because none of us is fucking up like we think we are, is what i'm trying to say

Saturday, 27 August 2011


The letter came the day after my 25th birthday, right before I flew out to Italy. I laughed about it when it came, showing Calum and giggling. “It surprises me just how many requests I have for a look at my cervix,” I told him. “Slag,” he replied.

And that’s how I learned about my first smear test.

On my return to the (Y)UK this week, right after a session with my hair stylist (“Wow,” she said to me as she pulled dreaded, matted hair from my head. “You’re really ready for this aren’t you?”) I set off to the doctor’s surgery.

For the days leading up to it, Mama was telling everyone where I was headed. “Her first smear!” she’d say, and whichever auntie/family friend/stranger waiting for the bus was being addressed would look at me, inhale a breath between their teeth, and then shake their head solemnly.

Reassuring, no?
I’ve had coils fitted, sexual health tests pursued, Hollywood waxes galore- not to mention that one guy who was so big it was like having sex with a coke can- and it was this rite of passage that got me sweating.

Waiting for my Aunt in Specsavers Mum really pushed the fear home, asking me, “Do you know what they do?”
“Not really,” I replied.
“It’s like a vice that they put up there,” she said. “Really far up…”
I grimaced. “I’m happy in my ignorance,” I told her.
“No, hold on. Not so much a vice, it’s more like a clamp that they use. And a funnel.”
“Mum?” I said. “Shut up.”
“And you’ll be well lubricated. It’s a bloody buggar otherwise,” she said. I sat silently. “It’s a temporary pain, and you’ll probably bleed afterwards.” I said nothing. “Oh. She’s going to talk to you about The Pill as well,” she said. “You’ve run out haven’t you?”
I sighed. That’s the thing about leading a nomadic lifestyle- sometimes you need your mum to register you at a doctors because you don’t live here anymore, and sometimes you have to ask her to make appointments for you because she lives next door to the surgery. Sometimes that also means owning up to the fact that you came off The Pill because you ran out and didn’t realise. Which sometimes means having conversations like this in the middle of God’s Waiting Room.
“Yes mum. I would like my blood pressure checking anyway.”
“But what worries me is, Laura, what you’ve been doing all summer then. When I was your age I was on The Pill AND double-bagging to boot.”
I smiled apologetically at the balding women beside us. “Pull-out method,” I shrugged.

As I entered the nurse’s room she smiled at me and said brightly, “So! Your first smear then!” I replied in the affirmative and she inhaled the air between her teeth and shook her head solemnly.

“Let’s deal with your pill first, shall we?” she said.
“Ok,” I replied, in no hurry to begin The Procedure Which Would Apparently Scar Me For Life.
“Firstly, are you a smoker?” she said.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Would you like to stop?” she said.
“Nope,” I replied.
“Are you sure?” she said.
“I’m obliged to ask you that,” she explained.

“Are you interested in an alternative form of contraception?” she said.
“Nope,” I replied.
“Are you sure?” she said.
“Yup,” I replied.
“I’m obliged to ask you that,” she explained.

“Would you like me to weigh you?” she said.
“Nope,” I replied.
“Are you sure?” she said.
“Yup,” I replied.
“I’m obliged to ask you that.”

I asked her if we could get started, as I had an appointment to Google naked celebrities with Calum, and so she pulled out a pen and a piece of paper to draw me a diagram.

“So this is the vagina,” she explained, “And this tube here leads up to the bit at the top where you cervix is. That is where we will be taking a sample from today.” I sort of knew that much, so began to stand in anticipation of moving on. She wasn’t finished. “This leads up to where your womb is, a baby would position itself like this, and this bit here-” She pointed at something. “This bit here stretches to up to 10 centimetres during the birthing process!”

WOAH! We went from entrance only pussy talk to the frickin’ BIRTHING CANAL and I wasn’t even warned.

“This is normally how the baby would form, and what we are looking for today is…”

I put my hand up to stop her. “I’m really not emotionally mature enough for this conversation,” I explained. “Can we just cut to the chase?”
The nurse looked mildly shocked. “Have you got any questions?” she said.
“Nope!” I happily replied.
“Okay then, please take off everything on your bottom half, put your knees up by your ears, and we’ll get started.”
“Now you’re talking in words I understand,” I replied.
The nurse didn’t respond.

So there I was, chocolate starfish for the world to see, gripping the sides of the hospital bed ready for the searing pain, and the nurse’s last words to me were, “Just breathe deep.”

So I breathed.

And breathed.

And breathed some more.

I waited.

“… Okay then! That’s it! All done,” she said after two minutes of Breath Holding and Being Brave and Thinking Positive Thoughts.
“We’re done already?” I said, getting flashbacks to last Friday night. “Oh.”
I was relived she didn’t ask to take my number afterwards, as I would have had to have lied.

I walked out of the surgery and Mama inhaled through her teeth and shook her head solemnly. “How was it?” she said.
“I didn’t feel a thing,” I replied.
Mama looked at me.
“Why doesn’t that surprise me,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
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