Wednesday, October 26, 2016

And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Cor 12:7-10

Part I

Before we get started, I think it’s necessary for me to warn you that I am going to be talking here, in a very public way, about some very private things.

Some of you, no doubt, will be horrified. Others of you, I’m sure, will be relieved, as I know I would have been if only I could have found some ready help. But instead of solace in wise words of counsel and company from the ubiquitous books, blogs, and articles on Christian sexuality, I have found a disturbingly gaping hole, a bewildering lack of advice, and not a single book that gives more than a cursory few paragraphs on relevant “Troubleshooting.” 

Most of you probably don’t know what vaginismus is. Spellcheck sure doesn’t recognize the word. Neither did the Catholic Ob/Gyn I went to for help. So, I’ll tell you in clinical terms, avoiding any polite and clarity-confounding euphemisms. Vaginismus is a condition where the muscles of the pelvic floor involuntarily contract whenever touched, closing sphincter muscles and preventing intercourse. Sometimes it can be the result of past sexual trauma, sometimes the result of injury in delivering a child, and sometimes, as in my case, it happens for no immediately apparent reason.

I always thought it was strange, growing up, that no matter how many times I tried, tampons just didn’t work for me. I could never put them in. But it didn’t bother me too much, because I wasn’t planning on having sex anytime soon, and I figured that if there were a real problem there, it’d sort itself out eventually. So I politely declined the annual Pap smear, year after year, and endured the belittling attitude of the health care “professionals” who clearly didn’t believe I could possibly be a virgin.

And then I met The Guy, fell in love, got engaged, and decided I should probably get things checked out to make sure all was well before the wedding. Luckily, by now, I had found a good doctor, and when she couldn’t get the speculum in, and I burst into tears because it hurt so much and I felt so violated, she didn’t put me down or make me feel foolish. Instead, she gently suggested that everything would be okay when the actual time came, and then kindly handed me a box of tissues.

I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t happen on our wedding night; I had read enough about how tired you can both be, and how it’s a lot to get used to all in one night if you’ve never been there before. But by the end of our honeymoon week—a week full of a great deal of happiness, but also of entirely unanticipated tears, frustration, pain, and genuine terror—we both knew something was really wrong.

Halfway through our very confusing honeymoon.

I’ve gotta hand it to my husband: he has been the absolute model of perfection on this from day one. We were reading one of those troubleshooting sections that first week, and a woman was talking about how it had taken her four months to get through it. I blanched. “Oh, honey. Four months?” And without hesitating, he said, “I can wait four weeks, four months, four years, however long it takes. And that’s okay.”

So now we get into it. There are a lot of books out there from secular doctors about medical reasons both for painful sex and for show-stopping vaginismus, books about the psychology behind what can often be a psychosomatic issue. But none of them provide a fail-safe cure-all (because there isn’t one), and none of them talk about how to handle this struggle on a spiritual level. And that’s probably a good thing, because they’re medical doctors, not spiritual doctors, but sheesh. Seems like none of the “spiritual doctors” do either. And I read Three to Get Married, and Holy Sex!, and A Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and Real Love, and Marriage: A Path to Sanctity, and Lord only knows how many other books on how to do everything right and for the right reasons, and how to understand my husband in all facets of our life, and not a one of them said anything about this. And, because clearly they left it out to wound me specifically, I felt betrayed by them. Fulton, I thought you had my back! And so on. . . .

In lieu of The Greats, then, let me tell you what I have learned because of this struggle, and what about it continues to be a gnarly battle, and how the only reason it makes sense is because my husband is—and was, right from the start—my ideal helpmeet.

We Christians understand, as much as anyone can, the sanctity of sex. We know why foreplay intentionally without consummation isn’t a good thing, we know why condoms and birth control mess things up, and we know that intentionally compromising the integrity of the whole sexual act turns us into mere playthings for each other, cuts God out of the picture, and places limitations on love—love, a thing that in its very nature is unlimited, and is therefore violated by being cut short in any way. Jesus, of course, is our perfect example of this. He didn’t give most of his blood. He gave it all. Down to the very last drop. Just so, a man and a woman aren’t supposed to titillate each other without actually giving it all, risking it all, being entirely open to each other, to the fruit of their love, to God, to children.

And boy, was I all geared up to give it all. And I don’t just mean I was ready for sex, but yeah, that too, ’cause waiting was really hard. As long as I’m sharing so much with you, I will go ahead and tell you that it was not at all a mistake that I was ovulating on our honeymoon and that we were married on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of pregnancies. My mother had eight children, and my sister had a baby nine months and one day after her marriage; I was ready for it, and my husband and I had already picked out some truly glorious baby names.

But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t and I couldn’t and I couldn’t, no matter how many relaxation exercises I did, how many glasses of wine I drank, how many baths I took, how long my husband rubbed my back—nothing worked, and I couldn’t have the fullness of sexual love. The integrity was broken, was never there to begin with, and the whole thing was a paltry sham. And God didn’t love me, because I was too weak to give it all.

