Calling a Spade a Spade—When It’s Not the Time to be Modest

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Mark, 7 Weeks and 2 Days

The other day, I went back to the Civic Hospital for my long overdue six-week postpartum checkup—it had actually been eight weeks since Mark’s birth but that was the earlier date the ob-gyn could schedule me.

It was strange to go back to the Civic—the last time I checked in at D4 I could barely speak between two contractions.

I sat in the same waiting room where I had spent a good chunk of my time over the summer for the weekly checkups. I was the only non-pregnant woman there, the only one with a baby in my arms. “It’s almost over!” I wanted to tell the very pregnant woman sitting next to me. “You will be okay!”

But I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t enjoy being pregnant but maybe some women do.

The receptionist called me and I walked into the exam room. I hadn’t seen the nurse since the day before I gave birth so she quickly went through my chart.

“So you had a… ‘natural’ birth, right?”

“Yes, I had a vaginal delivery,” I replied, not sure what she meant by “natural”.

“I see… oh, lucky you, you didn’t have to push for too long! But you had a second-degree tear. So, do you think you are healing well ‘down there’?”

Down there? Seriously? I’m at the ob-gyn, I fully expect my “private parts”, aka “down there”, to be named out loud.

“I think I healed fine,” I said, “I mean I’m not in pain. But I can’t really see if I healed!”

Hint: I’m not that flexible. Even with some yoga training, I cannot look inside my “private parts”.

“I see,” said the nurse. “Well, we have two options here. The doctor can check you ‘down there’ and make sure the stitches were resorbed. But you will have to take off your clothes, like in a medical exam.”

Again, seriously? Well, duh, I have an appointment to see an ob-gyn, I fully expect to have to take off my clothes at some point. Unless she has x-ray vision and some supernatural powers, it’s pretty much the only way to see “down there”.

Pregnant pause (ah ah, pun intended).

“… and what’s the second option?” I asked.

“Well, if you think you healed well, she doesn’t need to check!” she said cheerfully. “These kinds of medical exams are not too pleasant, you know,” she added sotto vocce.

I’m sorry, but what I think is irrelevant. I’m not in pain but how would I know if the tear healed well if I can’t see in the first place because let’s face it, it’s inside my vagina?

And gynecological exams aren’t pleasant? Well, sure, I’d rather be sipping coffee at home than spreading my legs on a cold exam table but I was looking forward to having a doctor check my “private parts”—not because I have some weird fetish but because I care about my health. I’d much rather undergo a five-minute exam than to have problems later on. I am not a doctor.

“I think I would rather see the doctor,” I simply replied.

I took off my clothes behind the curtains (making sure I wouldn’t misplace my panties this time) and I wrapped in the clean sheet provided.

The doctor eventually came in and described out loud what she was about to do. “Okay, now I’m going to put my hand on your legs.” “Now you will feel my finger.” “Now I’m looking at ‘it’ with a light.”

It felt like being in a bad X-rated movie with two very inexperienced actors. I wasn’t sure what my lines were. “Yes, please do so”? “I can see you looking at me with a light”?

I was pronounced healed and fine, or rather, as the doctor said, “it’s looking good ‘down there’”.

“Down there” again.

For Christ’s sake, how old are we? Can’t we call a “vagina” a vagina, especially at the ob-gyn’s?

I gave birth in the hospital and I can tell you it’s not the time to be modest. A bunch of nurses, medical students and doctors stared at my “private parts” for long minutes when I was pushing. Mark came out covered in blood and body fluids. I took a shower with the door open right after giving birth, and I think I even sat on the toilet under the watchful eye of a nurse when I was in labour.

And you know what?

I didn’t care. I was in pain and I was focused on pushing that baby boy out. Nurses and doctors are professionals, they expect to see some skin and body fluids. They all made me feel like there was nothing to be ashamed of, that it wasn’t a big deal—because there is nothing to be ashamed of and it is not a big deal. It’s life.

I expect healthcare professionals to use the proper term for body parts. Come on, say it out loud! “Vagina”, “anus”, “clitoris”, “uterus”, “breast” and so on. It’s not dirty, it’s not shameful.

Yes, I’m ranting. Because the more people hide behind words like “down there”, the less information patients are getting. This is not the time to use euphemisms. This is the time to talk freely about body parts and body functions—knowledge is power.

