It can’t be avoided. Once a year you make the trek to the gynecologist’s office for the annual exam. For various reasons, the whole experience is extremely unpleasant for me, and yet I go, because I try to take care of my health. And hey, I have health insurance! And it pays for the annual exam. Lucky me, I don’t even need a referral to see my gynecologist. Though I do get to pay the higher copay for “specialists”. This is especially maddening as my primary care physician, a woman I respect and dearly love, could do the exam for me – and does, for many of her other patients – but my insurance will not let her.
Ah, but I’m getting sidetracked. Let me tell you what really hacked me off about this year’s pilgrimage to Stirrup-Land. Something happened that I haven’t experience since I was a child.
I was shushed.
Here’s how it happened.
The first part of the exam is the breast exam. The woman who was doing my exam is the same physician’s assistant who mangled the uterine biopsy that caused me such pain prior to the whole D&C episode I blogged last year. She’s a cheerful, friendly sort, and I like her, or want to, but this is now two strikes against her.
She started in on the right breast. “Wow,” I said, “that really hurts!” “Yes,” she happily reassured me, “women’s breasts get much more tender as they age and get old.” Thank you. Then she moved on to the left breast.
Sweet mother of Christ! I swear to you that it hurt worse, way worse, than having it mashed between the plates for a mammogram. I yelped in pain and involuntarily exclaimed “oh my god that really hurts!”
At which point, she shushed me. “Be quiet! The patients in the other rooms will hear you and be upset! They’ll think I’m really hurting you!” Oh, because, yeah, this isn’t actually hurting me. How dare I misrepresent reality so.
Then she said something really extraordinary: “Hopefully the person in the next room is some woman who’s had ten kids and doesn’t care about anything.”
Because if you’ve given birth, especially multiple times, you know (1) what real pain is and (2) you know not to make a big deal about it. ‘Cause you’re a good girl, a big girl, a nice girl, a polite girl who would never think of disturbing others. Kind of like the women in the following study (thanks to Alice at Sciencewomen, who was inspired to forward this to me upon hearing about my experience) from Gender & Society, Vol. 17, No. 1, 54-72 (2003) DOI: 10.1177/0891243202238978:
Giving Birth Like A Girl
Karin A. Martin,
University of Michigan
Relational, selfless, caring, polite, nice, and kind are not how we imagine a woman giving birth in U.S. culture. Rather, we picture her as screaming, yelling, self-centered, and demanding drugs or occasionally as numbed and passive from pain-killing medication. Using in-depth interviews with women about their labor and childbirth, the author presents data to suggest that white, middle-class, heterosexual women often worry about being nice, polite, kind, and selfless in their interactions during labor and childbirth. This finding is important not only because it contradicts the dominant cultural image of the birthing woman but because it reveals that an internalized sense of gender plays a role in disciplining women and their bodies during childbirth. The feminist sociological literatures on birth are concerned with how women and their bodies are controlled, yet they have overlooked this other dimension of control that is not institutional but is a product of how gender is internalized.
I say if it hurts, you should feel free to yelp. And no doctor or PA should be shushing you. I am ashamed to say that when my PA shushed me, I let her make me feel embarrassed, and I actually apologized to her. That is just messed up.