We’ve been married almost nine months now, and though we’ve had a few bright days, where it seems like we’re almost making progress, really things are not any better in any substantial physical way than they were on our honeymoon, despite (at long last) our having found a care provider who specializes in treating vaginismus. And I wonder whether we will ever have children, and I enjoy answering the oft-repeated query of, “So, when are you having a baby?” with a frank: “I have a medical problem and I can’t.” How they squirm in discomfort at the truth they asked for and have no right to know. So much of the time, the sense of loss and deprivation is overwhelming. And the anger and confusion is profound. And I get tired of being reminded that we live in a fallen world, and that heaven is a long ways off.

Our December honeymoon beach. Beautiful, and desolate.

For that is really one of the only goods I can see in this. Married love is supposed to be a mirror of the love of Christ; we are supposed to be Christ to each other, and learn to know him better through each other.

And this is what I have learned: Christ wants us with him, and we aren’t there yet. He yearns for us, and he can’t have us yet. And despite all of that frustration, all of the times we are closed to him, all of the times we can’t seem to get past our roadblocks, and all of the time that we have left on earth before union with him in heaven, he’ll be right there waiting for us, telling us he loves us, that he’ll wait as long as we need, and help us when we need help. That he doesn’t hold our weaknesses against us, and that he’s almost glad of them because they give him another chance to be kind to us, to show us his love and his care of us.

And, even when we’re mad at him because his patience is infuriating, we see his love and have no choice but to be humbled and profoundly grateful. Once we’re done punching holes in the walls and screaming with blind fury into the pillows.





Part II

It’s been three months since I wrote that first part. Which, I know, isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things, but, as you know, a lot can happen in three months. Why, might you ask, has it been so long and I haven’t “put it out there” yet? Well, I had to sit on it for a while and make sure it was the right thing to do. And then send it to some wise friends, to double check, and to get some advice.

I’m glad it’s taken so long, because I was lying awake a few nights ago and realizing that we, my husband and I, have come over a hurdle. And no, I don’t mean all is as it should be; I just mean that somewhere along the way, we’re not as angry and sad and frustrated as we were. Somewhere, somehow, we found a way to cope, a way to accept the way things are, and to see and actually know the good in all the brokenness.

Some of my friends and fellow-editors, when they read Part I up there, suggested that I end it more softly, and take out, among other things, that part where I talked about feeling like God didn’t love me. Make it more positive! they said. It isn’t good to be so negative! they said. Respectfully, I disagree with them. Everything was not okay. Tying a bow on a big pile of steaming you-know-what only makes it more distasteful. It would have been a lie to deny that helplessness and fury, and it sure wouldn’t have helped anyone else who was in the same place.

One of the things I think people are getting better about these days is admitting weakness. What a terrible, inhuman lonesomeness it is to think that you are the only one who has ever experienced a struggle that seems to be entirely consuming your life. That, my friends, is the devil’s playground. It is there, and there most profoundly, that he fosters despair, the ultimate tool by which he keeps us from light, freedom, and God. It is not good for man to be alone. We all of us want to be known, to be seen for what we really are, and to be treasured and lovedespecially with all the mess and problems we tug around with us. It’s a lie to say there isn’t muck, and a lie to say you’re okay with it when you’re not. And it doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help anyone else, either. So wallow in the muck if that’s where you are, and don’t be ashamed of it, either.

But. But. . . .

One day, you will wake up.

And when you do, you’ll find a new pink scar, and the skin will pull and pinch, and be slightly stiff and tight, but it’ll be clean, and a little miraculous, and fascinating, in its shiny novelty.

For Jamey and me, part of figuring things out was asking for guidance from a few wise old priests. His spiritual director (incidentally, the priest who many years ago helped him get a job and recover from homelessness) was the one who opened the window for us. “When you’re composing a piece of music,” he said to us, “you might find yourself in the middle of a passage that doesn’t fit—a sour, clashing note. So, start over! And then write the symphony that belongs with that note.” I remember laughing a little bitterly when he said that. Oh! Of course. Just, write a new symphony! I’ll get right on that. . . .

Our original symphony was fairly typical, given who we are: Get married, have a baby about once every other year, live out in the country, and eventually be entirely supported by J’s writing and be surrounded by a full home of five girls, five boys, lots of cats and dogs and music and Shakespeare and some pretty gardens, with maybe a mountain in the backyard. If we couldn’t have a full ten kids, six would work, too.

What’s our new symphony? Not everything has to change, and many of our dreams are still the same, and still possible. But the heart and soul of it has had to change substantially. For as long as I can remember, I thought I’d be the mother of a large and healthy family. I thought that that would be the main work of my life, and I was eager and impatient for it to start. Now, realistically, I know that there is very little chance of that happening. The “fruit of our love” will not be in sweet fat faces and sweaty blonde and red curls and utterly dependent, clingy, sticky hands. And it hurts to think that might never happen, and that even if it does, it will surely never be as much as it might have been.

But you want to know something? I see the fruit of our love every day. Love has to produce, you know, or it dies. So when I was realizing that children might not happen, I panicked. What the hell kind of a marriage would that be, anyway? But oh my word, the ways God has let our love bear fruit. And, yes. Of course we fight, and we hurt each other, and the new young priest at our church has actually giggled a couple of times in spite of himself when I’ve confessed the petty misunderstandings that have tripped us up. It’s hard work, and an intentional uphill struggle, but guys, it does actually work. “Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy.”[1] How, then, have I seen the fruit of all this sacrifice, this love?

I see it when my J’s shoulders relax at the end of a stressful day, simply because he sees my face. And I feel my shoulders relax when I see him.

