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I had a menstrual cup stuck inside me for a long fucking time. Let me begin: The day after my birthday, I dragged my hungover ass to the park where I taught an outdoor pre-school class. My state of dehydration had me looking for lemon-lime Gatorade like Tom Hanks was looking for Wilson in Castaway.  

I was bleary, but noticed a strange, dull pain in my lower back as my canvas sneakers grazed the freshly cut grass. As I set up for class, I remember the distinct sensation of mysterious wet globules dropping into my cotton Wonder Woman panties.  I knew it couldn’t be my period, because I’d just wrapped that up. 

Before I had time to think to myself, “What the hell is wrong with me?” I was surrounded by a semi-circle of toddlers and their wholesome Park Slope mothers. It was time for us to sing a song.

“Little bird, little bird, fly to my meadow,” I sang, with equal parts haze and feigned delight. I watched the messy three-year-old faces smile, teeth askew as I struggled to continue. I felt another emission of warm, gooey liquid. Perplexed, I tried to piece together what had happened to my pussy on my birthday night that could explain this spillage. I tried to distract myself from the unsolvable mystery by fixing my gaze on the permanently-worried looking mothers, who passed the class time reaching into their vegan leather purses for organic baby wipes or trail mix from the neighborhood co-op. 

I survived the class period, but the mysterious discharge persisted that week and beyond—like a transforming butterfly, its progressive evolution took many forms. It was a crimson-hued putty in my panties and next a grayish purple, a dull brown. It had the scent of nothing at all and later, that of tuna fish, and then of milk spoiling in the sun, and then of nothing again. The slippage of the sometimes smelly and thick jelly-textured discharge was something I could ignore about 70 percent of the time. Other times, it randomly sputtered forth from my vaginal lips like a toddler learning gross motor control, causing me to freeze in my tracks in front of the bodega’s cash register corner.

Butterfree

“Just…one…second,” I muttered — probably inaudibly — reaching into my wallet for enough change to buy my favorite flavor of Ben and Jerry’s, smiling a smile that I hoped said, “No sir, my pussy is not oozing with an unidentified primordial swamp goo.” He took my money, made a comment about my floral-printed dress, and then despondently returned his gaze to the screen of his iPhone. Business as usual. 

My then-boyfriend, Jake, didn’t seem to be bothered. I told him about the spillage. “What?” I looked at him, hands on my hips. “I mean, like, you haven’t noticed anything?” I asked, gesturing at the v-shape between my legs. “No man. Did you get ice cream?” He pawed at the black plastic bag dangling from my wrist, tanned from a summer spent outside. 

“No, I mean like, you didn’t like, feel anything weird when you were inside of me?”

ice cream

“Um…I don’t know…. No? What flavor did you get?” I opened the carton’s cap. Jake’s face lifted, pleased. “I don’t know dude, maybe it’s a UTI,” he suggested, wrestling with the ice cream’s firm surface. That would explain the back pain. I monologued about the changing textures and colorations of residue in my underpants as we reached our spoons into swirling chocolate and caramel, speckled like an aerial view of a rocky mountain landscape.

Maybe it was a urinary tract infection. I just didn’t feel pain when I peed, which seemed like sort of the main feature of UTIs. But like, I knew and had experienced the full menu of UTI symptoms like the back of my hand. It wasn’t like any other kind of UTI I’d had before. I guess I figured UTIs were like people — each a unique constellation of misery, anguish, and disgust. I racked my brain to see if any of the symptoms corresponded that they like...kind of did...maybe...whatever.

woman saying

If I knew anything about UTIs, I know that they can’t stay forever if you take care of your shit. I upped my consumption of cranberry juice and apple cider vinegar, holding out for an improvement in my pelvis’ ecological conditions. The pollution smeared across my panties every evening wasn’t improving, but it wasn’t worsening either. 

One day, after a particularly bad spat of vaginal drooling while teaching toddlers to build fairy houses, I decided I had to take this to the next level. I went to the Williamsburg Urgent Care, where I waited for forty minutes only to have a bespectacled little man examine me, as I laid half naked. He put his squirrely little face between my legs, eyes fanning open and then narrowing thoughtfully. “Hmmm…hmmmm…” he muttered, gasping occasionally as he stuck an assortment of cold metal devices inside of me.  “I don’t know what’s going on. Why don’t you pee in a cup?”

Before I knew it I was out the door with a little white bag of UTI meds. I took them, but it didn’t help. Two weeks later, Jake and I were on the train to the Bronx. We were on our way to the only Planned Parenthood in all of New York City that had an appointment that day. “This was the closest you could find?” Jake heaved as he put his arm around me, and slouched into the plastic seat of the Manhattan-bound L train.  “Well, yeah,” I said, probably going off on some tangent about women’s healthcare. “The world is fucked,” he offered in consolation as we surfaced into the sun-soaked station at 149th street. 

