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Young, gifted and infertile: Meet Tasha Bishop

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Tasha Bishop is 21 years old, she’s an activist, writer and English Literature student. She started ‘The Pants Project’ after she was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome when she was just 16.  

This week she is appearing at The Fertility Festival where she will talk about her life as a young and infertile woman. Here she explains about her diagnosis, setting up The Pants Project and writing an Essay for Feminists Don't Wear Pink (and Other Lies.)

Tasha Bishop // Image courtesy of Midas PR

Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster syndrome…

So Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome? Tasha explains: “MRKH – as we call it for short – syndrome is a congenital (which means you’re born with it) abnormality, characterised by the absence of the vagina, cervix and the uterus (or womb), which affects one in every 5,000 women. So it’s pretty rare, and one of the most frustrating things for me is that we have no idea how or why it occurs.”

What affects does MRKH have on the body?

“The implications of it mean that women with MRKH don’t have periods, cannot have children and often sex requires surgery or dilation (basically the equivalent of medical dildos that start small and get bigger, stretching your vaginal muscles to build an internal vagina) for an internal vagina to be created.  Sometimes it can also be associated with kidney, bone and hearing difficulties – although that’s even rarer. The ovaries are sometimes present and hopefully function in the same way as any other women would, by producing eggs and female hormones that keep you healthy – so we have female chromosomes that are the normal 46xx karyotype. Unfortunately, my one ovary doesn’t produce viable eggs, and that may or may not be related to MRKH – it’s difficult to tell at this point without invasive tests etc. that are somewhat irrelevant to my life right now – but every MRKH sister is different!” 

Image courtesy of Midas PR

 

Getting a diagnosis…

How was Tasha diagnosed with MRKH? She admits that it began with “a lie”.  “At 13 years old I was the last girl in my year to start their period. I was so ashamed of this fact, so utterly embarrassed that I wasn’t a member of the menstruation club, that I fabricated my monthly with a bottle of red food colouring down the toilet and a trusty spot of acting.”

Eventually, Tasha told her mother the truth that she, in fact, had not started her period, and she took a trip to the GP to find out what was going on. “When I walked into my GP’s office having just been told my ultrasound scan had nothing on it (at this stage it’s worth mentioning that what the ultrasound nurse meant when she said there was nothing on it, was that there was literally nothing inside me), I was blissfully unaware that I was a specimen of rare abnormality. In the uncomfortably short space of about 20 minutes, I was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome and told some pretty life-changing things. I’d never have a period, I’d never give birth and if I wanted to have sex, I would have to undergo invasive long-term treatment.

Put that in your 16-years-old-and-already-super-anxious-about-everything pipe and smoke it.

“The words I’d just heard sank into me and embedded themselves. I’d never really expected something to actually be wrong. As a farewell gift, the doctor added: “At this point, we assume you have a normal female chromosome pattern," glancing at my breasts, "but we’ll run some hormone tests to confirm this.” Great, so I'm half human, half-empty space, and they're not even 100% sure I'm a girl. It’s worth noting that I did consider the possibility I was an X-Men mutant for a while… Professor X is yet to get back to me on that one.

The Pants Project…

Tasha launched The Pants Project in which underwear is sold with the money going to charities that support mental health and people who are going through fertility issues.

So how did The Pants Project actually begin? Tasha explains; “I finished my school days trying to ignore MRKH and the implications it would have on my life. Instead, I focused my time on passing exams and falling in love with the best boy ever. My best friend became my boyfriend, and after a year of panicking about the big reveal, I figured it was time to tell him about MRKH so that I could undergo treatment that would enable us to have sex. He took it just like my mum took the fake period fiasco – it was a drop in the ocean, and he couldn’t have been more supportive if he tried. So, off I went to the hospital for the treatment and on the very last day, my utterly incredible nurse planted the seed that eventually grew into The Pants Project.”

It was through underwear that Tasha started to truly feel like herself again, despite her treatment and her condition she was a woman and wanted to feel like one. “I was utterly broken by my treatment, depressed about my body and was far away from anything even close to what womanly feels like. Discussing this with my nurse, she advised I get myself a pair of pants that made me feel like the superwoman I was. A week later, I heeded her advice and popped off to buy my first pair of power pants. For the first time in my life, I looked at my body and saw a powerful, capable, sexy, strong woman. I had discovered the power of pants.”

Image credit: Billie Body Brand, via Unsplash

The power of pants...

The power of pants was so strong for Tasha, she credits them (and the nurse who gave her the advice) with saving her when she was in a truly dark place. “Having experienced a time when I felt as far from femininity and womanhood as possible, it was pants that saved me: a pair of underwear that made me feel invincible. I truly feel, with every fibre of my being, that women (and men!) deserve to feel beautiful, powerful, capable and strong every single day – with absolutely no qualifiers. Infertility, gender, sexual orientation, background, money, job, mental health or any other kind of issues are things that affect each of us differently, daily.