I see it in the little ways that generosity has become more natural to me, and criticism less natural (Jamey is a much kinder, gentler person than I; he’s a good influence on me!).

I see it in a growing undercurrent of mental peace and actual joy in both of our lives, when, for so many years, depression and anxiety overwhelmed us both.

I see it when I watch him pray, and when he washes the dishes, cleans the upholstery, and scrubs the toilet, because his bachelor self wants to make me happy.

I see it in his overwhelming and selfless, repeated and abundant patience with me, when he might have married somebody who didn’t have vaginismus.

"Yes," you might say, "but you could still do most of those things for each other and have sex like normal people and have kids. You’re missing out!" True enough. And don’t I know it! In response, allow me to say:

First, for everyone out there who is struggling with this same condition or a similar one, know that as I’ve gradually and in spite of myself come to accept the indisputable limitation we’re dealing with, I’ve also been able to enjoy incalculably more the delights that we are given. And when my husband sees me actually happy instead of miserable, he is also, believe it or not, pretty freaking happy. Words of advice from a wise woman: "In the meantime, I bet you and Jamey have become much closer and better friends and lovers than most couples. Enjoy it, revel in it and have confidence in it—it is a rare gift." Turns out there’s actually some harmony in this new symphony, after all.

Kids. One way or the other, we are going to be parents. In fact, we already are. My sister and her husband asked us to be the godparents of their beautiful baby girl a few months ago. I don’t think they realized at the time what that would mean to us, but we love that little girl tremendously, and are very proud of her. And when J talks about her happy little eyes and multiple chins, and mystical character and higher level of existence (she’s only four months old), and when his eyes get a little damp looking at the latest picture of our beautiful spiritual daughter . . . well, you better believe he’s a Dad. So, if you are close friends with a couple struggling with this, maybe consider asking them to be the godparents of your new little one. I really cannot overestimate the gift and joy it has been to us.

Look at how gently he touches her head. Boy is he in love!

Adoption, of course, is definitely on the table. We’ve talked about waiting a couple of years till we’re more settled and, quite honestly, more eligible to take on the financial aspect of adoption. And, since we’d be getting a bit of a late start (I’ll be in my early 30s and Jamey in his early 40s by the time we’d be ready to adopt) we’ve talked seriously about trying to adopt a large sibling group. Start in the middle of the process to make up for our tardiness, you know, and, more importantly, help out some kids who probably will have a harder time finding a home than a lot of adoptees might.

In the meantime, I recently found out about baby cuddling. For one thing, the name! For another, it is as fantastic as it sounds. Newborns in the hospital who, for one reason or another, are all alone, need to be held, or they literally cannot thrive. (Talk about a metaphor for life. But I digress.) You can go volunteer to hold babies! Get in touch with your local hospital, and see if they need help. One step up from this, something we’re talking about trying to start doing in the next year: babies who are going to be adopted can’t always be placed with their forever family right away, but the hospital can’t necessarily take care of them for however many weeks it is till everything is ready to go. So! There is a need for people to take in newborns for a few weeks or a month at a time. Lots to think about with that one; not sure if we have the emotional stamina for that, but definitely looking into it and thinking on it.


***

This has gotten quite lengthy. Sorry about that. . . . But, you know, a year’s worth of coping and struggling and figuring adds up. I guess what I want you to know, in the end, is that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if that light isn’t what you thought it would be. And the tunnel will overtake you, again and again, when you thought you were clear of it. And sometimes you need to just rest in the tunnel, because if you try to run out of it you’ll smack your head against the wall and make a mess everywhere. And then your poor husband will be left cleaning it up, on top of everything else he's doing for you.

And then one day, you’ll realize that your little reptile mama brain has been fostering plans all along without you, and they might still be foreign to you, but you realize that they actually make sense, and that they’re not just a replacement for what might have been. When God’s plans for us are different from what we had planned for ourselves, chances are His ideas are better, even if they’re initially a bitter disappointment to us. And, even if we still haven’t exactly figured out why He changed the game on us in the first place.

Do you want to talk? I’m here, if you do. And, guys, so is my husband, if you want advice from him. He’s really pretty good at the whole advice thing.


In the meantime, peace be with you.



What can I say? Another year, another cold beach. That's our jam.

P.S. For now at least, Jamey and I think we're going to leave this a one-post blog. The original article grew into something far too large to go through a regular outlet, so, this was our solution. Or, credit where credit is due, his solution! If there seems to be a need for more on the subject, we'll definitely add it as we (hopefully) get a gradually better understanding of it ourselves. Just, you know, let us know if you want or need more. Or, if you have hard-earned advice you can share! We can use all the help. Like, all of it.


[1] From the traditional Marriage Exhortation, that, back in the day, was read in place of a sermon at all wedding masses. And yes, it was read at our wedding. Way to jinx it, self. . . .

50 comments:

  1. Thank you, Ellen. As the mother of six children in 11 years, the first born a year after our wedding, you'd think I couldn't relate at all to your beautiful words. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can't be as candid as you in this setting, but there are many aspects of human life and marriage that we are taught to keep "secret", hiding from others that which might help them with their own struggles. You didn't do that, and that helped me today. I adored Christ in the Eucharist for an hour last night in the chapel, asking for help. And you published this. And Mary posted it. God answered my prayer with your perfect story. Thank you for being open to sharing it.

