A Trigger – The Gynecologist

My first visit ever to the gynecologist was after being raped. For whatever reason, visits to the gynecologist became a trigger for me, eliciting all the psychological and physiological responses of being raped for me.  Palpitations. Panic. Queasiness. Crying. Vulnerability. Feeling Violated. Humiliated. Uncomfortable. A constant reminder of a deep inner scar that hadn’t fully healed.  

The first person to mention the idea of me going was my rapist. He couldn’t believe I had never been and he kept trying to convince me there was something wrong with me since I bled so much when we had intercourse. At that point, I could not imagine a visit to the gynecologist. Sure, I had secretly read magazine articles in High School about what a visit would entail and it terrified me! It shocked me and seemed like a violation. It seemed way too vulnerable. Humiliating even.

Somehow the topic of the gynecologist came up with my next boyfriend as well and he was also shocked I had never been. I don’t know why he would have known, but he said every girl he had met had gone by age eighteen. Once we became engaged our pre-marital counselor kept pushing the issue of me visiting the gynecologist. His wife would ask me if I was afraid of STD’s from the rape. Of course, but I was fine living in fear and denial if it meant avoiding a visit to the gynecologist.

I finally started to make phone calls. I can vividly remember sitting in my car in the parking garage near my college working up the courage to just call the gynecologist’s office. I would ask a couple questions, thank them, and then hang up and sob. It made me sick to my stomach. This went on for weeks. Every time I thought of a question about what the visit would entail I would call, sob, feel sick and declare I could never bring myself to do that!

I finally mustered the courage to make an appointment. I went shopping to find thick winter socks that went up to my knees. At least that would make me feel a little less exposed. My fiancé drove me and waited in the lobby. I was a mess. When the nurse practitioner walked in the room I was sobbing uncontrollably. Luckily, the room was divided with a curtain. She asked me why I was there for a visit. I told her I had been raped a year prior. Silence. She told me to get dressed and come out to talk with her.

I explained that I had been raped a year prior and that I had never sought medical attention. She asked me about the rapist. I told her I knew him. I worked with him. I went to school with him. She asked me if I still worked with him and went to school with him. I responded: “Yes.” Her response to this was a very colorful expletive. I survived my exam, albeit sobbing, and much to my relief, I was fine.

I did not begin annual visits at that time. I did however have to make a couple more visits during college. I only did it when I had an issue, but never as preventative medicine. Each visit brought the same onslaught on emotions. Palpitations. Queasiness. Crying. Panic. Vulnerability. Feeling Violated. Humiliated. Uncomfortable. I hated the gynecologist! I was vehemently opposed to men in the profession. The very thought just seemed wrong to me.  I always began my visit by explaining to whomever I saw that I had been raped my freshman year of college and I really struggled with these types of visits. This was typically received with sympathy and sensitivity.

When I became engaged I wanted to find a gynecologist whom I could see on a regular basis so I would be more comfortable. The first one I saw was too rough and she disregarded me voicing that she was hurting me. She was so rough I needed a pad after my visit. I was not about to trust someone who disregarded me speaking up. After everything I had been through with the rape I would not tolerate my voice not being hear.

It took me a couple of years to find one I was comfortable with since it was just an annual visit. I had a couple more years of annually explaining I was raped and I really struggled with these visits. My first criteria was that my doctor had to be a woman. I would not even entertain the idea of seeing a male doctor.   I finally found one I was somewhat comfortable with who had delivered a coworker’s baby. I immediately had the same talk with her on my first visit, but by this time I could keep it together and not cry.

Before my husband and I decided to start a family, I spoke with my ob/gyn. We started trying at the same time as some close friends and my husband joked it was a competition. We lost. They became pregnant immediately. Nothing on our end. We kept trying, but without success. People were coming out of the woodwork to share that they were expecting. It was an emotional time. I wanted to be happy for friends, but our failed attempts were discouraging. At my next annual visit, I discussed our failed attempts at getting pregnant. She recommended we see an infertility doctor. She encouraged me with the fact that many of her patients just needed to schedule a visit, thus easing the pressure and stress, and they became pregnant. She gave me the names of two infertility doctors she recommended – two men.

After years of being vehemently opposed to males in the profession of women’s health I found myself forced to see a male doctor. At least at this visit, my husband accompanied me and the doctor met with us as a couple first. I don’t think I can adequately describe how much of a mess I was! If it were not for the pain and frustrations of not conceiving, I doubt I would have been able to muster the courage to go. I tried to be calm and composed, but I would equate my demeanor with shock. I can function in shock, but not well. When it was time for my physical exam he tried to make small talk with me. He asked me about my job and what kind of architecture I practiced. He then told me he thought it was really cool that I was an architect. My response was – “It’s not as cool as people think.” I don’t even know why I said that. It was so awkward. He stopped talking to me after that. I was embarrassed. Apparently, I say really stupid things when I am emotionally overwhelmed.

However, despite my emotional state, he was an incredibly warm and friendly doctor. His office was the nicest doctor’s office I had visited. He was very professional and he tried to make us feel at ease during our visit. I had been tracking my periods since we started trying to conceive and I shared my findings with him. My periods were incredibly irregular and averaged fifteen days in length. Since he had found nothing physically wrong with either of us, he recommended I change my diet. He gave me guidelines for the diet my husband later affectionately termed “The What’s the Point of Living Diet.” It was basically the world’s healthiest diet. No sugar. No fried food. Only whole grains. No soda. No alcohol. Organic Produce. No juice. Only whole produce. Grain fed meats. No high mercury fish.

