The Virtues of Paper Gowns

heavier things, mallory the midwife, storytelling, thinky face

Like me, there are some of you who have given birth multiple times, and so many doctors, midwives, and nurses have seen you mostly nude and maybe, like sweating and screaming, that a trip to the ob/gyn for your yearly exam seems like NBD. I’ve joked that it’s less painful (physically and emotionally) than, you know, meal planning. There is, however, a large population of women who are just, no, no, a million times no, about a medical professional getting near their girl parts. Let’s talk about this. Fun, right?

Guy readers, don’t be scared. We’re all going to be grown-ups and get through this post together, and if you want to pass this along to a little sister with the caption “EW” or keep it in mind for your daughters, that’s totally fine. And listen, if there’s a post that you want me to read about testicular health, I mean, I’ll get through it. Send it to me.

There are a lot of women who do not regularly see a gyn, simply because they are not sexually active, for religious reasons or otherwise. My goal is to convince you that even if you’ve committed to remaining celibate until marriage, or even if you’re someone who never has any intention of getting pregnant, yearly exams are still important. All my homegirls that are in their 20s and 30s whose feet have never graced a set of doctor’s office stirrups? Y’ALL NEED TO GET YOURSELVES TO A GYN.

The Virtues of Paper Gowns: Why you totally need yearly exams, even if you aren't sexually active.

Why? Because a yearly exam consists of way more than just chatting about birth control.  I consulted with Mallory, my regularly-featured-on-NF midwife, who has also attended every single one of my daughters’ births and has seen me in more compromising positions than I can count.

If you’re under 21 and not having any issues that would warrant an exam, I generally have you keep your pants on – even if you’ve been sexually active.  A lot of your first gyn visit is talking. I start routine pap smear screenings at age 21, but I like to think I am more than just a pap smear.  I check a patient’s breasts, ovaries, and uterus.  I screen for STDs. I help people with menstrual and other hormonal problems.  I treat ovarian cysts and breast masses.  I take out tampons that have gotten stuck.  I treat vaginitis.  I provide vaccinations against cervical cancer.  And for my younger patients I usually like to see them before I ever need to do an exam, so we develop a relationship.  A visit before becoming sexually active is ideal, so I can help prepare my patients to make the choices that are best for them.  I discuss birth control (more than just pills) and abstinence.  I don’t force exams on anyone. I have some patients who cant ever tolerate an internal exam with my hands, so we find creative solutions.  I have taken three visits just to psych someone up for a pap smear.  My goal is to make my patients comfortable with me so that together we do what’s best for their bodies.

Obviously I have an incredible midwife, and I love that she likes to schedule a pants-on appointment before a pants-off appointment. If Mallory’s speech convinced you but you’re a little squeamish, my suggestion is to ask around for a referral for someone in your area, then schedule a pants-on appointment to chat. If you’re not yet convinced, here’s a little story.

I started going to the gyn when I turned 18, around the same time my mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer and ovarian cancer. I was having weird symptoms (which later I discovered to be endometriosis, which is maybe a story for another time, but I’ll mark it as another reason you should totally visit a gyn) and due to her diagnosis, my mom was paranoid and insisted that I see a doctor. My gyn started talking to me about the importance of breast exams. I was like, uhhh, what? but because ovarian cancer and breast cancer are directly linked, and can often be hereditary, she insisted that I start doing monthly self-exams.

Okayyyy this is weird, all I want to do is wear a cropped t-shirt to a Dave Matthews Band show, can I go now?

The Virtues of Paper Gowns

Sidenote: how early 00s is this photos? Shell necklace, hot pink sundress, CI poster, chillin in my college BFF’s bedroom.

I forgot about her instructions, and then one day, on a whim, I did a self-exam and felt two distinct cysts in my breast. Doctor’s appointment. Ultrasound. Cysts aspirated, tested, and came back benign. Normal scenario, but it was a scary week for a 18 year old girl whose mom was in the throes of a difficult battle with cancer. And then I was all what if it wasn’t benign and I just let these cysts languish undiagnosed under my favorite Gap t-shirt bra? O__O and then I had greater appreciation for the not-as-cool-as-Mallory-but-still-cool doctor who told me that breast self-exams are muy importante.

While uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancer is rare in women under 40, those diagnoses still happen, and it’s just wise to make sure all of your parts are on the up and up. You know, being pro-active about your health and all. So, dear reader who has never been to a gyn, I’m not the boss of you, and my goal isn’t to strong-arm you into picking up the phone, but if you needed some gentle encouragement and a slap on the butt, here it is. Complete with a hug. \(._.)/

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  • Reply Valerie January 28, 2014 at 10:59 am

    I didn’t go to the “lady doctor” until I was 25 because, well, I wasn’t sexually active (I hate that term, btw). My doctor is young and fun and totally made me feel like she was my long lost friend that wore scrubs and nothing surprised her, ever. Long story short…I have told my little sisters who have never been to GO. I even called to try to make an appt for one, which is against the law I found out. Apparently you can’t force someone to go see a lady parts doctor. Who knew??

    • Reply Roo January 28, 2014 at 11:10 am

      Hahaha, you cannot, or I would have dragged a few friends there myself. ;) I’M HOPING THEY ALL READ THIS POST. (Why am I yelling?)

  • Reply Krystyn @ Really, Are You Serious? January 28, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Amen! Scary stuff happens when you aren’t regularly checked out.

    PS My midwife office and previous OB actually had cloth gowns and cloth sheets. Love them!

  • Reply Heather (Laptops to Lullabies) January 28, 2014 at 11:33 am

    I’m one of those people who HATES the idea of stirrups — I’ve had two C-sections, so I’m basically in mint condition down there, ha. But I’ve gone for pap smears since I was 17. It’s not my favourite thing, but it’s also NOT a big deal. I think it would be much scarier to not go — and wonder if something was wrong — than to just suck it up and go get one annually.

  • Reply Kim R January 28, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Yay for cloth sheets and gowns here too. My doc is male (gaspy-gasp…gasp) and is super awesome and actually makes me feel more comfortable than women I’ve seen.
    Also notable – if you have health insurance – your yearly is probably one of the few things covered at 100%! Goooooooooo!

    • Reply Kim R January 28, 2014 at 11:35 am

      But obviously call your insurance or the office…I don’t work for your insurance company. Lol. Sorry. Got all panicky after I commented. :)

    • Reply Anna January 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      I prefer my male OBGYN to previous female doctors too! My husband really likes him – which I was a little hesitant about.

      • Reply Kim R January 28, 2014 at 12:19 pm

        I found my OBGYN while I was newly pregnant and my husband visited with me and it helped. He’s totally cool with him and they talk like old friends when they see each other (in the office or elsewhere, two pregnancies probably helped, he’s hoping for a third. Haha).

  • Reply Leah Butler January 28, 2014 at 11:43 am

    So I would pretty much rather give myself a root canal with a pair of pliers than have a pap smear – but I still get my yearlies.

    And then I treat myself to a nice bottle of wine and a jug of ice cream whilst I huddle under a blankie and curse lady-part doctors.

    • Reply Jessi February 3, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Yes! I also hate flu shots but I want to be a good mom, both by being healthy and by showing my kids how to take care of your body. So I get my dental exams, my lady exams, and my flu shots. And then we all get ice cream.

  • Reply tara January 28, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Great post. For awhile there I was one of those who visited the lady doctor really infrequently…like 2-3 years in between visits O_O. My mom was never very proactive about talking to me or encouraging me to do it when I was younger. Topics of birth control, sex, periods – all super awkward to talk to my mom about…kind of like when you’re 15 and watching a funny movie with your parents and a sex scene happens and you just. can’t. leave. the room fast enough without making eye contact.
    Fast forward to being 29 years old and pregnant with my first baby (in 2012) and having my first midwife. I always thought I’d have a regular old OBGYN when I was pre go, but a nurse encouraged me to try out a midwife so I did. I pictured a midwife to be one of those crazy hippy, long haired, tye-dye wearing ladies. Turns out they totally aren’t and I love her so much! I can’t wait to be pregnant again and go through that experience all over. She made me feel so comfortable about everything and I was really sad when I had my last check-up appointment after my daughter was born because I wouldn’t see her for a year ha!
    So to sum this novel up, I really think choosing a gyno/midwife you feel like you can connect with really changes the experience. I’m not all nervous to go to my yearly appts anymore (although I think birthing a child has something to do with that haha) and because of the way my Mom was about it, I will be way more proactive and informative with my own daughter when the time comes.

    Also, you’re awesome Roo :)

    • Reply Maggie January 28, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      Tara, our mom-experience was pretty much identical. I had a great relationship with my mom… but we didn’t talk about sex or periods or body stuff. SO AWKWARD. The fear of the unknown and not really understanding why I needed to go in the first place was what kept me away so long. I hope my own healthier-perspective about it now will make it easier for me to talk about those things with my own daughter and encourage her to get the right care when the time comes.

      also totally concur: Roo Rools!