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    1. Dear Beth,

      As my sister likes to say, Praise be Jesus and Mary! I am so humbled and thankful to read your message, so profoundly glad to hear that our story could be an answer to a prayer for you. That's exactly what I hoped for. God bless you and your struggles, and your six beautiful children!

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  2. I am a doctor, but not an OB/GYN. I am sure you have consulted any number of doctors, but has biofeedback been suggested to you? I am not a practitioner of biofeedback, I'm just a primary care doctor, but it is something that occurred to me. Best of luck to you and your husband.

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    1. Dear Dr. Alice,

      Biofeedback has not actually been suggested yet. Is that something that would occur together with pelvic floor PT? It's looking like that will be the next step for us. Definitely want to go in with as much info as possible!

      Thanks for your suggestion! Will definitely look into it.

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  3. I have two friends who struggled with this. Both attended this 2-wk treatment program in NYC and were cured. Both devout Catholic couples who've gone on to have 6 and 7 children. (I believe this is the correct link but am waiting for confirmation)
    http://www.womentc.com/conditions-and-treatments/penetration-pain-disorders/vaginismus/2-week-program/

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    1. Hi, Blair. Thank you for sharing this! Another woman has written in and suggested it as well; it must be a really good program! I will absolutely look into it. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it.

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  4. The way you tell your story is so beautiful, thank you for being so simple and so candid, and so full of ... hope....and just for being so truly human in the most beautiful way. Prayers for you both.

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    1. Pam, thank you <3. So grateful for your prayers, and your kind, kind words.

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  5. Wow. A beautiful essay, embodying our Catholic treasury on marriage as nothing else I have ever read--and thus, you are indeed truly blessed. I will share with you something I have never shared elsewhere: My mother almost undoubtedly suffered from this condition for the first don't-know-how-many years of her marriage. Marriage to my dad, an adult convert via Fulton Sheen (I still have their copy of "Three to Get Married," so yes, Fulton had their backs!) She eventually had a surgical procedure for an "imperforate hymen," but as a medical writer I strongly suspect that this was a placebo or sham procedure intended to help her "get with the program," given her neurotic and traumatic Victorian-style upbringing (long story). Eventually she did, ("get with the program," that is, at least once, haha) and I was born--7 years into their marriage, when she was almost 44 years old. Without further "overshares" (or so they seemed to my squirming self), she intimated that intimacy had only occasionally ever been truly satisfactory for both of them, but that, thank God, my dad was the soul of patience and chivalry. And that was precisely who my dad was--the man who modeled for me, not just what to look for in a husband, but the personality of Christ Himself. My parents adored each other, had a marriage full of tenderness, laughter and mutual support until my dad's untimely death at age 69. The medical writer in me assures you that you should continue to seek avenues of both medical therapy and counseling support, you will absolutely see progress. The daughter that I am assures you that your dreams may well come to fruition in their own time--7 years??! Hey, my family did okay!--and that I will ask my parents, along with Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin (another couple who undoubtedly had issues, and issue) to intercede for you to our Heavenly Father. I wish I could also send you a bottle of Scotch so you could take a shot every time a non-Catholic-understanding person suggests IVF as a work-around...Much love, Brenda. P.S. I, too, dreamed of a big family, only got 1, it's cool...I hope and try to channel everything that would have gone towards nurturing a bigger brood into "mothering" all who cross my path in need of nurturance! You've already figured this out at an impossibly young age, bless you!

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    1. Dear Brenda,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, and your parents' story! So many examples, so many tales of couples who've had such a rough time of it. I've long understood that sex isn't like it is in the movies, but with all of this, and hearing stories like your parents (your dad the soul of patience and chivalry, a marriage full of tenderness, laughter and mutual support), I am beginning to understand that it's not just more complicated and difficult than I ever was led to believe, but so, SO much better, and precisely because of all the greater generosity it calls us to in its sometimes serious flaws. I guess that's not really news, but, you know, it's one thing to hear something, and another entirely to *know* it.

      Keeping up with regular appointments to my midwife (the one I mentioned who specializes in these sorts of maladies). She's also a therapist, wonder of wonders, so that's been really helpful. I do have great hopes that one day we'll beat it, and then there's also definitely part of me, for all my longing to have kids, that is a little relieved we have more time to pay off student loans, save for a house, and learn to love each other. Maybe God knows what He's doing after all... :)

      I'm sorry to hear you never had the large family you imagined. But how lucky for your 1 to know he/she is so cherished, so treasured! As for mothering all those who fall into your path... my sister made her final vows in a convent last summer, so for the last many years of her formation, the idea of what spiritual motherhood is and how it's manifested has been something very real and present to me and to the rest of our family. I never imagined before all this how important that would be for me particularly! But, all things work to the good, don't they...

      Scotch sounds great. I mean, clearly I'm not pregnant. So, cheers! God bless you, Brenda. And thank you so much for writing, and for your prayers.

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  6. Thank you for sharing! I'm sure this has already come up or been addressed somehow, but just in case it wasn't, I wanted to also let you know there are physical therapists (women's health specialists) who specialize in vaginismus! It is a definitely not something that's easy, but can be very helpful.

