Now that I have finally had by surgery, as an M2F individual, I felt I should share about my experience undergoing the vaginoplasty procedure. This is essentially a run through with regards to my surgery and post-op care at the Charring Cross NHS hospital. I had found that what surgeons and other medical staff told me didn’t fully cover what I was to experience, so I hope that this will illuminate others as to what to expect.
So to put it simply, and something I can’t stress enough: follow the surgeons advice carefully—although that should really go without saying. Research the procedure, thoroughly, if you haven’t already; online or any other documentation you can find that is from a legitimate source (i.e. NHS, etc.). The vaginoplasty is an extensive and delicate surgery, so your decision should NOT be taken lightly. As with all surgeries, particularly those under general anaesthetic, there are risks; and these will be explained to you by the surgeons and GIC physicians. So I’ll say again: pay careful attention to what they tell you.
On the day before my surgery I was admitted to hospital and subsequently taken to the ward in which I would remain while recovering. If this is on the NHS, and not private, chances are you will be in a room with other people. In my case they put me in with two other M2Fs individuals, who were also undergoing the same procedure. This is obviously for convenience, as the nursing staff will all know why your all there and they can all look after you collectively. At Charring Cross, where I had my surgery, the nursing staff were all understanding and pleasant, treating me with respect and compassion. I obviously can’t say the same with regards to other hospitals but I hope that this is the case for the others. The day I was admitted I was shown to the ward where I would spend my time recovering. The next day I was taken to the surgery ward and before I was anaesthetized given a quick brief of what was going to happen, then asked to confirm the surgery I was going to have. Because of the surgery I was ‘Nil by mouth’, which is essentially no eating food or drink, other than water. I should point out that the hospital food there isn’t that brilliant—it is free however, and there is a menu to choose from—so if you can, have some brought in prior to your admittance or by family or friends. Something a bit more palatable to keep you going after the surgery and your recovery in the ward.
Following surgery, I awoke groggy and uncomfortable, with the pain that there was, which is understandable. With so few positions I could manoeuvre into, getting comfortable and falling to sleep became rather awkward. I knew that it was going to be painful and it was just about manageable, with morphine and other painkillers, but I had underestimated just how galling the experience would be. Additionally, there was also a lot of blood post-operation, which required constant cleaning and bandage changes by the nurses. So if your squeamish of the red stuff, you might want to advert your gaze while they change your gauze. Any extensive surgery will be fraught with pain, and obviously it will vary based on your individual tolerance and the skill and success of the surgeon and surgery, respectively. I had found that for the first few days I couldn’t even bring myself to do anything other than try to take my mind of the discomfort. Having my tablet, with connection to the free wi-fi available, certainly helped. My suggestion is to find something, anything, to take your mind off the discomfort. So bring an MP3 player, a few books etc., anything to keep your mind busy. Also, beware that while the nerve endings in the area heal you will get the occasional stinging sensation or twang of pain out of nowhere. Fortunately, in time this will fade.
The most painful aspect of the procedure was having the fluid drains removed two days after—these are two tubes in your lower abdomen that remove excess internal blood. Even with the morphine it was unbearably painfully. It got to the point that my body went into minor shock. Not to put you off or anything, just be aware of what will come. You also have the issue of the catheter, which is what removes urine from your bladder, because you won’t be able to use the facilities until the bandages and ‘packing’ is removed and you are able to finally get out of bed. The catheter removal is also unpleasant, but obviously required and so to is the ‘packing’, although not quite as painful as the former two. The ‘packing’ is essentially bandages they use to keep your vagina’s depth for the first week. The depth of your vagina is based on the material the surgeons have to work with, so if you have a small penis, then your vagina will, naturally, have less depth. Both are removed on the last two days of your admittance and you are expected to be able to urinate before you are discharged, which is to ensure that you won’t have any problems afterwards.
After the packing was removed, it was time to start dilating. This requires the lubrication of a one to two glass vaginal dilators, to be inserted into your new vagina, as deep as possible. It will be painful initially but it will become less so over time. The more frequently you keep dilating initially the easier it will be months later. So focusing on the first three months in particular should be your main concern, as this is the stage that matters most. Both vaginal dilators are around 7” in length, one is wider in diameter than the other. Dilating is three times a day for the first two-three months; about every eight hours should do, in accordance to your schedule. Then it’s two times a day after 2 months, skipping the middle session; so roughly every 12 hours. Around 6 to 9 months post surgery you should be able to dilate only 1-2 times per week. You continue this indefinitely or up until you get to the point you can’t be bothered any more and are content with losing depth. The entire process can take around 15 to 20 minutes per session, so make sure that you have that time set aside to keep up dilating without interruption; starting with the small one for 5-10 minutes then proceeding to use the larger one for the remaining time; ensuring both are adequately lubricated before use. Again, dilating will be discussed with you prior to the surgery and when you first dilate the nurses will talk you through it. There are also replacements available online, and in different sizes, should you need to replace a lost or broken dilator. They are only small and made of glass or perspex, and so not indestructible.
For the lubricant you will be supplied some for the first few weeks, but you will have to procure your own from a chemist or order online thereafter. Any lubricant intended for sexual aid will do, e.g. KY Jelly. Cheaper brands can cost between £5 – 7 per tube and each 50ml tube lasts for a good couple of weeks, even when used liberally. It will also be usefully later should you wish to be intimate with a partner—after the appropriate amount of healing permits, of course. Sex is suggested after 3 months, but I would suggest waiting a few months longer. And dilate before hand, otherwise you may find the experience painful. Be sure to discuss this with your partner, to prevent them from hurting you. Be gentle and slow. And as I said, the use of lubrication can be messy. So keep a healthy supply of wet wipes, to keep the vaginal dilators and yourself clean afterwards.
Hygiene will be very important within the few few months. Because you wounds are still fresh and you will be prone to infections. Keep clean as much as possible with regular showers. The ward I was on had a walk in shower, which was rather difficult to try and manoeuvre into, as at the time I still had my catheter in. Try not to use soap or harshly with a sponge on the vagina area, as this will aggravate the wounds. If you do get an infection seek a GP immediately, they may proscribe you antibiotics to help fight the infection. Always make sure your hands are clean, as well as the dilators. I chose to use an alcoholic anti-bacterial hand lotion, but be careful applying this around the healing wounds, as this can sting the vagina/labia area if you choose to use it there or get it on you accidentally. You will also be supplied with a douche. This is for inserting into your vagina to clean inside, and should be done so after each session, for roughly 6 weeks or for general personal hygiene thereafter. Use it with only clean water, no soap. Douches can usually be bought in chemists or online and are around £15, if you need a replacement.
Remember: most of this information will be explained to you before hand and you will be provided with all the information necessary to make an informed decision about your surgery.
Now that it is approximately six months after my surgery I can say that I am happy with the result. Despite the pain that is involved and the loops I had to go through just to get to this point. I am much more confident and outgoing now. I am less inclined to hide away because I was always self-conscious about what I was trying to hide, not to mention the fact that I hated the sight of it anyway, hence why I wanted the surgery to begin with. Sure it isn’t the same as a cis-gender woman’s vagina, and sure the constant dilating can be uncomfortable and a nuisance, but it is a small price to pay for being happier within my own body. Now that it looks and functions enough like one that I am content with living the rest of my. I can’t thank the NHS surgeons and support staff enough for their time and effort during my stay and all the physicians and support staff, who all treated me in the years prior.
If you feel I have left out a certain aspect of the surgery, something that you feel you want further insight into or would even like to share your experience, then please leave a comment.
All the best,
Laura Steel © 2016