick felt like a knife blade slicing my vagina open.  Again.

The doctor told me Wednesday that my stitches are almost all out, and that I’m definitely healed enough for sex, although we should avoid “swinging from the chandeliers.”  We had every reason to think we were both about to get laid.  No-go.  Instead, I got to do that whole roll-over-and-sulk-while-still-really-horny thing.  Lame.

Now I’m having all these thoughts I hadn’t considered before.  I’m worried that this experience is going to be the beginning of a long pattern of physical pain, emotional trauma…just uck around my vag.  I’m not used to uck around my vag.
I’m not used to being afraid to touch my own cunt.

I am a proud vagina-wearer.  I wear her with pride, I play with her with pride, and I’m not used to uck.  I’m scared of uck, I’m scared of having baggage around her.

How long is this going to take?  The doctor says I’ll be completely healed–no more scar tissue, no more marsupial pouch–in six months.  Six months is a long time, and he never ever said the words ‘six months’ when we were talking about having this surgery.

I thought all the scared was behind me.  I thought I left all the scared behind in the operating room.  But now, again, I’m scared.

Gynecological Surgery is the Scariest Thing Ever, and the Best Thing Ever.

I can sit, I can walk, I can stand, and I could probably even do a cartwheel if I had the energy.  After battling a nasty Bartholin Gland Cyst for the past week, Monday night I found myself in an operating room, absolutely terrified.
I went ahead with the surgery, and in the end, I’m absolutely glad I did.

I'm outta here.

As they prepped me for surgery, every medical intervention–the iv, the medical history questionnaires, the pills & injections, the leg-squeezing-blood-clot-preventer-thingys, the electrodes on my chest, the urinalysis–added a layer to my agitation.

There were moments when I almost stripped it all off and left, resigning myself to the long-term pain of the cyst rather than enduring the super foreign idea of surgery.  I was absolutely sure that I wasn’t going to wake up from the anesthesia (like on all of the asinine doctor shows I watch) and that my amazing daughter would have to grow up without a mommy.

And evidently, that fear wasn’t so crazy.  While I was under the inhaled anesthesia, my throat began to close, so the anesthesiologist tried to insert a small tube to provide me with an airway.  But when he tried, my throat began to spasm, and he had to go ahead and use the big giant tube they use for intubating people.  You know, the kind they use to save people when they’re dying.  The big, rough, scary kind.

My throat hurts.

But although my throat hurts, and although I spent the night after surgery throwing up and itching like crazy, the bottom line is that my hoo-ha doesn’t hurt anymore.  The surgery was super successful, and my vagina will be eternally grateful.

And the best part?  I survived, and my beautiful daughter will grow up with a mommy afterall.  She was waiting for me outside the recovery room, and held my hand as we wheeled to the car.

Despite my adverse reaction to the anesthesia, despite the massive nausea, and despite the $3,000 out-of-pocket bill, this surgery was an awesome experience–that I hope I never have to go through again.

Scalpel + Vagina = A Painful Week

In the spirit of sharing personal experiences around reproductive health, here is a window into my week–a week filled with swelling, infection, scalpels, heat pads, pain and frustration.  Oh, my poor, poor vagina.

For 5-6 years I’ve had a Bartholin Gland Cyst in my lower labia.  No big deal.  Usually it’s the size of a grape, and although I can feel it from the outside, it gives me no discomfort or trouble.

And to be clear, this type of cyst is benign, common, and of no serious concern medically.  It’s merely a clogged duct that will likely drain itself over time.

Unless you’re me.

Last weekend, it began to swell.  And swell and swell and swell.  And hurt and hurt and hurt.  By Wednesday, I found myself at the OB/GYN, wimpishly asking for help.  I’d been doing all the right things–hot baths, compresses, resting.  So I fully expected the doctor to take a look, reassure me, and send me home.

Instead, he and the nurse gasped when I opened my legs.  She quickly assembled a tray of equipment and he superficially explained what was about to happen.  The cyst was too inflamed for anesthetized surgery at the hospital, and instead he would “incise and drain” it.  What he really meant was that he was about to slice my vagina open and squeeze the cyst mercilessly with his fist.