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    1. Laura, thanks for writing in! PT is something we've just started looking into in recent weeks. And, just in the last day, have heard from a LOT of women who said it was really helpful for them. So, here's hoping... thanks again :)

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  7. Ellen, your faith is strong and beautiful. This gives an opportunity for you and your husband to bond in a unique way. We dealt with this for almost 4 years in our marriage. I was so grateful for a Christian therapist who sought advice from others and we tried a number of things to help. We were able to have intercourse after a long period of behavioral therapy, a lot of work on my part and much patience from my husband. I will say though,every time we make love now I do have to recall on my training and I ask the Lord and Blessed Mother for help and am grateful everytime for the success and gift shared. Our Lord IS faithful. I hope you keep trying and seeking help, after 23+ year of marriage, I'm thankful we have this way to share our love. If not for you, I think it is important for your husband. But I understand that is bw you and him. This never leaves my mind, but reminds me of my weakness and dependence on Him. Will pray for you and endurance. Hugs!

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    1. Deeann, your encouragement is so helpful. Thank you. My heart breaks for you and your husband; 4 years seems like an eternity right now. I mean, Jamey and I have just barely known each other for 4 years, and how much has happened since that time! For what it's worth, I do actually understand what you mean when you speak of being grateful for the success and the gift shared. Holding back some details (yes, believe it or not, I didn't share EVERYthing... haha...), I'll just say that the tiny milestones we pass in this struggle, temporary and insignificant though they might be, become for us moments of great joy in the success of the shared gift. Those are the moments when you can literally feel the love--like, my forehead and kneecaps start glowing, if that makes any sense at all. Anyway, sorry, I'm rambling now... :)

      Thank you so much for your compliments, prayers and hugs, and especially for sharing your own burdens. God bless you and your husband both.

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  8. Sweet, lovely bride, I'm so sorry you are experiencing this. This too will pass! I don't really believe in "taking things" but I want to say that last Christmas, (the first after my father passed away), I took three hits from a joint and felt SO much better. I haven't used it since, but I'm thinking that you should go on a date, drink a glass of wine, watch a romantic movie and use something God gave us to have joy/pain relief (I haven't smoked it since because I'm not in any crisis). God is the author of joy and wants you to experience joy with your husband. He loves you and wants you to know what communion means. Praying for you.

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    1. Dear Friend,

      I love your suggestion. Believe it or not, my dad has suggested the same thing. And he is not at all the type to go for such a solution! I will say that the one time I've tried it in the past (I was in Colorado---all upfront and legal!) it did absolutely nothing for me. But then, maybe I just didn't try enough :). I am very glad, though, that it did for you what you needed at the time, some comfort and coping in your grief, if only for a few moments.

      Thank you so much for your kind words, and for your prayers. It means a lot.

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  9. Holy smokin' incense, this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing about your journey!

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    1. Thanks, AnneMarie! I'm grateful for your response.

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  10. I strongly suggest the womentc program mentioned and linked by a previous poster above. Although I've never needed any help with this issue, I investigated this problem prior to my marriage, and the New York program is very effective for resistant cases. They go beyond the usual suggested treatment of progressive self dilation. It's expensive and they don't bill insurance, but often times part of it is covered - you just have to submit to insurance yourself. This is a problem that can almost always be solved and I pray that is the case for you.

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    1. Dear Maggie,

      I had never heard of the womentc program before yesterday, but people keep writing in and suggesting it! I am *definitely* going to look into it. And, hopefully, we can figure something out with the insurance... writers (my husband) and editors (me) don't get paid very much... haha :)

      Thank you so much for your help!

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  11. I so appreciate your strength and your witness. I was so frustrated that this wasn't talked about by the Church, when it is most likely to happen to traditional women! My husband and I were married this past January, and I found out I had vaginismus much like you, after too many "something wrongs" on our honeymoon. We went to our military primary care professional who suggested relaxation, which I knew, at that point, was a wash. I went to an OB and he said it was all psychological, but offered no solution. I bought the kit on vaginismus.com but found it kind of overwhelming. I cried so often, because I felt I wasn't doing my "duty" as a wife, but my husband was amazing, and so so selfless. As crazy as it sounds, I wouldn't take back those frustrating times, even if I could. But then my youngest, single sister (hah), who is studying to be a physical therapist mentioned women's wellness physical therapy. It was a God-send. After 6 months of "different" wedded bliss, through a process of biofeedback, dilators, and most importantly, an exercise called "downturning," (there's a lot out there about kegeling, but if you don't kegel correctly for vaginismus it can INCREASE spasming, ugh...) our physical therapist made it so we could have sex within 3 weeks! I know that it can take longer for others, but because I had no past trauma it went pretty quickly. I won't say that we don't still have the occasional struggle, but we're 5 months pregnant and so happy. So please, hold out hope! Vaginismus is 99% curable, but suffers from a lot of ignorance on the part of professionals. Sending prayers!

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    1. Thank you so much for writing in! Like you, I have not had a great time trying to use dilators and the vaginismus.com route. My doc has recommended that I try them again, as the first time I tried it was early on and we were deep in the throes, so to speak, of emotional turmoil. I might, might have an easier time of it now. But the one thing I keep seeming to hear from everyone... PT! We are absolutely going to look into that. I'm so very glad that it did the trick for you. I strongly suspect it can do a lot of good for us; I have scoliosis, and it looks like that is interfering with pelvic floor muscles. So, maybe we have one piece of the puzzle figured out? Here's hoping...

