Saturday, 25 February 2006

My Path to renewal - Translation from a French blog

19 February 2007 Read this first

[links to following posts are at the end of each post]

I’m 30 years old of Senegalese descent and I live in Paris. I have a well paid job which allows me to live comfortably. I live with my partner in the south of the city.

When I was 4 my mother had me circumcised. It ruined my life

The circumcision I underwent I don’t remember at all. It was my cousin who told me my age when it happened. I know I was circumcised at the same time as my big sister. My mother thought we would no longer remember ("children forget" she said). Nevertheless, although I don't remember that day nor what happened to me, I knew well before questioning my cousin that I had been circumcised as well as my big sister.

For a long time I didn’t ask myself the question, it’s something that you did at les Mandingues in Casamance. That's how it was, that's all.

When I was taken to a psychotherapist 6 years ago, I didn’t think any more of it. I was suffering, I had difficulty in living, I was always afraid something was going to happen to me, fear of dying or going mad. And I especially didn’t understand what was happening to me , why life was so difficult. I had been a good child, obedient, almost invisible. I had completed my engineering studies and had looked conscientiously for work. I had always done everything to perfection, I was always a good person, and kind, so why had I this strong impression that I was risking my life doing anything, be it as unexciting as going to the post office. Why was I so afraid? Why was I so sad? Why did I feel so alone?

It was my psychiatrist who spoke about it first to me. One question, after several months. “Have you been circumcised?” I told her yes and then went on to other things. I had problems to solve and the circumcision seemed totally unconnected to my fears and the gulf in which I was trying to survive.

Several years of therapy were needed before I could credit what my therapist was saying, that the circumcision was one of the causes of my problems. It took still more months for me to realise she was right.

As well as my individual therapy, I attended group therapy every Saturday for a year and a half. Since the January session I have been wanting to work on "a tendancy I needed to rid myself of". When anyone speaks to me about a situation they have had to face, or even one they were going to have to face, it’s too much for me: I ask myself if I would have been able to manage if I were in the same situation. I think anxiously about how I would do it. And I don't stop until I have worked it out. Once a friend said he was going to buy a car. My brain whirled into action: “and what would I do to buy a car? Who would I ask for help?" Even though I had no need for a car, I didn’t even have a driving licence! I wanted to get rid of this incessant need to extract myself from never mind what situation.

In clarifying with the therapists, I had just asked them to help me to get rid of the anxiety of one day finding myself in a situation I couldn’t escape from. And that started of a flood of tears….I had not explained to the other members of the group but I immediately thought of my circumcision.

That was what I wanted, a way of assuring myself I will never again be in a situation similar to the horror of my circumcision.

Little by little I faced up to the circumcision which had ruined my life, this monstrosity which I had wanted to forget, this savagery which had such a significant impact on me, so very significant.

I searched on the internet for women’s accounts of circumcision. I couldn’t talk to my mother, it’s a subject that’s completely taboo. My sister refused to discuss it. Up to now, there has only been my cousin prepared to talk to me about it. I’ve searched the internet for several weeks with little result, very little. So I decided to write this blog, to give you this account, to help perhaps a woman or a young girl who has been circumcised and who is looking on the internet for other women who have undergone the same thing. I also need to set out on the road I took this year, the road to my reconstruction.


21 February

When you look for information about female circumcision on the internet, you inevitably find a reference to Docteur Pierre Foldès, the first surgeon to attempt successfully the repair of an excised clitoris. I had read an interview with him on several websites during 2005 while I brought up the question of my circumcision in therapy. Curiously I hadn’t enquired any more than that. To make an enquiry, to make an appointment seemed to me to be too hard, too complicated. I wanted to be able to manage without it. At that time I used to minimise the importance of my circumcision. “I don’t need it”, “I can live without it”, “Besides, an operation! That’s something serious”. I ended up forgetting this possibility.

With hindsight, what bothered me most I believe, was not being able to hide an operation from my parents. I would have to talk to them about it and that was impossible. I couldn’t do it without their consent, and I could never get their consent, I was sure. Not worth trying even. I had never even imagined them giving their consent.

At the time of the group therapy in January, 2007 during which my circumcision came into my mind, I said that I believed that that had happened when I was two and a half years or three years old. My therapist mentioned it to me during an individual session. To her I had said four years old.

