A Trip to the Gynecologist

As a woman in pursuit of freedom it’s also my responsibility to help other women become free. Knowing about about my reproductive health is VERY high on my list of priorities. If you’re a woman reading this and it’s not a top priority for you, I hope it is by the time you finish reading this. If it’s already a top priority for you, I hope these words encourage you to help another woman you care about make it hers.

Monday, I made my annual trip to the doctor for a women’s wellness exam. I wanted to get in all my visits since I turn 26 in a couple of months and will lost my health insurance at the same time. I’m not sure about other women, but I HATE going to the doctor for my annual pap smear. Despite the desire to completely avoid the whole process, I always go. The process of making the appointment, thinking about the appointment and going through the appointment can be taxing. Sitting on the table, placing your legs in the stir-ups and spreading your knees for the doctor or nurse can invoke anxiety and discomfort. Oftentimes, the professional performing the exam can make or break your experience.

Last year’s exam was absolutely horrible. The woman performing my exam was rude and didn’t appreciate me asking questions. I tend to ask a ton of questions, I believe in advocating for myself. It’s MY body, so why not? The office also outsourced all of its blood and STI testing, so I was told that I needed to go another office. The entire experience upset me so much. Since the age of 18, I’ve had regular exams. Many of them were performed at Planned Parenthood, and every one of them was a positive experience. Needless to say I will never ever go back to that office.

Last week's exam was the polar opposite, I had a great experience. Now of course there is no way to get around the discomfort of someone scraping a mascara brush sized swab across your cervix, but a friendly doctor can make a huge difference. This was my first time having my annual exam performed by a male physician. I was always wary of having a man who I wasn’t intimately involved with seeing my business. The experience could not have been better. When I walked back to his office, he was extremely welcoming and actually wanted to know about me beyond what was on my chart. I made sure to tell him about my hesitation with seeing a male physician and my prior experience with a poor exam. My occupation mentioned politics so by the end of our conversation, he was convinced that I would help him along with other DC residents get the federal vote! He even said, “Now if I do this well, you’re gonna get us a vote right?” I was laughing by the time I got to the table.

A female nurse was in the room the entire time, and the pap smear started and ended before I knew it. Right before we started the exam, the doctor explained to me that in lieu of a manual exam, he would use an ultrasound tool to view my uterus, cervix and ovaries. I was pleasantly surprised, I asked “You mean, I get to actually SEE my uterus?” I’m not sure why I was so excited, but I was! So this part of the exam required him to insert a tool that allowed him to check the health of my reproductive system. I was amazed by something that is pretty simple. He even told me which ovary was going to ovulate this month (weird right?!). The entire process was over in less than 20 minutes.

That 20 minute exam will test for HPV, a virus that can cause cervical cancer. It will also test for two of this countries most contracted STI’s, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. I also made sure to get a blood test for HIV/AIDS.

I’ve never been more protective over my womanhood or felt more womanly in life than I do now. I have also never been more invested in helping other women enjoy the fullness of their womanhood. Taking care of our mental and physical health is essential to protecting our entire selves. I’m know not perfect when it comes to self-care, but I’m working on it. For women of color, there are two major things we often see as barriers; 1) Stigma’s attached with going to the doctor and 2) Financial costs associated with going to the doctor.

To tackle the first, we must start talking about our health and stop living in silence. When’s the last time you talked to your girlfriends, daughters or mothers about your health? To tackle the second we must seek out and connect our sisters to low-cost and free services. If you have insurance, ask another woman in your life if she can recommend a good gyno.

As the changes come into affect, health care reform will open up new doors for women by funding more preventative services, community health centers and lowering eligibility requirements for Medicaid. Just as with many progressive legislative victories in this country, there are attacks mounting up against them. Whether it’s a call for implementing the Hyde Amendment permanently or defunding Title IV services like those provided through Planned Parenthood, there is a war against women America. As a woman of color I know that I am not alone in personal struggles. As a woman I know that I not alone in my struggle to have the freedom to choose. Change must start within. As women, the best thing we can do is be advocates for ourselves (inside and outside the doctors office) and then go out and help our sisters do the same. Get informed, end the silence and make the choice to start today.

Still have questions about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010? Click here to read the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation report on “Understanding Health Care Reform.”

The featured image above is from the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the only organization devoted solely to advancing the health and wellness of America’s 19.5 million Black women and girls through advocacy, community health and wellness education and leadership development. The Imperative’s website provides a wealth of information, check it out!

Charlene Carruthers is an activist, writer and organizer. A native of Chicago, Charlene is seeker of freedom, love and justice. Her work has focused on working with communities of color and women to build personal and political power. She currently lives in Washington, DC, you can find her on twitter @NvrComfortable and at www.freedomlovejustice.com

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