      And, boy oh boy, the ignorance of the "professionals." So demoralizing.

      So glad for you and your husband that you have a little one on the way. God bless you, all three!

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  12. Last night, Jamey and I sat down with some wine and cookies and started reading through all of the messages so many people have sent in response to our blog. We were brought to tears, again and again, by the love, support, sympathy and kindness of you all, and helped so much by hearing stories of similar struggles.

    I will respond to all of you! But, it might take me a while... :D

    And, for anyone out there with the power to raise awareness on the issue, this article has gotten 10,000 hits in 24 hours. Clearly, then, as we suspected, this a problem in desperate need of attention for a LOT of women.

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  13. Thank you for this! Though I don't share your condition, there is so much that I can relate to! Suffering has many forms, but a cross is a cross and it's beautiful to see how you are sharing your life experiences and how you are choosing to help it make you stronger instead of falling into the bitterness that we feel would be justified (honestly. our individual cross is HARD!!) and building on your relationship with your husband. Thank you for sharing - brought tears to my eyes today!! :)

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    1. Thank you, Amy. Your words mean a lot!

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  14. Thank you for this well-written and informative article - I never knew about vaginismus and I really appreciate the Catholic perspective from which you write. I'll be keeping you in my thoughts and checking the blog once in a while, just in case you feel like sharing some more thoughts with us. Kind regards from Slovenia!

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    1. Dear MissMarple, thank you for writing in, and for your kind regards! I'm glad the perspective is helpful for you. Keep the party going in Slovenia :) Best,
      Ellen

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  15. Hi Ellen, thank you for your courage and humility to share this. I, too, suffered from this the first 2.5 years of my marriage. Until I read your post I thought I was the only one who experienced this. How does one begin to describe this without sounding like a freak or a failure?? My OB/Gyn never diagnosed me with vaginismus but how you described it was exactly what it was like for me. I could never wear tampons. My Pap smears were always unsuccessful. Sexual intercourse was impossible. My husband and I were frustrated and we didn't understand why this happened to us--would we have been better off if we had not abstained from sex before marriage? It felt like punishment.
    Last year my OB/Gyn (not Catholic) suggested a few options for us to try including physical therapy. We went down the list of options and at first I didn't even understand what physical therapy for my case would entail. I made an appointment with a PT whose specialty was the pelvic floor and I researched how PT would work. I was nervous about the whole idea, but I'm glad I decided to do it. I met with my PT weekly for about 3 months for hour sessions and made sure to do my homework exercises (with a dilator). (My PT tried the biofeedback but my muscles would push out any foreign object out, like it had a mind of its own). I was also doing yoga and used what I learned in yoga such as doing long & deep breaths to get my muscles to relax. It helped me to recognize why I was always getting so tense so I could correct my thoughts and beliefs (for me I was scared of literally hurting myself).
    After weeks of PT my muscles gradually did relax and it was like a miracle!! My husband and I are trying to get pregnant now and there are still some hurdles. There would be times now when I would be "closed" but those are few and far between. When those times happen I just try and get myself to relax.
    Ellen, we are both very blessed that we have husbands who are very patient, understanding, and who love us very much. In a way, this was a blessing because my husband and I learned to be intimate and to be close in other ways, not only sexually. I think our ordeal has made our marriage stronger.
    We just celebrated our 3rd anniversary and no pregnancy or kids yet. I trust, however, that in God's time he will bless us with children of our own if He so chooses.
    I hope PT works for you! God bless!

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    1. Dear Michelle, I really appreciate your writing in and sharing your story. I'm sorry that it was such a struggle for you and your husband, and boy do I understand feeling like it must be a punishment for something! As one friend put it to me, "We'd done everything right! We'd waited, even when it had been hard, and now the universe owed it to us!" I don't know about you, but that pretty much sums up the heart of the anger I felt about the whole situation.

      Physical therapy seems to be the golden ticket! So many women have written in and said that that is what did the trick for them. It is definitely next on our list of options. Dilators haven't been great for me, but my doc has encouraged me to give them a second try, as the first was a number of months ago now. And yes, seems like 2-3 years is a common amount of time for this to get sorted out. Hard to be patient, but you're absolutely right; we are much better friends and much more aware of and appreciative of each other's depth and character than we ever could have been if we hadn't been faced with such a struggle right from the start.
      God bless you, too! And, really, thanks again. Best, Ellen

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  17. Thank you for sharing so openly Ellen. God has huge plans for both of you. St Jude please interceed for Ellen & Jamey in their journey as husband & wife. Ameen

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  18. I want you to know that you are not alone in this. I struggled with this, exactly how you describe it. I could never use tampons or endure a female exam. I had never experienced sexual abuse or other mental health problems. Like you, it didn't bother me that much until I got married. Oh, and to add to the irony, I'm an NFP teacher. I had been teaching for years before I got married because our diocese so desperately needed a Spanish-speaking teacher. I was probably the first virgin NFP teacher (well, other than the Sisters that teach). Our honeymoon was equally confusing and difficult as was the beginning of our marriage and the very few times that we attempted to make love. Doctors were not helpful. One of my fellow NFP teachers suggested the lubricant Pre-Seed which will not harm sperm like other lubricants and can help couples who are trying to get pregnant. It didn't help much, but it was something. When we attempted sex, most of the time it didn't happen at all and sometimes, well I'm not sure what exactly happened. We were certainly always trying for a complete act to be morally correct, I'm just not sure it ever really happened because I was in such excruciating pain. I never felt like our attempts were sinful though, because we were genuinely trying to do what a husband and wife should do. So, while I'm not sure complete penetration actually happened, what did happen is after three years of marriage - I got pregnant! I birthed naturally for as long as I could and then got an epidural because I knew otherwise it would be impossible for me to to delivery vaginally with this condition. My son was born healthy and happy and in addition to the miraculous gift he gave me of being his mother, his birth solved my problem permanently! There is hope. I will pray for you both.