So I wanted to know. To know as much as possible what had happened. I didn’t dare speak to either my mother or my father. My sister refused to speak about it and got stressed when I bought up the subject. One morning on the metro I had the idea of calling my cousin. She had been brought up by my mother and was living with us at that time, I was sure. I was apprehensive (“And what if she won’t speak to me?”) and I was very surprised at how easily she spoke to me. I had been circumcised at four years, at the same time as my sister, in my father’s village at the instigation of my mother and my paternal grandmother. My father wasn’t there that day. He had gone to find my cousin at her father’s house. It was done behind his back. When he returned, my cousin told me, he flew into a terrible rage. He said he wanted to divorce my mother. Had it not been for the pleas of my grandmother who claimed all responsibility of our circumcision, he perhaps might have.

My cousin did me a service by telling me all that. For years I had believed that my father, if he hadn’t been in league with my mother, had at least shown some indifference to “women’s troubles”. I had also believed that it had happened in my mother’s village and it was my maternal grandmother who had arranged everything. That was completely wrong. I held it against my father, convinced that he didn’t love me, and I hated my grandmother all these years. All these years…

My cousin also told me about her circumcision, of the anger which had never left her and then she asked me if I was thinking about an operation. It was from then that I started to research information on circumcision and reconstruction on the internet.

I spoke about it to my man, who encouraged me to enquire directly by making an appointment. I hadn’t yet decided to have an operation but I had noted the contact details of Dr Foldès’ clinic.

And then a week later, nervous and anxious, I called to ask for information about the operation.

The woman who answered the phone explained to me that I needed to make an appointment for a consultation during which the doctor would examine me and tell me if a reconstruction would be possible. Then he would schedule me for the operating theatre. Several days to several weeks before the operation, I would meet the anaesthetist (the operation is done under general anaesthetic in order not to bring back memories of the circumcision). The stay in hospital for the operation is 48 hours. Then there would be appointments at two weeks, one month and six months I believe. I said I was going to think about it a bit; the woman said to take my time and I rang off.

I was happy to have called, to have dared to do it. Yes, I was proud of myself, and especially relieved to know that a reconstruction was possible and within my grasp. From that Friday evening I was afraid. I saw on the internet that Dr Foldès had received death threats. And I was afraid he would die before being able to operate on me, afraid that having realised and dreamt about it, the hope of one day finding my clitoris once again would vanish. At the time I thought he was the only surgeon to carry out this operation in Europe. I reassured myself by telling myself that he had trained Burkinabe surgeons and I could, if the worst came to the worst, go to have the operation in Burkina Faso. But I thought about it continuously, about his death. And I was really afraid. I daren’t hope too much.

It was perhaps this fear that he would die soon (I went as far as finding out his age) or the fact that I read in a newspaper that ARTE [TV channel] was that very evening having a programme dedicated to the theme of circumcision, or perhaps it was something else, I don’t know. But 6 February 2007, I called the clinic to make an appointment for a consultation with Dr Pierre Foldès.

In therapy I found out that I didn’t need my parents consent. I was not obliged to tell them about it. It’s about my body and my life. My therapist had set me free to make the decision which allowed me to live my life as an adult.

I have an appointment for 2 March 2007 and I’m counting the days until next Friday.

[original in French]

Next post 28 February 2007

27 comments:

  1. Hélène Larrivé12 August 2007 at 13:32

    Overwhelmed by your account... It's strange, I'm not circumcised but ... I feel the same way you do! A persistent feeling of being different, anxiety in every situation... even trivial etc... Except I reacted in a different way, by becoming an editor (and before that an author), a way of reaffirming myself in spite of everything. See you later, good luck. Hélène Larrivé http://www.larrive.info
    6 April 2007

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  2. Hello and welcome Hélène!
    The solution you have found for getting over it is original and especially courageous because you haven't given up.
    Thank you for your encouragement and a I hope all goes well for you!

    9 April 2007

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  3. Hello, I have come to your blog by way of "blog de fille" which I visit regularly. Happily this awful experience is not something which affects me, but the "fight" is really important to me, as for every woman I think.