All I remember hearing was, “Seven blade, please.”  And then ensued 15 of the most painful minutes of my life.

And the kicker?  In order for the cyst to continue to drain, a catheter was inserted, which will stay in place for 4 weeks.  That’s right–a catheter inside my vagina, draining cyst-goo out my hoo-ha for a month.

I went back to the doc Friday, because after 2 days of “healing,” nothing had improved.  I was given the option to have him go back into the cyst with a plyer-like instrument to break up the infected tissue (ha!), or to have immediate surgery, or to wait the weekend out for improvement and go ahead with surgery on Monday if needed.  I reluctantly decided to wait, thinking I should try to be patient, despite my aching desire to just get this ordeal over with an have the surgery right away.

Maybe I’m being a melodramatic wuss.  But in the time since this procedure happened on Wednesday, things haven’t improved much.  I’ve been flat on the couch for 4 days, unable to sit, stand or walk due to the pain.  And if I’m not healed by Monday morning, I’ll be admitted to the hospital for surgery to remove the entire cyst.  At this point, I wish we’d gone ahead with that yesterday when the doctor gave me the option.

Rolling Our Eyes Won’t Cut it this Time. Stand with Planned Parenthood.

I’m embarrassed.  By my country, my government, my fellow human folks.  I’ve sat here quietly while all this de-fund-Planned-Parenthood nonsense has gone on, hoping it was just one more instance of those crazy right-wingers unsuccessfully trying to make the world a worse place, and instead successfully just making themselves look ridiculous–again.

But that’s not what’s going on.  This is serious business.  When the House voted last week to revoke all federal funding of Planned Parenthood, they placed the health care and reproductive choices of millions of women in peril. 

AND THESE ARE NOT JUST WOMEN LOOKING FOR ABORTIONS.  They are grandmothers looking for breast cancer screenings; trans folks looking for respectful pap smears; teen girls looking for ways to not get pregnant; expectant couples suffering stillbirth and miscarriage.  They are you, your mom, your sister, your cousin.

It’s time to not be quiet anymore.  Rolling our eyes at the anti-choicers won’t cut it this time.  Sign the I Stand for Planned Parenthood Petition and tell the Congress not to destroy 3 million women’s access to quality, affordable health care.

Call for Research Participants: Full Spectrum & Radical Doulas

Below is my call for participants for an ethnographic research project on full spectrum doulas and radical doulas.  For more info or to participate, contact or (970) 210-7156.  Please distribute!


Dear Doulas,

My name is Laurel Ripple Carpenter, and I am conducting research on doulas who are expanding their identity and practice to encompass pregnancy outcomes other than birth, including abortion, stillbirth, miscarriage, and adoption. 

I am looking to interview people involved in this movement, often called ‘full spectrum doulas’ or ‘radical doulas.’  Participants should be doulas who are either currently practicing, have practiced in the past, or are in training, and who identify as radical, pro-choice, or as a part of the full spectrum doula community.  Certification status, geographical location and other characteristics are not of particular concern.

I am asking participants to join me for a one hour interview via Skype video chat.  The interview will be recorded and used as data for a short ethnography in Spring 2011, and then expanded into a thesis length ethnography in 2012-2013.  The work may be published in various forms in the future.  If material from your interview is used in the ethnography, you will be given a pseudonym.

This research is part of my work for a degree in the Anthropology of Reproduction at Burlington College, in consortium with faculty at Mesa State College.  You can learn more about me here, and contact me directly at or (970) 210-7156 to participate.

I look forward to meeting you!

Laurel Ripple Carpenter, CD(DONA), PES

Congresswoman Shares her Abortion Story on the Congressional Floor

Yesterday California representative Jackie Speier stood up in front of a (very large, very powerful) room full of (primarily upper-class, white, male) political leaders and television cameras, and passionately shared her abortion experience.  She went on to defend Planned Parenthood and its right to exist, visibly shaken and very clearly meaning every word she spoke.

Thank you, Jackie Speier.

Can you imagine the fury she must have been feeling?  The courage it took for her to scrap her prepared remarks and speak from somewhere deep inside her, somewhere deep inside so many of us?

I think I’m going to write her a thank you note.  The old fashioned kind, written by hand in cursive on nice stationary.