My daughter’s vagina has been nothing but a constant source of misery, discomfort and irritation since she was born.
She’s only 4, which isn’t a long time to have a trusted body part turn on you, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, if it somehow became an option, she would gladly fork over her vagina for an Oreo cookie before bedtime.
It started in a fairly common way: When she was 9 months old and I was working full time, her time was split during the day by both sets of loving grandparents. Somewhere along the way, someone probably wiped from back to front, a totally innocent mistake made by the most doting of parents and caretakers. She developed a urinary tract infection. As a new mom, watching her wince in pain and sob every time she urinated in her diaper until we brought her to the doctor and discovered the problem (she wasn’t yet verbal at the time), I suddenly grasped the dilemma: We were dealing with a body part so delicate that one wrong move, one wipe gone awry, could result in a total breakdown.
Obviously, as a fairly reasonable adult woman who had just given birth, I knew that was far from the truth. Our vaginas aren’t at all flimsy. They’re tenacious, miraculous, and self-healing. But here was my daughter, barely able to walk yet, already figuring out that an area of her body I hope will one day bring her immense pleasure is a rather fickle character — one that isn’t going to give that pleasure without insisting she pay a hefty tax first.
My daughter’s first UTI was her last one (so far, knock on wood), but other vagina-related issues were on the horizon. She has extremely sensitive skin, the kind that freaks out when it’s within a 5-mile radius of regular “dye-free, fragrance-free” (uh huh) clothing detergent. If her underwear isn’t 100 percent cotton, or stark white — with not a single Disney princess in sight — they can, within minutes, create a painful rash around her labia. After shuffling off to doctors more times that I can count for the same issue, the remedy always seems to be the same: Check all of the labels on her clothing and use A&D Ointment, every day, all day, all of the time. Actually applying the colorless cream to her vagina is a whole other saga.
My daughter: “Mommy! Don’t put that cream on my vagina! Mommy, you’re going to get your finger stuck in me and it won’t come out!”
Me: “It’s okay, that’s not how it works. My finger won’t even go in your vagina. And your finger can’t get stuck in there and where did you hear that?”
My daughter: “Well, it’s where the poop comes from so it can get stuck and… I don’t want cream!”
Me: (Deciding to save the anatomy lesson for another time) “Do you want to put the cream on yourself (as suggested by one doctor)?”
My daughter: “No! Nooooo!!! You can’t make me — noooo!”
The good news is that, once I hold her down and manage to coat the irritated area with cream, it works. The bad news is that, now that she’s in a full-time preschool program, she is expected to wipe herself correctly after going potty, which is like asking a puppy to sit down at the dinner table with you and use the proper utensils to polish off an eight-course meal. At home, we practice “dabbing” and cleaning from front to back. I suppose some of the time she does it correctly in school. Other times, I’m guessing she does whatever it takes to get her back to the playground before someone gets on a swing before her. The proof is in the fact that her vagina took a temporary hiatus from being a big jerk and then went back to becoming irritated the first week she returned to school.
The sadness I feel for her is only exacerbated by the fact that I now have an 18-month-old son who seeks out his penis like it’s life-nourishing nectar of the gods. The second I undo a dirty diaper, with lightning speed, he’s pulling and tugging at himself. God forbid I forget diaper cream and have to run across the room to grab the tube — by the time I turn back around he has already fled the scene, his penis in his hand, in an effort to keep me from putting this unbelievably amazing part of his body in cushiony jail again. His reaction to his body is incredibly amusing to me. At first, I would yell for my husband: “Come here and deal with this! I don’t think I’m supposed to look!” Gradually, I realized his reaction was wonderful, normal, and healthy. I don’t even blink an eye when he spends most of bath time exploring himself.
I’ve never witnessed my daughter have those same pleasurable moments. I realize she’s still incredibly young and that, as her mom, I won’t be privy to all of her self discoveries, and that’s fine — but I sincerely hope she has them and that they are incredible. I hope that the fear she now has for one of her most amazing body parts is one day replaced by wonder and the understanding that the female form can be immensely powerful, beautiful and, honestly, isn’t as big a mystery as some think.
I plan to help her discover this by always being open to her questions, non-judgmental about masturbation and the natural desire we have as humans to seek pleasure, and by speaking about my own body and the things it can do using positive words. If that includes complaining less about my period, well, that isn’t such a bad thing.