Once upon a time there was a mommy who sat in a sunny nursery on a quiet morning rocking a newborn baby who was almost asleep. The phone beside her rang and she answered it without disturbing her nursing baby. It was the birthing center at which the baby was born. Her midwife had given her a pap smear at her 6 week follow-up visit and the pap was flagged by the lab as abnormal. The results had been faxed to her family doctor and the mommy was supposed to go see him so that he could explain it all to her.
"Don't worry about it though," the receptionist on the phone said, "it's probably nothing. We get abnormal pap results all the time and they're usually nothing. They make mistakes with these things all the time."
The mommy decided not to worry. She wasn't a worrier. And when she looked down at the plump, rosy, nursing baby in her arms the whole notion of there being anything at all wrong with her womanly parts seemed outrageous.
When she went to see her family doctor he explained that she had an HPV infection. He said that there are hundreds of types of HPV infections and most are harmless but some cause cancer so they had to check it out. He was going to refer her to a specialist.
"Don't worry about it though," he reassured her, "it's extremely unlikely that anything is wrong with you. There's less than a one in one hundred chance that it's anything like cancer. It's probably nothing and can be cleared up easily."
And that, dear Readers, is how a long and painful medical saga began that I am about to chronicle here.
This is Part I: An HPV Story.
I know, right? Fun for you!
Well, dammit, one year and a half after this phone call I've finally made it to the other side of this ordeal and I want to talk about it. I want to share my story with other women and girls who will say, "me too."
I cried a lot at that first visit to my family doctor.
He was mystified by my tears.
"Why, HPV is terribly common," he assured me, "and nothing at all to be upset about."
I wanted to explain to him that there just couldn't possibly be anything wrong with me because the tiniest, most precious thing on Earth utterly depends on me. He, my newborn, is at home right now where his eyes are slowly turning from baby blue to brown. He is my chubby wubbers. And ohmigod. I also have a daughter. She can say things like "Parasaurolophus" even though she's only two. She says it wrong though, she says, "ParasaurolophAlus," and gets really belligerent when corrected.
And she needs me too.
It's hard on a wee girl to become a big sister, you know? I can't tell you how impossibly small she looks when she sits on our big toilet and holds herself up with her skinny arms rigid on either side of the yawning hole in that big toilet seat, swinging her little girl legs beneath her.
And my husband!
He tells me I'm beautiful at least five times a day.
And he means it!
He'd be shattered. Shattered if....
I'm just in a such a raw, post-natal haze of hormones and I am NEEDED so much and this makes me feel so very VULNERABLE.
I'm a nice mommy who lives in the suburbs.
Nothing at all can happen to me.
I mean, it MUST NOT.
But all I managed to sob in explanation for my tears was, "I'm lactating."
"That won't matter," the doctor reassured me. "That doesn't matter at all!"
That doctor, our family doctor, referred me to a specialist for a colposcopy. In the meantime he suggested I learn more about HPV. And he cautioned me not to worry about where the infection came from because there was just no telling.
"And no, you won't give it to your daughter even if you take a bath together," he laughed, rolling his eyes, as if this was just what I was thinking. It wasn't.
"It can only be transmitted sexually," he insisted.
Heavens to Betsy!
Sexually? Transmitted? As in sexually transmitted?
That can't happen to me! I've been in a monogamous relationship for well over a decade. My husband is not what you would call "a playah." He is what you would call "doting."
And did I mention that I'm a nice mommy who lives in the suburbs?
I have a newborn baby fereffingchrissakes! We don't even get to have sex!
It was easy to find out more about HPV.
But not really easy to process the whole HPV thing.
I found lots of sources that say that HPV infections are extremely common -- more than half of sexually active people (as in people who have had sex, like, ever) have one type of HPV infection or another at some point in their lives. And they are usually harmless. They are harmless or dire -- one or the other.
They are especially problematic for young women just starting to have sex. They are more likely to strike young women with multiple sexual partners.
It didn't fit. I'm not a teenager sleeping around with college boys. I'm 35. I'm married.
I also found lots of sources that say an HPV infection can be dormant for months and even years. Those sources like to say "dormant for up to two years" a lot.
But I've yet to find any that say it can be dormant for decades.
But my husband and I will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary this summer.
So... if I only have had sex with my husband in the past decade in which we've been married... and it can take up to two years to infect you... then I must have got it from him within the past two years... which would explain all the clean paps I've had over the past decade, but if he's only had sex with me in the past decade in which we've been married...where in the crap-o-sphere did it come from?
The more I googled "HPV infections and dormancy" the more totally paranoid I became that my true love who -- let's face facts -- does seem a little too good to be true (what with sharing the housework and making lots of money and being an awesome father and an incredible cook who makes any stupid recipe I point out in any stupid gourmet magazine anytime I want and who built me a greenhouse and who loves ME even though I have about a billion and one faults -- ridiculously long and awkward sentence constructions with far too many conjunctions being just the tip of the iceberg) must be having sneaky sex with hookers when he "takes the dog for a walk" or on his "lunchbreaks" at work or... well, we really don't spend a lot of time apart, so when he would do this is a bit of a mystery.
I told a friend who knows us both about this "my wonderful husband is actually a philandering pervert theory" and she said, "Oh Honey, I don't know whether to smack you or roll around on the floor laughing. Him? Sleeping with hookers? No. That is preposterous. Stop it right now."
And I asked the specialist I saw, why now? I've been married for 10 years... and I burst into tears. And he said, "Aw, Kiddo. Doctors know absolutely nothing about the dormancy of HPV. So just totally forget about it. All it means is that you had sex with at least one person who has had sex with at least one other person. That's all it means." Then he raised his very stately black eyebrows in a way that said that his job was saving girls and women who were affected by an uncaring and random disease and that he didn't have an iota of time for any judgmental crap about it. He told me that he treated a 75 year old woman whose husband had been dead for over 30 years and who suddenly got a bad pap so that I absolutely shouldn't freak out.
So I let all that go. I had to. It's preposterous.
But there's no escaping that it came from someone who got it from someone else. That's the way it works.
I got this from a lover.
I probably got it way back when my sex life was more...let's go with...bohemian. Back when I was hot stuff. Back when nobody ever heard of sex giving you cancer. Back when I was legally an adult but totally a child.
I'm not angry with that past self -- that improv theatre performing, army-boot wearing, cigarette smoking, Bachelor of Arts-getting hottie who used words like "patriarchy" and "ennui." I definitely forgive that girl.