You hear about cervixes. You know they are in there somewhere and have something to do with your uterus. You know that it’s the cervix that you feel getting hit sometimes during sex. But you don’t really THINK about cervixes. At least I didn’t.
The teacher stands up at the front of the class holding up a book that I will be buying soon, pointing at pictures of cervixes. She talks about how beautiful they are, but I turn away. There is something about them that I just don’t want to see. She passes the book around and I try to take a closer look. They seem swollen, a variety of unattractive colors of bruising or irritation. The reds, pinks and purples of problem. Some of them have liquid seeping out. I know that good feminists like to look at cervixes, so I try to look again. I push past my ideas of “gross” or “yucky” and just look at them. I stare deeply at these pictures. But not much changes. The ones with fluid look like penises with pre-ejaculate...another normal body function I tend to find unappealing. Yep...they still seem rather unattractive to me.
Eileen Schnitger of the Women’s Health Specialists comes to visit our class. She is there to talk about menstrual extraction and during the discussion she explains that the cannula is inserted into the cervix. I understand a little more about this now. The cervix is at the base of the uterus where it connects to the vagina, like a neck (it even means, “neck” in Latin). I know that the opening to the cervix (the os) is what dilates when they talk about pregnant women on television (“Doctor, she is only dilated 4 centimeters but she want to push! What should we do?”). But this talk about cervixes is still distanced - they are this thing that we all have (like kidneys) that we kinda know about but don’t really have to get to close to. Good. Let’s keep it that way.
But then Eileen mentions that she is selling speculums after class. And some part of me inside decides that it wants one. Clearly it hasn’t been listening to all the judgment filing my head these many weeks. I don’t really know what the original motivation was. Maybe I wanted one because good feminists look at their cervixes. I mean, all the great women of the second wave, the empowered women who spoke out and made the world a better place for me and the women of my generation, they much have all looked at their cervixes, right? Maybe that’s where their great ideas come from in the first place. I can’t allow some general hesitation and a mild fear of bodily fluids stand between me becoming a good feminist. Can I? But maybe there was part of me that was curious. I thought, “Perhaps if I see MY cervix, and then appreciate everyone else’s afterwards.” But this is all conjecture.
After the presentation, I spoke with Eileen for a bit, talking about some health concerns and my interest in visiting the Women’s Health Specialists. As we talked I watched the women in the class buy the speculums. One after another they disappeared. And then there were none left. I realized that I hesitated because of my fear - and now I had no choice. Thank goodness.
I casually said, “Oh, I was going to buy a speculum but it appears they are all gone,” and smiled at Eileen. She quickly informed me that she could order one and pass it along to my teacher the following week.
I dug through my pockets and found two dollar bills and some change. “Well, I only have two dollars and some change on me and I know that you guys are looking for more in a donation.”
Eileen waved away my concerns as she plucked the dollars from my hands. “We accept all donations; some people give twenty dollars and some people give two. There is no problem. I will send your speculum along really soon.” And then it was done. I had bought a speculum, despite myself.
I was surprised to find myself excited about the speculum’s arrival the following week. And on the day it came I couldn’t wait to get inside. The speculum kits came in these wonderful food take-out-boxes - boxes that have long been connected to the joy and safety I get from food. I wondered if that was purposeful, as it certainly made the speculum more appealing to me. I took it home and sat it down on the table. I now owned my own speculum. I was so excited.
It sat there for a few weeks. I would get myself excited, excited to take it out and play with it - to check the flashlight and look at the little mirror. But as soon as I thought about actually trying to see my cervix with it, I grew uncomfortable again. What was this fear I had?
I thought on it again and again as the weeks passed. As I revisited the idea of heading off to my bedroom and closing the door, I became more comfortable with it. I talked with my friend about it. She was so excited by her experience that she took pictures, and that helped me as well.
One day I finally pulled together my courage and pulled by kit from the piling boxes and books on the table. I told my husband not to bother me for a bit and slipped away into my bedroom. I had already discovered that my flashlight didn’t work, but a quick change of batteries remedied that. I built up a wall of pillows and grabbed myself a bigger mirror. I have a big belly and I wanted to be sure that I could ready well enough to see everything.
It took awhile - figuring out how to work the speculum upside down. It took awhile learning how to/not/pinch myself as I opened and closed it. “Ouch!” It took a while to get used to it being in and open - a feeling that left me very vulnerable and thankful for the lock on my door. But finally it was in and open. I moved the mirror and flashlight into position and stared. Deep inside of me was this beautiful round pink healthy cervix. And finally realized what I was so afraid of.
My entire life has been filled with judgment over my body and the fat on it. My fingers and toes are too fat, too “sausage-like”. I have nice hair, but it’s too frizzy. My face is too rounded, my waist is far too wide, my breasts are nice but heavy and they hang too low. My feet are too fat. My arms are too fat. My thighs are too fat. I am too fat. And with so many judgments about every part of myself, I couldn’t imagine a part of me would be nice enough, in that “I just have to accept it as it is” sort of way. Nice enough, but it could be better if I lost weight.
But there it sat staring back at me. Pink and round and healthy. Perfect. My Perfect Cervix. It wasn’t just beautiful, it was perfect. And it was mine. It was mine in ways that no outward part of my body has ever been. It is mine because it is locked away and safe from the prying eyes and violent aggressions of the world around me. They may judge my body and they may objectify my breasts. They may devalue my hands and they can even violently invade my cunt. But they can’t touch my cervix. It’s too far in; it’s too far from them. It’s safe and pure and unmarred and mine.
That is the gift that seeing my cervix brought to me. The gift of ownership over my body, something I didn’t realize was taken away until I found it again. I can’t begin to say how thankful I am that I took that women’s health class and I am excited to go back in again, to see that beautiful pink round cervix and learn more about my health that I knew before.
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