Yes, this is going to be a complete overshare. But I know that there is at least one woman out there who has put off getting a pap smear for years, or has never gotten one at all, out of fear. It could be fear of the unknown, fear of being shamed about your body, or just anxiety about doctors in general. So I'm sharing my story, as a total doctor-phobic fat woman, so that it might help calm the fears of someone out there. You have the right to quality health care and that includes your reproductive health.
So a little back story - I've never had a pap smear, breast exam, pelvic exam or any of that. I'm 30 years old and I'm certainly old enough to know better. But I also know that some doctors are lacking respect and compassion for people of size. It wasn't until I found a doctor who I actually liked and trusted that I decided I was ready to have my first exam.
My gynocologist is also my primary care doctor so I've seen her before and liked her personality and sense of humor. She's very laid back, firm but not too pushy, and sensitive to my fears. Basically, I felt I could trust her to not be a jerk about my size.
I'll just get to the exam - temperature and blood pressure taken (118/70 thankyou), weighed (I've turned down being weighed in the past with minimal to-do), undressed, fluffy white bathrobe on. Yes, my doctor has nice spa robes instead of those paper gowns. I brought a pair of fuzzy socks, more for the feeling of being less naked than anything.
She explained what would happen during the exam, showing me the plastic speculum and the tools she'd use to scrap samples from my cervix. She even scraped one against my hand so I could feel that it doesn't hurt. She assured me that she'd tell me before she touched me and she'd tell me what she was doing the whole time.
First, she did the breast exam. She looked at my breasts while I was sitting up and then I laid down so she could check for lumps and bumps. It was uncomfortable but not painful. I guess that would depend on your breasts and where you are in your cycle. If you're ticklish, you might squirm a bit.
Then she had me scooch down so my butt was right at the end of the table and my feet were in the stirrups. I'm sure this depends on your doctor's set-up but my feet weren't as high up or as far apart as I was expecting. There's a blanket over your legs so you're not hanging out everywhere.
She made sure everything was all set and then told me she was going to touch me to check the outer genital area. That was squirmy but she was gentle and quick. Then she told me she was inserting the speculum, which didn't hurt at all. Then she opened the speculum so she could see inside to my cervix. That did hurt but not a lot.
She quickly examined the cervix and took two samples, neither of which I really felt. I've heard that it does sometimes hurt for some women but I didn't feel a thing. I was really expecting that to hurt a little but it didn't.
After the samples were taken, she removed the speculum and told me the next part would be cold and wet. She used goopy lube on her fingers so she could insert those into my vagina, pressing up from inside while pressing down on top from the outside to feel my ovaries and uterus. This part hurt the most and I nearly squirmed right after the table. She was kind about it and basically said "I know this sucks but we're done!" She made sure to hand me a box of tissues to take care of the goop.
We talked a little about what kept me from getting the exam for so long. I told her that when you've always been fat, you stop expecting people to treat you respectfully. But I just kept telling myself that I'm lucky that I have access to healthcare and that I should just man up and do it. She agreed and said "You have the right to quality healthcare."
I'd say the whole exam lasted less than 6 - 7 minutes and while it wasn't the most fun I've ever had, it wasn't scary or a nightmare or anything traumatizing at all. I know that I'm lucky to have a doctor who has a nice bedside manner and not all doctors are like that. I only know that she's nice because I gave her a chance to be nice. If you never go to A doctor, you'll never find YOUR doctor. I actually found her on Yelp, so that might be a good place to at least start. A lot of women go to the same ob/gyn for years, so ask your friends, sisters, aunts, etc.
I'm guessing my experience is more typical than the horror stories about doctors being mean to fat women. I know that does happen and that's what kept me away for so long but I just can't let fear decide whether I'm sick or well. The pap came back normal except for a minor bacterial infection. I didn't really have any noticeable symtoms so without the pap, I may not have known until it had gotten worse.
So, that's that. One more fear I've conquered in a long line of things that are never as scary as I think they'll be. I even got a lollipop for being a good patient.