Submitted by O’Nell Starkey as part of the summer educational article series*
When I was 19, at my annual gynecological exam, the midwife asked me if I wanted to see my cervix and, smiling, whipped out a mirror. What a fascinating experience – to see the little, moist, pink entity that is the opening to my womb, that regularly releases my blood, that will one day stretch to 10 cm to birth a baby. It felt like a homecoming!
I was in awe of my body in a more visceral way. I now encourage all my friends to ask to view their cervices at exams; after all, why should a practitioner see more of you than you have seen?
Six years after that empowering exam, I read the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler from cover to cover. Though I had understood the basic hormonal and physical cycle of menstruation, I had never before studied it in such depth. Weschler teaches the Fertility Awareness Method – a practical method of accurately tracking menstrual cycles and fertility by keeping daily records of basal body temperature, cervical mucous, and cervical position.
I began taking my basal body temperature (oral temperature taken every morning upon waking) and graphing these subtle shifts in my body’s temperature over each cycle. I had a 33 day cycle. My temperature was consistently between 97F and 97.5F until ovulation had occurred and then it rose about 1F for the duration of my cycle. After the egg (oocyte) is released into the fallopian tubes at ovulation, the corpus luteum remains in the ovary and produces the heat-inducing hormone progesterone that helps build and maintain the endometrium (lining of the uterus, eventually the blood shed at menstruation) and causes this shift in basal body temperature.
I charted corresponding changes in the texture, color, and amount of my cervical mucous. After menstruating, my cervical mucous was sticky or creamy. It became more of an eggwhite stringy texture at ovulation, then drier until menstruation.
I also checked the position and firmness of my cervix with my finger. I noticed slight, but distinguishable, movement of the cervix’s position over time; it moved farther away from my vaginal opening near ovulation and lower approaching menstruation. I observed that it was softest around ovulation (due to increased estrogen) and otherwise felt about as hard as the tip of my nose. I charted my cycles for a few months and became fascinated by my increasing awareness of how my hormones affect my body, mind, and spirit – and vice versa.
While tracking one’s cycle certainly is not a unique idea, there didn’t seem to be many resources on the Internet that visually showed the changes over time in a woman’s cycle. In the tradition of the
feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s that heralded the home speculum self-exam, I decided to help bring this empowering method into the 21st century. So, equipped with a speculum, a flashlight, a digital camera, a willing partner, and minimal blogging skills, I began the Beautiful Cervix Project.
My partner took a photo of my cervix daily and I posted these photos along with descriptions of changes in my emotional (i.e. tenderness, energy, libido) and physical states (i.e. cramps, breast tenderness, position of cervix). I initially thought the site would only be useful to a few of my midwife friends who teach their clients about fertility cycles, but word of the Beautiful Cervix Project spread in the blogger community and beyond. So far, in a few months, the site has trafficked almost a million visitors from countries all over the world.
There is no external genitalia visible in the photos, but there certainly has been some confusion about the intention of my site. Some photos have been removed due to ‘inappropriate content’ and I’ve had to change web hosts for similar reasons. I’ve confronted sexism and body-phobia and unfortunately, the site has been linked to from pornographic websites. People send me comments about how revolted they are, how perverted I must be, or how they have used my site for their own masturbatory purposes. My reactions have ranged from feeling vulnerable to angry to disappointed in the ignorance and hate in the world. Luckily, I choose what comments are publicly posted and I do not approve offensive comments because they are degrading and do not further my mission to empower women and normalize the reality of women’s bodies.
Fortunately, this criticism is countered with an overwhelming support from fans who appreciate my site. I regularly hear from women who learned that the discharge they experience around ovulation is ‘normal’ (and not an infection), from medical students who have never seen a picture of a non-diseased cervix, or from women who have had hysterectomies and become nostalgic for their cervix after viewing the site. Personal reproductive stories and questions (both hopeful and upsetting) have flooded my inbox.
The Beautiful Cervix Project appeals to a variety of people: healthcare professionals and students, families trying to conceive, women trying to avoid pregnancy, men curious about their partner’s shifts in libido, young women searching for information about their bodies, etc.
I hope The Beautiful Cervix Project inspires curiosity to observe and appreciate what is normal for each one of us. I envision translating the site into other languages and posting photos of other women who have replicated the process, so a wide variation of normal can be represented (i.e. pregnant women, women with short or long cycles, women of different ages, women with cervical scarring, cysts, or polyps, etc)
Whose job is it to educate women (and for that matter everyone) about our own bodies, our cycles, and fertility? As a student homebirth midwife, I am fascinated by the way our educational and medical systems so often misinform or undereducate women about their bodies.
Sex education in many schools is dry, awkward, and minimal, if existent at all. There is so much fear, shame, and confusion in the world about fertility. The Beautiful Cervix Project is a grassroots movement of reclaiming our power and celebrating our womanhood! The site is dedicated to the healing of our physical and emotional wounds through self-awareness.
Author: O’Nell Starkey is a student midwife, postpartum doula and artist. You can see the beautiful cervix project at www.beautifulcervix.com
*This post was submitted by a third party as part of a summer educational article series. The comments expressed here in this post are the personal opinions of the original author, and do not necessarily state the views or opinions of Clear Passage Therapies, Inc.
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