This is not the time to be modest. Why should we?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

25 Comments

  1. Hrm, I used to work as a medical transcriptionst and we called a vagina a vagina really. (As a guy, the painful reports to type were circumcision reports). Maybe it’s the Canadian politeness thing kicking in 😉

  2. OMG, I am sorry but they are ridiculous in Canada about “privacy”. It reminds me one time I needed to have my breast checked. The doctor told me “I am going to examine you” so I began taking of my sweater and he literally screamed “NONONO, not here, behind the curtain please”. And during the exam he never looked at me. That was really uncomfortable. For god’s sake we are at the doctor, we are not half naked woman, we are patient!
    (and so the english for “apeller un chat un chat” is “Calling a Spade a Spade”?)

    • Yes, en anglais on appelle une pelle une pelle!

      The same thing happened to me! I was told to take off my clothes and I started doing so, much to the nurse’s horror. “Behind the CURTAINS!!!” What? They’ve seen it all before!

  3. Something similar happened to me once too, in the States—I went to a male gynecologist for the first time and though he was very effective in diagnosis, one of the first things he said to me before the exam was “Sorry, this isn’t the most normal of ways to meet people.” I was thinking, Um, isn’t it the most normal way possible to meet a gynecologist though??

    I do think this attitude is just a minority though… at least I hope so.

  4. Hilarious rant! Though I agree with you, that hospitals should be the last place to be vague or euphemistic for the sake of prudishness, I think the doctors and other medical professionals are just acting based on what they think the prudish levels are of their patients. I know I am just being devil’s advocate here, but perhaps some patients will actually be shocked or offended (I know they shouldn’t be, but sometimes people are when they shouldn’t) when doctors are too direct. Personally, I’d rather be explicit and direct, at least we both know what we’re talking about. And so whenever I am in a hospital (which isn’t often), the embarrassment goes away. It’s just mind over matter, after all, these professionals are simply doing their job, no matter how socially weird a colorectal exam might be.

    • I completely agree with you. We should be able to speak freely with healthcare professionals, this is a place where you want your concerns to be addressed… and labelled properly.

  5. Thank you so much for your words of support on my blog. I’m so happy that you checked in because I visited you and Oh MY! Congratulations on the birth of your beautiful babe! All your thoughts take me back to the births of my own two kids. It’s a crazy ride, isn’t it?
    The very best of luck to you and your lovely family.
    Connie*

  6. So… it was actually an option to NOT check if you were properly healed? Is that a joke?
    I mean… in France the girl would have been fired by simply mentionning the idea of not letting the doctor checks you out. Come on…

    • I guess it was optional! I was kind of annoyed, especially that I waited for almost two months for that checkup (and another hour in the waiting room on the day of the appointment!).

  7. Hi Zhu!

    Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee!

    I hope that you and yours are doing well over this holiday season. I have enjoyed your photography and blogs over the past year and I look forward to another great year.

    P.S. Although the world is supposed to end tomorrow. I am still making lunch for tomorrow. I slept through Y2K and I will probably sleep through this “End of the world.” The Ancient Mayans, if they exist in some alternate realm, are probably laughing at us.

    • I guess the Mayans are laughing now! The world didn’t end, again. Gee! That said, we had a pretty severe snowstorm here to mark the first day of winter and it does feel a bit like a snowpocalypse tonight.

      Thank you for your wishes, I’m happy to hear that you enjoy reading the blog. It keeps me going!

      I wish you and your loved one a great holiday season and plenty of happiness.

  8. Ah for god’s sake! I can’t believe a trained medical staff can be so puritan. And even say that she shouldn’t check your “private parts” “down there” because you would think it’s fine! Come on, do your job!
    Yikes. I’ve always had very professionnal gynecologists, who would call a vagina a vagina, I would have been so mad to be treated almost like a kid, like that!
    A quelque chose près, elles appelaient ça une zézette, non ? 😀

      • Ouiiii ! Non mais ceci dit, je cherchais un équivalent aussi mignon pour ma cousine américaine (donc en english), et j’ai pas trouvé… 🙁

        • Je précise qu’elle a 4 ans. Je recontextualise, parce que ça fait bizarre là sinon. Heureusement que la majorité de tes lecteurs sont anglophones ahahah !

          • 😆 Avec ces Français, on ne sait jamais! Oui, pas d’équivalent aussi mignon en anglais… bon, c’est pas grave, nous c’est “zizi” avec Mark de toute façon, j’ai pas eu le modèle avec zézette!

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