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    1. Dear Catholic Mom, I have heard these wonderful stories of delivering a baby curing all the problems! We just have to get to that point in the first place, don't we.... :) I'm really sorry to hear that your first few years were such a struggle. How difficult for you both. Thank you for writing in, for sharing your own headaches, for your encouragement and most all for your prayers! It means a lot.

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  19. I'm so sorry for you all your sufferings. The Lord does bring joy despite many sorrows. I could have written a similar story. Please, please contact Dr. Andrew Goldstien. He is an expert on women's sexual pain and he changed the story of my marriage. Yes, we were very close friends, closer than we could have been without the degree of suffering we went through together, but I'm so glad I found this Dr. http://www.cvvd.org/about_us He wrote an excellent, helpful book on the subject as well: https://www.amazon.com/When-Sex-Hurts-Womans-Banishing/dp/0738213985/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477741327&sr=8-1&keywords=when+sex+hurts He does not accept insurance, but believe me, we'd pay every penny again and then some. I'm expecting my 5th child and don't even have a hint of pain anymore. Dr. Goldstein accurately dx-ed me on the first visit (after seeing many other doctors), had a treatment plan at the end of the appt and it provided a complete cure for me. We had to travel to see him and we would do it again in a heart beat. Hoping that this is new information for you!

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    1. Also, I just wanted to add that I spent so much time, money and frustrations on a variety of PT, talking to therapists, etc. I was 100% sure that I had vaginismus, as I had been told by people who had no training in how to rule out other pain problems, as well as self-dx-ing because everything I read about it made sense with my symptoms. But I actually didn't have vaginismus, but another pain disorder that few Drs. know how to diagnose and still explained everything. So I highly recommend that you get a diagnosis (at the very least) from Dr. Goldstein before pursing treatments for vaginismus. You definitely deserve a definitive diagnosis. Feel free to contact me! Prayers for you!

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    2. I've read about Dr. Goldstein. Seems he has one of the few places in the country specifically dedicated to taking care of this and similar problems! I'll admit that the reason we haven't sought him out yet is the cost. And, luckily now we have some other options to pursue that are covered by insurance before we necessarily need to drop that kind of cash! He's definitely stayed in the back of my mind, though, as a resource to go to if nothing else works. And, I just ordered his book on Amazon! Thank you for the link!
      Thank you, Mindy, for sharing a bit of your story with me. So very sorry for the struggles that you and your husband had, and delighted to hear you're expecting your 5th child! Congratulations to all 7 of you. <3

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    3. Hi Ellen, I hope the book is helpful. I thought it was very helpful. Do you mind if I email you? I wanted to tell you a little more of my experience but not on a public forum. If not, it's ok. God bless! I'm remembering you in my prayers!

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    4. Mindy, that would be absolutely fine. My email is ellentoner2015 @ gmail . com. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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  20. https://healthtaboo.wordpress.com/vaginismus/

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  21. Took so long to get that up there...phone problems...you share much, and it is appreciated...but I wish you could share more, without sounding odd...could that help you, perhaps? Do you have other pelvic pain? Do you have painful periods? Is your husband able to arouse you? Do you feel sexual attraction, responses? Does any romantic reading help, like the Song of Solomon?

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  22. As a Catholic, can you write about why the act is so important to you? Do you want to be satisfied, do you want that for your husband? Do you want to be as one...you write about a lot of great things in your life...but please do not think i am being rude -but do you spend much time being naked and alone? I understand pain..i have endometriosis, and thought I would be mom to many kids.

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  23. Magnesium can help tight muscles...i think this requures a multi front attack...progesterone, natural bio identucal can relax muscles...there is a pro nfp ob gyn practice in nyc. I wonder what advice they would have...it is hard on women and men, you practice abstinence, and then are expected to perform in a way once married....I just know people underestimate importance of wife being very very aroused, wanting penetration...difference between thinking you want that, and the body being ready to accept the man...I know this problem is more than that...i just kkind of wonder if typical dating pattern helps...man romancing you, seducing you, getting aroused which we are often taught not to let happen...old habits hard to break...i wish you all the physical, emotional, spiritual, love that a partnership of Catholic marriage will present to you...http://www.pelvicpainrehab.com/pelvic-pain/507/why-kegels-are-bad-for-your-pelvic-floor/

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    1. Hi, Deedee,

      Thanks so much for writing in. Why don't we talk more privately? ellentoner2015 @ gmail . com. Would love to share more with you about what it means from the Catholic perspective, and also some of the other details you ask about. And perhaps you can tell me more, if you'd like, about your struggle with endometriosis.

