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?