At our next visit my husband sat down to complain about my diet. The doctor asked how it was going and my husband chimed in with: “She never cheats.” The doctor slammed his fist on the table and happily exclaimed “Perfect!” Not the response my husband was hoping for. I shared that if I cheated I wouldn’t be able to stick to the diet. For me it was all in or nothing at all. Since we still hadn’t conceived he wrote me a prescription for clomid and scheduled an HSG for me. It was a test where they injected die into my uterus and fallopian tubes and then use an imagining machine to see if everything was anatomically correct.

Before my procedure, I took a sedative to relax. My husband planned on meeting me at the radiology clinic. When he arrived he immediately went to the restroom. My husband had planned on being in the room with me, but he was in the restroom when I was called back. I mentioned to the woman who took me back that my husband was there and he wanted to be with me. I told her his name and she said she would try to find him, but she didn’t.

She had me change into a hospital gown. As I walked into the procedure room I felt like a deer in the headlights. I found myself again in a state of shock and silence. I said nothing and had to be directed what to do. All I can say was that I was in another world. Physically I was there, but emotionally I was disengaged. The doctor didn’t do the procedure. Much to my relief he had a female doctor do the procedure while he studied the imaging. After it was complete he threw his hand up in the air with a huge grin and said “Textbook! Everything is perfect!”

Shortly after the HSG we conceived. My husband accompanied me to my first prenatal visit. After visiting the infertility doctor’s plush office, my husband immediately commented on the sparseness of the waiting room. I had been coming there for years and I had never noticed how unimpressive the office really was. My mind had always been preoccupied by overwhelming emotions, trying not to cry and not throwing up. When we were taken into the small exam room they sat my husband in a corner opposite me. When the ob/gyn came in she didn’t even acknowledge his presence. In fact, he had to physically stand up and walk over next to me during the ultrasound to see the image too. After our visit, he immediately commented: “You could do better than that.” He didn’t mean it in a condescending or elitist way. He just stated it was an underwhelming experience and the doctor’s bedside manners weren’t anything impressive.

I could see his point. Especially after our trips to the infertility doctor, being treated as couple going through this experience together. I faxed the infertility doctor’s office a list of approved providers and asked him to give me a recommendation. He immediately recommended a male ob/gyn. I was still not open to having a male ob/gyn, but I immediately noticed he was in practice with his wife and one other female doctor. So, I scheduled an appointment with her.

It was like night and day. The office was beautiful. They were trying to create a spa atmosphere to help patients feel at ease. She sat down with us as a couple in her office and answered all our questions. When it came time for the exam she spoke to us as a couple and included my husband in everything. Their practice philosophy was that obstetric patients rotated through all three doctors at prenatal visits. Their reasoning was that one couldn’t predict who would be on-call when you went into labor.   They wanted to ensure that you were familiar with every doctor and not meeting them for the first time in the delivery room.

I respected and appreciated that approach, but I still didn’t want to see a man if I didn’t have to. She also shared with me the name of their on-call back up doctor in the rare event all three doctors in the practice were indisposed. Their back-up doctor was the wife of our infertility doctor. I was careful to ask what each prenatal visit entailed, and if it involved any manner of undressing, I made sure to schedule it with one of the female doctors.

In the end, my daughter was delivered when the husband and wife duo were on vacation by the back-up doctor. Our journey to parenthood came full circle when our infertility doctor’s wife delivered our daughter. She was just as warm, friendly and delightful as our husband. We could not have had a better experience.

By the time we were expecting our second child, the practice had grown to four doctors. The new addition was another man. He was incredibly warm and friendly, but I still carefully scheduled my visits based upon what they entailed. During my labor one of the female doctors was on call, but the shift changed about an hour before he was born. The new male doctor delivered my son. However, he was literally rushing into the room to catch my already crowning son as the nurse tied his gown. There was very little time to feel anxious about a male doctor. However, he was just as warm and friendly as the woman who delivered my firstborn.

A few days after delivery, I discovered my stitches had prematurely dissolved and we had to make an emergency trip to the office on a weekend for me to get re-stitched by that same male doctor. After that I had some follow-up visits with him. I was immediately impressed with his gentleness and how frequently he made sure I was doing ok. He even numbed me for things the female ob/gyn had just done without numbing me. My experiences with him were far less painful.

When I was pregnant with our third child, my ob/gyn office had more turnover. Now it was just the original male to whom I had been referred, a female nurse practitioner, and a female physician’s assistant. However, by this point I was starting to feel more comfortable with being seen by a man. I stayed at the practice and he delivered our youngest son. I was re-hospitalized with complications and he went above and beyond to verify what the complications were. He would joke with me and I felt very comfortable with him.

I realized when I revisited my journal and read all my entries whilst on my journey toward hope and healing after rape, that my fear of male doctors and the gynecologist in general showed up repeatedly. However, I never asked God to change my heart. I was just ranting. As I read it I am amazed that God healed even that hurt from being raped. That he could change my heart and release me from more fear.

I no longer wait in the lobby fighting to keep my composure, whilst struggling with palpitations, queasiness, panic or crying. I don’t feel violated, humiliated or vulnerable. I don’t hate the gynecologist. I am no longer vehemently opposed to men in the profession. I have a male gynecologist, something I would have never imagined, and I feel that I am in excellent care. The thought crossed my mind, maybe that is the very reason we struggled with infertility, despite no apparent cause. An opportunity for God to release me from another form of bondage and fear that I was hanging onto. An opportunity for greater healing and hope.

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