“For me, it’s about finding a small symbol of strength – a piece of everyday armour – that can keep us going through the darkest of times. That turned out to be pants and in creating The Pants Project, I wanted to share that power with the world. My original idea was to sell pants a bit like merch t-shirts, but this adventure has stretched further and evolved more amazingly than I ever could have dreamed it might. The Pants Project was born out of my experience and exists to create a community of support – just like a gusset. May the power of pants be with you!”

Image courtesy of Midas PR

 

Getting involved...

How can people get involved with The Pants Project? It's easier than you think! "What I am really pushing for, is the sharing of stories. I never wanted this platform to be about me – yes, it’s grown from my story, but it’s supposed to be a community, a selection of humans sharing their power through pants. So, if you’re feeling brave, I would love it so much if you could send us your power pants pics and tell us your stories!"

Being open about fertility…

Infertility is often a topic that is hushed up, and taboo for some unreason (as are a lot of health issues women go through). So why did Tasha decide to speak out?  “I always tell people that the real reason I started The Pants Project was actually pretty selfish – I didn’t want other people to feel as lonely as I did going through my diagnosis process and coming to terms with my condition, but I really wanted to just have someone, anyone I could talk to who might have gone through something similar.” 

Tasha had the chance to share her story in Scarlett Curtis’s Sunday Times Bestselling book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies), so what was it like being able to talk about MRKH in such a public platform? “It was a big moment for me. Writing – be it songs, poetry, or more long-form pieces – is what I love to do most in the world, and I think about the only thing I’m actually any good at! So to have my name and writing in a published book that has inspired so many women – and men – out there, alongside many of my heroes, as an undergrad English Lit student, was something I will never forget. I was an honour really, and I’m so grateful to Scarlett for letting me share my story in that way.”

It hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows sharing her life online, and although she’s grateful for her following – it hasn’t come without its struggles. “When you share something online or become an online presence in some way, people think that you owe them something – so I had to check in with myself a lot and remind myself that when I log off Instagram at the end of the day, I do actually have to go on living with my condition, it doesn’t just disappear, so it’s important to look after me too. That all being said, I wouldn’t change a thing. Of course, there have been incredibly difficult days, but it’s so worth it – I still cry with happiness every single time an MRKH sister sends me a DM saying “I don’t feel alone anymore” because I needed that so badly for myself.”

Image courtesy of Midas PR

 

The Fertility Festival…

On Tuesday 30th May, Tasha will speak at The Fertility Fest at The Barbican in London. The festival is the first of its kind to focus on fertility in all of its forms. So, how did Tasha get involved with the project? “So, it’s a bit of a complicated ‘friend of a friend’ scenario, but I met this incredible woman called Cat when I first set up The Pants Project, and she’s the real reason I’m doing Fertility Fest. She’s a bit older than me and probably unbeknownst to her, has held my hand (in a virtual sense – we don’t have the privilege of being next-door neighbours sadly) throughout the process of me embedding myself in the online infertility community.

“I was embedding myself into was this incredibly brave group of women who had already been suffering for years at the hands of infertility, and I was just watching them knowing I had all that pain ahead of me – so Cat became my official ‘Infertility/Fertility Mum’. She was there as a voice of reason and understanding when things were really tough and I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone who understood what I was going through, and whilst our stories of infertility are very different – she knows what it feels like to lose something you never had in the first place, and the million different ways that manifests itself in your life. Last year at an IVF postcode lottery protest, Cat introduced me to Jess Hepburn – Fertility Fest Queen – who invited me to tell my story of MRKH, The Pants Project and why it’s so important that we include young women and men in fertility conversations, as early on as possible.”

Some final words of advice...

What would Tasha say to those who have been diagnosed with fertility issues and aren't sure what to do? "Firstly, I would say come and join The Pants Project community, of course, DM me on Instagram and I would be very happy to chat or help if I can. I love sharing other people’s stories so if you’re feeling brave, definitely hit me up – we don’t just stick to MRKH either, and try to cover a huge range of female health issues! I found that one to one conversations with other MRKH sisters was the most therapeutic thing I could do –sometimes that is because some days you just want to feel normal.

"Then I would say to get in contact with the MRKH team at the Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London because they are the only team dedicated to girls with MRKH in the country and have an amazing support system in place. There are some great MRKH foundations out there, my favourites are Global MRKH and Beautiful You. "

Tasha will appear at Fertility Fest as part of the Young, Gifted & Infertile event on Tuesday 30th April.

Lead image courtesy of Midas PR




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