    I read a while ago now (a few short years perhaps) an article in Cosmopolitan on Dr Foldès I believe, which made me understand the daily life of an circumcised woman, something I didn't really know about. I'm not the sort to belong to groups (it's really a pity for some causes but I have my reasons) however I'm going to write a post on my blog today, and quote yours there, if that doesn't bother you. Because I find you have a very dignified and moving way of relating your experience.

    I'll be reading you regularly, speaking perhaps a little less often, but I completely support your approach and wish you every happiness to come.

    14 April 2007

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  4. Hello Chloe and welcome to this blog.
    Thank you for your encouragement, it's very important to me.
    I am honoured that you are mentioning my blog on yours, so don't hesitate.

    14 April 2007

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  5. Hello
    I am Nono and I'm 27, a young Congolese woman living currently in San Francisco. I came across your blog by chance and I confess that your first post touched me. I have not been circumcised but I know in my country, or neighbouring countries, there are such practices. I find myself really touched by what you are relating. I find myself in you, in my similar manner of being anxious about everything, but differently. When I see someone succeeding in doing something, I immediately say to myself that I would never have managed to do that and never will. In short, I find you very touching. For the moment I've only read the first post, but I'm going to devour the following ones.

    Kisses
    Nono
    13 May 2007

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  6. Hello and welcome Nono!
    Thank you for your kind words. They are very touching.
    I hope that on your side, you succeed in overcoming your anxieties. See you soon!

    14 May 2007

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  7. I am overcome by your account... I have read all your posts in one go without stopping as if I were thirsty to learn, thirsty to feel the joy you have felt, thirsty to see myself one day like you at that clinic...I am like you, circumcised aged 6-7. I don't remember much. I've blocked it out. I dream of only one thing, of meeting Dr Foldes and finally liberating myself from this wound which doesn't want to heal....Thank you for your account which brings me support and especially has given me courage to go for a consultation.

    26 May 2007

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  8. Hello and welcome Zeylac
    Thank you for your comment.
    I am happy that my posts being you some help. I wish you very good progress towards a reconstruction.
    See you soon!

    27 May 2007

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  9. I don't know where to start Papillon, I am overwhelmed by your story, I am really depressed at the moment. I too have been circumcised, I have the feeling of not being a complete woman, I'd like to hear my parents ask for pardon too (even though there is very little chance that they will). We've not spoken about it at home, I was married to an African, I thought he understood so we didn't really speak about it, but now I'm going out with a French man and while we were being intimate he asked why I didn't have a clitoris. I didn't know what to answer, it's such a deep wound that I don't know how to broach the subject with him. It's too hard, do I have to live my life with that? I don't know how an operation is going to happen, but one thing is sure, the day I have the means, I will do it. I no longer want to live as if handicapped and anxious about intimacy.
    Papillon, thank you for having helped me speak about it.
    I wish lots of courage to all the girls who have had this atrocity because it is one.
    I'd be grateful for any info you have on the operation if you have any.
    18 June 2007

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  10. Hello and welcome Fifitra.
    No you don't have to live all your life with this pain. Already, just having spoken of it here, that will I ope make you feel better. In my following posts you will find elements of the answer concerning the operation. Do you live in France? If yes, do you know the operation is covered by social security? If not, you need an insurance policy which covers operations abroad. The operation is considered a repair and not as cosmetic surgery, normally they are reimbursed without difficulty.
    If you want I can put you in contact with other circumcised young women, having had the operation or not, or if you have more exact questions for which I can find an answer for you, don't hesitate to send me ans email at papillonblog {at} gmail {dot} com
    Thank you for coming here to leave your words and hope to hear from you very soon.

    20 June 2007

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  11. You were right to speak about it with your cousin. That gave you your father. And you are right to speak about it, it does you good, but I am sure it will do others good.
    I have taken the liberty of posting your blog address on mine.
    If it's not what you want, don't hesitate to tell me.
    24 February 2007

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  12. Well done!
    It's always a good thing to take your life in hand.
    I imagine it needed some courage to take the first step.
    Talking about this subject can't have always been easy either and I don't doubt that this blog will help other women.
    All my best wishes for the future.

