Updated: Jan 23, 2021
Happy New Year Huddle Up Moms!
We are looking forward to starting the new year off right and leaving 2020 in the dust! If you haven't already finalized your goals for 2021 or if you have room for one more, we suggest you adding taking care of YOU to the list! What better way to kick the year off than to focus on getting to know your body and making your health a priority!
If you are like many women when you get that reminder phone call that your “Yearly Woman” exam is overdue, a flood of anxiety rushes over you. Flashbacks of awkward naked experiences rush into your brain and you may experience the urge to talk yourself OUT of going to your gynecologist appointment this year! Fight that urge ladies. COVID or no COVID, your yearly check up is so important! Routine yearly checks are a key component to overall disease prevention.
Why is it that so many women dread going to the gynecologist? A recent study out of Sweden showed that over 50% of women could not correctly identify their own lady parts! THE FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN often keeps us from taking better care of ourselves. Why is talking about a woman's body so taboo? We want to create a safe space for you, break down those barriers, and help you love yourself. Knowing your body and how your reproductive system works can give you a sense of POWER you deserve to advocate for your well being and get the support you need to live a healthier informed life. It's NEVER too late! If you are reading this and thinking…YES THIS IS ME, please continue reading as we start the first blog in a series called “Getting to Know YOU”. In this blog, we focus on breaking down those walls of anxiety and looking into what you should know BEFORE you go to your gynecology visit.
DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be ALL encompassing and should NOT replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health.
Here are the top 10 things we think you need to know before you go to your gyno:
1. I’m Sorry. Don’t apologize for your weight, your inability to shave your legs that day, for working out the day of your appointment, for your “failure to maintain your undercarriage”, or for any other reason you feel embarrassed about your body. COME AS YOU ARE! It takes a lot to get to your appointment. Applaud yourself for taking time out of your busy life to make YOU a priority. STOP APOLOGIZING FOR BEING YOU. Fight the urge to start off your visit with an apology. It will make you feel empowered and break that cycle of anxiety. It's your body. LOVE IT. ACCEPT IT. OWN IT. The simple truth is a women’s health provider will take care of you no matter what you look like! 2. I’m on my period, can I still go to my appointment? Yes, it is okay to go to your appointment if you are on your menstrual cycle. Gynecologists want you to feel as comfortable as possible, so they often leave that decision up to you. Do they care? NOPE. A normal cycle releases 80mls or 16 teaspoons of blood, but the average woman loses 6-8 teaspoons over the length of 5-7 days. Let's break the culture of thinking the menstrual cycle is a time to go into hiding. If you have heavy cycles it may obscure the view and make some tests difficult to read. Many women only have a heavy flow for the first day or so. The bottom line is, you have to be comfortable!
3. Open to the back, or open to the front? While your providers may have many talents, creating hospital gowns are not usually in their wheelhouse. It's hard to be half-naked in front of someone you don’t know while wearing a dress that is open. We HEAR you on that one! Many women don’t know that you can wear the gown open to the front or open to the back depending on your preference. You can even request two if you feel like you want or need more coverage and put them on in opposite ways. If it will make you feel more comfortable, request to speak to your provider first before undressing. You can also ask to keep your undergarments on until the exam. 4. I get a pap every year. Chances are you actually don't! Most women believe putting their legs up in stirrups equals a pap smear. A pelvic exam is what most women get done yearly at the gynecologist. A pelvic exam consists of putting your legs in stirrups, awkwardly scooting down to the edge of the bed until it feels like you may fall off, the use of a speculum, and a digital exam.
[Illustration by Emily Robert, Verywell]
If your gynecologist is performing a Pap smear alone it should be done every 3 years. If they are also testing you for HPV at the time of your pap, it can be done every 5 years. Abnormal pap smears are a different beast. Stay tuned for more information about abnormal paps later this month when we explore the cervix!