Zoey Ruined My Life

When we got to Planned Parenthood, Jake tumbled into one of the scratchy canvas chairs in the reception room. There’s something about an hour-long commute in the city that’s pretty exhausting. Particularly when your vagina is leaking. I hurriedly filled out paper work with my right hand, holding his with my left.

When I was summoned into the office, cubicle, whatever, I described my symptoms, reaching into my stained tote bag for the little white baggie the Williamsburg Urgent Care gave me. “A UTI?” The technician asked, her welcoming smile now contorted into a thin narrow line. “It sure doesn’t sound like any UTI I’ve ever had,” she bellowed, tapping her ballpoint pen against a clipboard. She hunkered down her thighs, encased in a viridian hue of nurses’ scrubs. “You know,” she sighed, put her finger to her temple, “Male doctors will do anything to avoid touching your pussy.” 

I couldn’t believe she was saying this. “Was it a male doctor?” She asked. I nodded. “UG.” Her hand went to her head. She ran some tests to confirm her suspicions, and then clarified that no, it was not a UTI. “Well…I guess we could try an internal exam?”

Panda Oh no

For the second time that month, I dragged my nearly naked self to reclining exam chair. Even though this situation was totally yuck, I kind of just wanted to know what strange thing was brewing inside me at this point, be it a disease or a frozen box of bagel bites.

The technician’s gloved hand gently poked around inside me.  “Just tell me when it hurts,” she said, locking eyes with me. She poked around for a minute or two before declaring that everything looked pretty healthy, and then instructed me to push, clench, and tighten my vaginal muscles. “Um…I think there’s something like, stuck in there,” the technician said.

“What do you mean?” I asked drearily, gazing at the ceiling tile above me, marred by dirty scotch tape adhesing a breezy photograph of dandelions scattering the Swiss Alps.

“I don’t know,” she said ominously. “I’m getting back-up.”

 getting backup

I laid there in limbo, unsure where to look for comfort. I mean what the hell. “Getting back- up,” does that mean that there’s an alien inside of me? I wasn’t sure. Before I had time to fully indulge my neurosis, a swat team of nurses came through in their lab coats, forming a semicircle around the opening of my legs.

Well, by swat team, I guess I mean like, three people, but still! A woman with a stethoscope hanging from her neck quickly identified herself as the Alpha. She looked at me and gave me a perfunctory smile before pressing firmly down on my abdomen. “Does that hurt?” I winced. “Yep, definitely something inside ‘ya, kiddo.” 

The two other nurses, complete strangers who I have also never met before, stand behind the woman with a stethoscope. She reaches her gloved finger into my vagina, scraping and digging. She looks up at me, down at her fingers, and then behind her. The two other women stared at each other like nervous crewmembers in the moment when the Titanic scratched the iceberg. The doctor exhales loudly. “Hand me the tweezers,” she commands. “Not those ones, the long ones,” she barks. “What do you think it is, sweetheart?” she asked in the sweetest voice possible for the deep rasp of a long-time smoker.

“I honestly don’t know.” I said, doing a mental scan of all the foreign objects my crotch had been near in the past month. I mean it couldn’t have been like, an abandoned lego? A Cheez-It? I don’t know, all my nether regions had really been near that month, save for my boyfriend, were the children’s toys scattered across the floor of the busy parents I babysat for. 

“Well, we’re about to find out,” she said, reaching the 7-inch tweezers straight up into my vag. I could feel her clamp onto whatever it was. She pulled. My body resisted. I got this image of an octopus clamping its tentacles onto the tweezers, winding their suction-cupped appendages with an indolent stubbornness that apparently my imagination reserves for marine life. No No No No. I could feel my vagina resisting. Will. Not. Let. Go.

With one committed heave my menstrual cup from my drunken birthday approximately a month and a half ago came flying out of my vaginal canal, spilling a modest amount of the mysterious grayish liquid across the linoleum beneath the exam chair. It smelled like I had been carrying a dead coyote inside of my vagina. As stench permeated the room, the nurses clutched their small noses. The doctor, still holding the absurdly long tweezers, reached with admirable courage for the cloudy little silicone bell. Struggling to clamp onto it, it rolled across the floor leaving a trail of fermented menstrual drool. Finally, she got her grip, and a nurse opened the lid to a cherry-red bin labeled, “TOXIC MATERIALS.”

The doctor released the tweezers, and my menstrual cup whispered past the plastic lining of the garbage bin, eventually coming to a thud.  At this moment, the entire room exhaled. “Well, watch what ya put inside ya, kiddo,” the doctor said, eyeing me carefully, turning briskly on the heel of her hospital shoes with her troop of nurses following close behind her.

For another perspective on menstrual cups, read No Strings Attached: Why Menstrual Cups Rule

Top photo: Flickr/GovernmentZA

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