When I was a little girl, I thought the most embarrassing and uncomfortable experience at the doctor’s office was when the nurse pulled down my pants and shoved a needle into my puny butt cheek. And then I became a woman.
No woman enjoys the gynecologist (although I do prefer it to the dentist, which is a whole other story). What fun stuff happens at the gynecologist? Oh yeah, great stuff like:
- Wearing a tissue-thin paper gown shaped like a rectangle.
- Getting yourself into a lie-down/squat position and stretching your knees from east to west.
- Having a speculum inserted into your private area and twisted like a car jack.
- Attempting to carry on casual conversation with the doctor who is peeking, poking, and prodding all of your girly parts.
[Insert super-sarcastic tone]: Yeah, great stuff.
Yet maturity involves choosing a bit of discomfort now for the best results in the future, so we adults go to the doctor to have our health checked and physical symptoms resolved. In fact, we are blessed to live in an era in which treatment and healing are available for illnesses and difficulties which caused significant pain or death in the past.
I have one of those childbirth stories that ends with “Thank goodness for modern medicine.”
So your gynecologist is important. This person will help you maintain your feminine health and, if you birth children, will deliver your babies. You need someone whose medical expertise you can fully trust.
You also need a gynecologist with whom you can discuss your sex life. Throughout your married life, you may face physical challenges that interfere with healthy sexual intimacy. They could range from minor yeast infections to hormonal changes affecting your sex drive to more severe issues like vaginismus. If at some point you face an illness or surgery, you want to be able to discuss, for instance, not only the mastectomy but how it is impacting intimacy with your husband. You need a doctor who will listen to you, show compassion, and pursue solutions when difficulties arise.
Here are some questions for choosing a gynecologist:
Am I comfortable in their presence? You need to be comfortable in their office. You will be talking about your body’s issues, exposing your private areas, and relying on their medical advice. A lot of women believe they will be more comfortable with a female doctor. (However, I have had several female gynecologists and one male. Hands down, the male doctor was the most compassionate; if he hadn’t retired, I’d be with him still.) You indeed may find that you speak more easily to someone in your age group or with similar life circumstances. You may prefer a parental type. But whatever your preference is, make sure you are comfortable in that exam room — as much as you can be in a paper gown — and can open up.
Do they listen to my concerns? Does your appointment feel rushed, allowing you little time to converse about your health? Are you given an opportunity to ask questions and present concerns? When you describe what you’re experiencing, does your doctor restate the issue to ensure understanding and ask follow-up questions? Does he or she believe what you describe? For instance, if you report severe menstrual cramping or pain in sexual intercourse, is that report taken seriously or dismissed as “normal”? Do you feel like your doctor wants to know how you’re doing? Your doctor needs to listen carefully to your concerns. You want to make sure that he does not overlook health issues that can be addressed and treated.
What health model do they use? Two issues in particular are that they have reasons for doing what they do and that their beliefs regarding medical intervention align with your own. Your doctor needs to be able to adequately explain her approach, reasoning, and course of action. As to belief systems aligning, some people are comfortable with a traditional medical model in which a condition is diagnosed and an accompanying treatment is prescribed. Others desire “alternative health” treatments, including herbal supplements, chiropractic manipulation, and other approaches. Some want their doctor to address dietary choices in detail; others do not. Ultimately, this is your body and your health. I won’t tell you which track I take, but you need to be convinced of the path you and your doctor are taking.
This can be especially important with childbirth. There are a number of choices available now — with home births, midwives, obstetricians, hospitals, Lamaze, C-sections, etc. Study the options thoroughly and choose a doctor who supports your approach.
(This one is hard for me to leave alone, given my experience. I advise that if you choose a nontraditional route, be sure that emergency care is readily available if needed.)
Do they stay updated on medical and health issues? There are medical researchers all across the nation and around the world. Health and medicine are areas in which we make new discoveries all the time. Breast cancer used to be an automatic killer; it’s not now. Women with placenta abruptia or previa in childbirth used to die of hemorrhaging; they rarely do now. Better screenings, medicines, treatments, etc. have increased our ability to address many feminine issues.
You want your doctor to be up-to-date on the state of their medical field. Even if you have chosen an alternative route, there are studies and health journals in those fields as well. You don’t want to miss out on an effective treatment only because it is recent and your doctor didn’t keep up.
How thorough are the examinations? Your total health should be part of the exam. You should be asked questions about medical history, family of origin background, presenting problems, medicines taken, and lifestyle. You should have regular urine and blood work testing. Pap smears can detect cervical cancer, and mammograms can detect breast cancer. Your breasts, pelvis, vagina, cervix, uterus, and rectum should be examined by a doctor. The gynecologist will often also check vital signs, lungs, and heart for overall health. You don’t want anything missed.
Do they recognize the importance of sex in marriage? I’ll tell a personal story here. After one of my children was born, I experienced very low estrogen. TWICE I told my gynecologist that sex was painful for me. Her response? “Well, it’s not going to feel great after having a baby. It just takes a while.” After another night of my husband trying to penetrate my vagina, it feeling like a two-edged sword was entering me, crying buckets, and him stopping and consoling me in his arms, I decided to trust my own belief that something was wrong. Thank goodness that my doctor was unavailable when I called, and I got to see her nurse practitioner instead. This angelic woman looked at me, immediately diagnosed low estrogen, and prescribed vaginal cream. Within a week or so, I was fine. Needless to say, I changed doctors for the next baby.
This doctor did not give the proper weight to intimacy. She never asked how my sex life was post-childbirth, and when I shared my concerns, she dismissed them. I don’t deal with that anymore. I have found a doctor with whom I can discuss my sex life. If you have a low sex drive or difficulty during intimacy, you need to be able to discuss this honestly with your doctor. You may have a medical problem. If so, you want a doctor willing to pursue treatments to assist you. You should not have to sacrifice intimacy with your husband because of a change in hormones or physical issues. There often are answers. Your doctor should be supportive of your quest for marital intimacy.
These are my recommendations. I am blessed to have had several wonderful doctors care for me — the obstetrician who delivered my baby in less-than-ideal circumstances, the gynecologist who performed my endometrial ablation, and my current physician with whom I can discuss anything. God bless ’em.
What are your tips for finding a good gynecologist? What have you learned along the way? What do you look for in a gynecologist?