5. Should I take my shoes off? If it makes you feel safer/more comfortable/more in control, keep your shoes on when you put them up in stirrups. If you feel the opposite, take them off. You can also keep your socks on if you don’t want to be completely undressed. Many women feel more in control when they can keep a few articles of clothing on during an exam. Maybe you can use your gynecology appointment as an excuse to buy some new fun socks! 6. How do they look inside vagina? Did you know there are different types of speculums? A speculum is a medical instrument used to examine the vagina. There are two types of speculums: one that is longer and more narrow called a Pederson and one that is shorter and wider called a Graves. If this is your first gynecologist appointment, you have not had children, or you worry about how narrow your vagina may be, you may want to request a Pederson speculum. You should also talk to the gynecologists about your concerns or fears before you get undressed. Some women prefer plastic speculums over metal ones. Most gynecologists warm up the speculum but if not, you can also request to have it run under warm water. Providers use lubrication to help insert the speculum more carefully. Don’t worry most offices also offer a towel or washcloth at the end to help you get cleaned up. (You can also request this if needed).
7. Irregular cycles?
If you don’t get a period like clockwork or the 28 days your favorite app says you should, it may be normal. A 28-day cycle is an AVERAGE cycle length, meaning there is a lot of variation. A menstrual cycle can range from 21-40 days in length and can be still considered normal. Your yearly gynecology exam is the perfect opportunity to discuss your cycles, so try and take note of how often you are having a cycle, how much are you bleeding, the length of your cycle, and if you notice any problems. There are many FREE apps you can use to track your cycles. Check the best ones out HERE.
More about understanding your menstrual cycle to come later in this blog series!
8. I have a history of sexual trauma. If you have a history of sexual abuse, PTSD, or intimate partner violence, the gynecology exam may bring many emotions to the surface. It may also trigger painful memories. Tell your gynecologist BEFORE you get undressed about your anxiety about the exam. Although providers want you to feel safe, they understand you may have difficulty disclosing this information. Be kind to yourself, at the very least you can say “I have a difficult time with exams especially at the gynecology office.” Privacy laws are in place to protect you from these situations and your history will be kept confidential. They want you to feel safe and know that this is a difficult office visit for you. 9. My cervix is lost, and my uterus is tilted. Have you heard this before at your appointment and it left you wondering, “Where did my cervix go, and how do I un-tilt my uterus?” Let me reassure you, your cervix cannot be lost and your uterus is positioned right as it should be. Some medical professions use this slang terminology when discussing difficulty during a pelvic exam. There are many variations of normal for the cervix, bony pelvis, and uterus. If your gynecologist is having a hard time with insertion of the speculum or visualizing your cervix, they may ask you to make a fist and tuck them under your buttock. Now that you have read this blog, you can even suggest it to them! This changes the angle of your pelvis and may help visualize the cervix more easily (also known as finding your "lost" cervix 😊). A tilted uterus describes the alignment of your uterus in relation to the bony pelvis. All these positions are normal but may make the exam more uncomfortable for you.
It's your body. LOVE IT. ACCEPT IT. OWN IT.
10. Talk about sex. While having concerns or issues surrounding sex is common it may or may not be normal and definitely worth discussing with your health care professional. 75% of women experience painful sex during their lifetime but as little as 30% report to their doctors. 1/3 of women experience decreased libido and that number increases dramatically after having children. Providers understand this is a sensitive topic but they are trained to discuss all aspects of reproductive women's health and that includes your sexual health. Stay tuned for more information about the causes of pain during sex, decreased libido, and learning about a women’s pleasure spots during throughout this series.
BONUS: Most gynecology offices offer yearly/or frequent testing for sexually transmitted infections as part of the routine health yearly exam. Ask your provider today if you have any concerns. The most common symptom of many sexually transmitted infections is actually NO symptoms as at all. You may be at risk and your provider can help you with treatment options.
Read the Part II of our “Getting to Know YOU” Blog Series: Cervical Cancer: Understanding the Basics.
Please follow and continue learning more about your body over the next few months as we target each “Lady Part”!
If you have topics or specific questions about your reproductive organs, please email huddleupmoms@gmail and we will do our best to incorporate your questions into our blogs/content.