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  13. I'm sending you a thousand positive wishes for your appointment; the hardest part is behind you.
    Love
    Marie
    25 February 2007

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  14. Thank you to the three of you. I will keep you up to date with events. Actually, if this blog can help young girls/women, it will have reached its goal.

    Claude, on the contrary, thank you for having posted my blog's address.

    26 February 2007

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  15. Thank you for sharing your experience, and please keep us updated.
    26 February 2007

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  16. I am also allowing myself to send you courage, anxiety and impatience? D -3
    26 February 2007

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  17. I found you by way of Feministe, an American blog, and I too have passed on the address. It's not often that anyone speaks so bravely of such a story and I have no doubt your blog will do good for others.

    Courage and good luck! As they say in English, "You are in my thoughts".
    28 February 2007

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  18. As Anne said, I found you through Feministe. Your story is an inspiration. Courage and good luck.
    Zil, California, USA
    28 February 2007

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  19. Thank you for your comments. Thank you also for having passed on my blog address. See you later!

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  20. There is peace here at knowing my age is similar to yours and we've both endured trauma that would've struck around the period of 1980.

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  21. i can no longer trust anyone, it destroyed my basic feeling of trust, betrayed by the person who should love you, your mother.

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  22. Hello Papillon I found your blog when someone posted the link to a comment of a post I did on FGM. I am touched by your account of this brutal act and that of others. I wish parents could change with the world and stop such cultures. Its good you talked about it and looked for a solution. I also liked you blog.

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  23. Hi, can someone tell me if the reconstruction of the clitoris is done in england as well?

    do you have to be 18?

    do you have to pay?
    if so, how much?

    thanks

    ReplyDelete
  24. hi everyone, im new to this google blog

    in i would like some informations regarding dr piere foldes reconstruction work, and weather is only done in france only?

    what about england?
    and how old do you have to be?

    how much does it cots?

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  25. Fozia, I have a telephone number of someone you could call. She may be able to help you. Please send me an email on a.alapage {at} gmail.com and I will send you the number. You may not have to be 18.

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  26. For perhaps 6 or 7 years now I've been waiting to read the writings of someone who has actually gone through this.
    Beyond debates, politics, religions, or anything else - just the report of a human being.
    Thank you for that.
    I think in my heart I have always believed that what I found would re-affirm my instant reaction of outrage...but that is almost entirely beside the point.
    What the world needs is truth.
    A human being's truth.
    Of course...you were very human at the age of 4. No less than now.

    I would hope that the stories would one day become a flood, to fill hearts no less, but especially to create the will to change what could not be avoided before.
    Every act of courage paves this way.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I am so pleased to have found this blog Papillon. My friend, Fortunate Adem, who is orignially from South Africa has a 8 year old daughter who was mutilated at the age of 2. Fortunate's ex husband, Khalid Adem, moved to the USA from Ethiopia when he was a teen. He and another man mutilated his daughter without Fortunate's knowledge or consent. When Fortunate found out about it she pressed charges against him and divorced him. I don't know if you have heard about this case in Atlanta Georgia, USA.

    Fortunate was outraged and determined to make her ex husband accountable for what he has done. Fortunate lobbied Georgia legislators to make Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) illegal in Georgia. After years of trying she was successful and Georgia finally passed the Amirah Joyce Adem Act, named after the child. In October 2006 Khalid Adem finally stood trial, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Khalid denies any wrong doing and is trying to appeal his conviction.

    Today Fortunate has formed a nonprofit organization called Amirah's Voice. www.Amirahsvoice.org to see more about the case. It is our objective to stop FGM any where it exists, to provide services (legal, medical, psycological, etc) to girls and women who need it. We are a very new organization but e are determined to help as many people as possible. Check our website from time to time as we will post updates as we obtain information.

    Papillon, I can't tell you how valuable your blog is for us. Fortunate did not know what to anticipate for her child but your story will give her more hope. The details you give of your pain and confusion will help FGM survivors to know that someone else undersands their struggle. Also for those whom have not under gone FGM glimpse into the unimaginable.

    Again, I invite all of you to visit the website and feel free to contact us anytime. Papillon thank you again for your honesty and your courage I hope that you will continue your blog beause your words are inspirational.

    Sincerely,

    F Salters
    Fsalters@amirahsvoice.org

    ReplyDelete

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