I am the gateway; I am the door. I connect the inside to the outside. I decide which outside comes in. I control the flux and the flow. I hold the wise blood, or let it go. I protect the growing babe, or thrust it unformed into a world unsuitable. None leave, none enter, except by my grace, my decision. I am the passage of birth. I am the mark of the sun. I am as near as the reach of your finger, yet mysterious and hidden. Many women, most men, born through me, go their whole life without gazing upon me.
I offer blood to Mother Earth. I spin stretchy strings of fertile mucus to Grandmother Moon. I am as sensitive as the best hound’s nose, as authoritative as the wisest crone. I am not, and have never been, innocent. I am all seeing, though darkness is my constant companion, and my eye but single. (How curious that women in India believe I have two eyes.)
I know how to be firm and potent, how to stand strong against those who would storm my portal. I know how to be loose and soft, how to welcome those who bring future’s hope. I know how to efface myself and withdraw, making way, stretching myself to the utmost, opening wide in sweet surrender.
I pulse within you. I am your cervix, the mouth of your womb.
WHAT IS THE CERVIX?
The cervix is the neck of the uterus. It projects into the upper part of the vagina and can be felt with the fingertips, especially in a squatting position. With the aid of a speculum, a mirror, and a flashlight, you can see your cervix, too.
During labor, the cervix dilates, allowing the baby to leave thewomb, enter the vagina, and be born. The cervix also opens, just a little, to help push menstrual blood out of the uterus, and to allow sperm inside so fertilization can occur.
Medical opinion holds that the cervix is “insensitive to pain,” a statement that I challenge.
The cervix is covered by a thin layer of cells, called the epithelium. And the epithelium has two kinds of cells: ones that grow in columns, and ones that are flat and scaly. The columnar ones make up the inner surface of the cervix and are red, like our lips. The flat ones (squamous cells) make up the outer surface and are pink, like some skins. The place where they meet is the squamo-columnar junction, or transition zone, one of the most common sites of cervical cancer.
A healthy, fertile, cervix looks pink, with a pretty round, red mouth, the os. (Before puberty, the entire cervix is red as pink squamous cells have yet to cover it.)
A cervix that is infected, irritated, or growing abnormally usually looks lumpy, bumpy, very red, and weepy. (A vinegar wash is needed to make the white lesions of HPV visible.)
A variety of organisms, including parasites, bacteria, and viruses, as well as wear and tear from childbirth and intercourse can affect the health of the cervix. The major categories of cervical distress are - going from least to worst - cervicitis, erosion, dysplasia, HPV infections, and cancer.
Cervicitis: Inflammation of the Cervix
Acute cervicitis is inflammation - reddening, swelling, and sometimes bleeding - of the cervix. Cervicitis can follow a difficult birth, vacuum aspiration, or trauma. It can be triggered by use of hormones such as birth control pills and menopausal hormone pills, or by irritation from the string of an IUD. But, usually, cervicitis is caused by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection such as Trichomonas vaginalis, Candida albicans, or Haemophilus vaginalis. Cervicitis can be symptomless, or it can cause pain on intercourse, itching and burning of the genitals, and/or discharge. Specific treatment with drugs or herbs to eliminate the infective organisms is usually effective.
If redness and irritation continue in the absence of infection, daily application of aloe vera gel, honey, or vitamin E oil, directly on the cervix for 2-3 weeks is generally effective.
Chronic cervicitis occurs when inflammation and infection of the cervix continues unchecked for many years. The cervix thickens, cysts protrude, tears and scars from childbirth and gynecological procedures accumulate, and, depending on the infection, noxious-smelling discharges, sometimes with pelvic pain, may come and go. Orthodox medicine uses antibiotics and surgery to clear the inflamed tissue, rather like using a backhoe to clear the ground; feminist doctors consider this over-treatment. Alternative approaches, like a careful gardener, work to remove infections, reverse precancerous changes, and increase the health of the woman and her cervix with as little disruption as possible. If the condition worsens or fails to respond to treatment within 3-12 months, surgical remedies are indicated.
Not the same thing, but frequently confused, even by doctors. When columnar cells grow too quickly, they push aside the squamous cells, causing eversion and erosion. In an eversion, there is generally a clear dividing line between the cells. In an erosion, there is no definite border.
Cervical eversions show a clear dividing line between the two types of cells, though the columnar cells are spilling out of the os, instead of confining themselves to the inside of the cervix. Cervical eversions revert to normal when the hormones triggering them - such as birth control pills - are removed. Some women have a “congenital” eversion which is present at birth, regresses until puberty, may be especially prominent if she is pregnant, and regresses after menopause. Eversion generally requires no treatment; if confused with erosion, over-treatment is likely.
Surgical procedures - such as endometrial biopsy, D&C, aspiration extraction of the contents of the womb, radiation implantation, cone biopsy, cryosurgery, and laser ablation - as well as trauma from childbirth and intercourse, can, in the presence of inflammation and infection, lead to cervicitis or erosion.
Cervical erosion is a term that is often applied to any redness seen on the cervix, from an abrasion to a full-blown infection. “[It] conjures up a frightening picture of the cervix wasting away like bare earth after a heavy rain, [and] is not only erroneous, but absurd.”(1) Conservative doctors may suggest removal of the “eroded” tissue. Alternative methods are quite successful in healing cervical erosion; complementary medicines can ease side-effects and hasten healing if drugs or surgery are chosen.
Cervical Dysplasia: Abnormal Cells in the Cervix
Dysplasias often regress with no treatment. Over-treatment in both orthodox and alternative circles is common.
This silent infection rarely causes symptoms and usually is dealt with by the immune system. A few of the sixty known varieties can cause cervical cancer. Poor women are more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer and more likely to die of it and more likely to be helped by mandated vaccination programs against it. Unfortunately, the vaccine is only useful before a woman has had any contact, sexual or otherwise, with HPV.
When abnormal cell growth triggered by HPV is unchecked by the immune system, it can invade adjoining tissues and even spread through the blood to distant sites. Untreated, cervical cancer is lethal. Caught early, virtually all cases are cured.
YOUR HEALTHY CERVIX
Keeping your cervix healthy is a lot like keeping your whole self healthy, but with a few special considerations.
Imagine how difficult it would be to keep your face healthy if you never looked at it or touched it. Though it may seem odd, looking at your cervix and touching it, at least once in your life, is important. And it’s easy.
You will need a mirror, a flashlight, a plastic speculum, some private time and space (though I have done this in groups), and a reference book like A New View of a Woman’s Body. With some wiggling and jiggling, you can arrange yourself, the mirror and the flashlight so you can see your cervix. Amazing!
How do you get a speculum? You can ask to keep the one they use the next time you have a gynecological checkup. Can you buy one at the drug store?
As part of the uterus, the cervix is made healthier by those herbs that nourish and tonify the womb: raspberry leaf infusion,motherwort tincture.
As part of the vagina, the cervix is exposed to dangerous bacteria, viruses, and fungi, usually from, though not limited to, sex. Additionally, the cervix suffers trauma when the vagina is traumatized. Keeping good gut flora keeps the gut healthy, and so keeping good vaginal flora keeps the cervix and vagina healthy. That’s why I start my day with a cup of plain yogurt, and avoid bubble baths, douches, and feminine hygiene sprays, and am very, very fussy indeed about what I allow to enter my vagina.
(1) How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist’s Office, Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers, 1981
Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.
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