      God bless,
      Ellen

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  24. I just want to thank you for putting into words what has been in my heart for so long. Due to a physical condition, my husband and I are also unable to have intercourse and I have felt so alone in that. It's one thing to know that your marriage is different than what the world tells you it should be, but it is truly heartbreaking and confusing knowing that it's not what the Church tells you it should be, when you want more than anything to honor God. Thank you for sharing the wise counsel you have received and your own experience. I hope it encourages you to know that you helped me, and I hope that (perhaps paradoxically) it helps to hear from someone who has endured this for years that God will be with you. He has been with me and my husband and our love has not grown cold or bitter as I feared, but is strong and good. I'm sure He will bless and be beside you whatever comes, as He has been with us.

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    1. Dear friend, I am very blessed to have your words of encouragement and solidarity. All of God's continued blessings to you and your faithful husband. I wish you joy.

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  25. Hi Ellen, thank you for sharing your story. As I write with tears in my eyes, my heart isnt fidled with sorrow but with joy as you shared your story much like David did in Psalm. In all that David endured he cried out, "why Lord..." (e.g., Psalm 10), but he always ended praising God (e.g., Psalm 10:16-18) as you did throughout your blog. Thereby your testimony not only blessed you, but has greatly blessed others - thank you. I will continue to pray with you and I look forward to your praise report of moving THROUGH this storm and ultimately being able to give your husband what you desire and bearing children.
    Love you in Christ. Your friend,
    Nzinga

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  26. Hi Ellen! I teared up reading your post. Your faith in God is beautiful and I admire you so much for sharing such a personal thing so that others may benefit! I was a virgin when we got married in 2014. Luckily I didn't have problems then. However, in June of this year I had a beautiful son but an extremely traumatic birth which left me recovering for not the standard 6 weeks, but having multiple procedures to try to "fix" things up until 14 weeks postpartum. At that point I had been through so much pain and trauma my pelvic floor was in a constant state of spasm. Vaginismus. I was depressed thinking I would never have sex again after many, many painful and embarrassing failed attempts with my sweet and patient husband. I was convinced that we would only have one child.

    I was recommended to a pelvic floor therapist and it
    only took 5 sessions with her to be able to have sex again. I would encourage you to please not give up hope for this area of your marriage and absolutely seek pelvic floor therapy as well as talk therapy. I was amazed at what it has done for me. If you have any questions I would be more than happy to talk. Thank you again for this beautiful post!

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    1. Dear Katelyn,

      Somehow I missed your comment until just now. I am sorry to be so remiss in responding to you! I really appreciate you taking the time to write, and share your own very personal struggles. I'm so glad to hear things are getting back to normal for you, or are there already! Pelvic floor physical therapy seems like the answer to this problem, for so many people!

      I'm very happy to report that Jamey and I went to some specialists in December and January, after reading the advice of all you ladies who have written in, and things are so much better! We've a long way to go still, but boy oh boy. Anyway, I wrote a second post just earlier this month, telling the "recovery" story.

      Thank you for your help, and God bless you and your family!

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  27. Kudos to you, Ellen, for addressing some very personal challenges in this post. I am so inspired by your authenticity. I don't struggle with this issue, but having faced other embarrassing and painful women's health issues, I'm 100% sure that your honesty is an enormous blessing to other women.

    That brings me to another "kudos." I read in your first post how your editors suggested you put on rose-colored glasses and adopt a more positive tone. I think you did very well to ignore this advice and be genuine about your pain. As I'm sure you already know, we can't eradicate our own shame---and thus help others eradicate theirs, too---unless we cast unflinching light upon it.

    I have a few ideas or you. I hesitate to offer them because I know how utterly irritating it can be to receive unsolicited advice. But, in case these ideas end up helping you, I'm willing to take the risk:

    (1) You and your husband may enjoy reading about the amazing life stories of Jacques and Raissa Maritain. Among other amazing accomplishments, they shared a beautiful marriage as a completely celibate couple.

    (2) Watch the documentary Forks Over Knives on Netflix. The film argues that *any* physical problem can be addressed through the plant-based diet (no meat or dairy, no processed foods, no oil). I have found this to be true for my own women's health issues. I also personally know people with conditions ranging from cancer and arthritis to eczema and depression who have found success with this diet. You're probably torturing yourself wondering what deep-seated psychological issue could be causing your vaginismus, when you feel like you're probably an overall mentally stable gal. Well, our standard American diet is so truly messed up, that maybe the problem really is just physical and not mental at all. There might be something in your diet that is causing stress to your body, and the problem is presenting in your vagina, whereas for others it presents in the hormones (like me), the bowels (like people with IBS), the brain (like people with depression), etc. Give Forks Over Knives a try - you might be amazed.

    I hope this advice wasn't intrusive, although I'm sure it was, and for that I apologize. Again, I'm sure you're absolutely sick of unsolicited advice. But, just in case it helps, I wanted to let you know about it.

    God bless you and your godly husband on this journey!

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    1. Oh and I have faith that your marriage won't always be celibate, like that of the Maritains. So please don't take my suggest of them as a sign of thinking your hopes for sex are doomed! I merely suggest them as a source of solidarity during your current--and I believe, temporary--waiting period. God bless.

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