      • Reply tara January 28, 2014 at 4:37 pm

        Thank goodness we can use the “what not to do’s” from our own childhood experiences! Our daughters will love the gyn appointments right? Ha…maybe that’s too strong of a word :) But at least they will know the importance of going.

  • Reply Anna January 28, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Roo – I love this post! Please write a post about your endometriosis. I had a procedure in July to see if I had it and it turned out that I had a minor case of it. Ended up being no big deal, but it’s something that I’m still going to be concerned about for years to come. Also, I’m 25 and pregnant, so I’m a regular at the OB-GYN office. But I remember how terrified I was for my first exam. It’s so bright in that room! My you-know-what is right in the doctor’s face! But I got through it and I’m definitely going to make sure that any future daughters of mine know what to expect. On a side note, at my last annual exam (last year), I was told that unless I had a history of abnormal cells and as long as I’m under 40 (35?), I only have to go every 3 years now. Mallory, is that something you recommend??

    • Reply Liz January 28, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      My GYN said that too – every 3 years if you’ve had a normal pap…kind of bugged me out though.

    • Reply MC January 28, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      I second a post on the endometriosis! I sometimes get strange aches down in the belly area that feel different from just regular cycle stuff. It makes me totally paranoid, despite my fairly regular gyno visits (and this post was a great reminder to schedule my annual). I’d be interested to hear about your weird symptoms, since I think I probably downplay mine at the doctor…not good. Especially if our weird symptoms match up.

      • Reply Catherine January 28, 2014 at 7:38 pm

        I’m a women’s health nurse practitioner (my job is like midwife Mallory’s except I don’t catch your kid coming out) and yes, its a true story, no history of abnormal paps you only need a PAP SMEAR every 3 years, but as Mallory said, you should still be getting an ANNUAL exam to check out the ol’ uterus, ovaries and breasts, see what’s up in latest mammogram recommendations, get your HPV vaccine, discuss sex and STDs and birth control and weird bumps and periods – there’s more to “down there” than the cervix. And yay for a pants-on visit! I do those as well, and usually start out every appointment with a pants-on chat instead of an awkward one-of-us-in-this-room-is-naked chat.

        • Reply Roo January 28, 2014 at 9:16 pm

          Catherine, sending internetty hugs your way. Thanks for all you do!

    • Reply Mallory January 28, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      The every three year recommendation is for the pap smear part of the exam (if you’re 30 and have a normal pap smear with negative HPV testing). I still recommend a yearly exam for all the other stuff- like your breasts, ovaries and uterus. I still actually take a quick peak in the vagina too because its an amazing organ and I want to make sure it is healthy too.

      • Reply Roo January 28, 2014 at 9:15 pm

        What, no quote about my cervix? Go on, tell them. Tell them what you said.

        • Reply mallory January 29, 2014 at 10:29 am

          You have a textbook cervix. I would have taken a picture of it if I could and shown people what a nice normal looking cervix you have :)

          • Lindsay @ fueled by diet coke January 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm

            When I was pregnant with/giving birth to my son the doctors/nurses couldn’t shut up about how great my cervix was. I had no idea what they meant. Like, isn’t it just a cervix?

            Not to be, like, weird, but since you’re a cool girl Mals (can I call you Mals?) what, pray tell, constitutes a textbook cervix like mine and Roo’s? Asking here to save myself the horror of having to Google the phrase, “textbook cervix”.


          • Roo January 30, 2014 at 10:43 am

            BRB adding this to my LinkedIn profile.

  • Reply Catherine January 28, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    AMEN! I hope this post pushes reluctant ladies to make that appointment. No, it’s not fun (“I AM letting my legs fall to the side!” I always think when my legs are in the stirrups and they tell me to open just a litttttle wider, ugh) but so necessary. Chances are everything will be a-ok – hooray! – and even in that case it’s good for peace of mind.

  • Reply Sharon January 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    I’ve been getting my parts checked regularly since i was 17. my mom had the big C, when i was 24 ‘C’ won, So i get ALLLL my parts checked. I don’t love it, but i’d rather get em checked then leave my baby ok she’s 4 but still she’s my baby!!! And i LOVE my GYN. Has always made my feel completely comfortable. She’s very thorough but geting things done quick and easy. Always has time to answer alll my questions even the silly ones. And when I run into her in the grocery store she knows me, we talk, and i look forward to seeing her. So not my fav Dr’s visit, but i do it yearly, and having a Dr you really like and trust makes it a lot better.

  • Reply ShelbyDee January 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    So a doctor who looked a little like Santa Claus once told me that nuns don’t get cervical cancer, which he told me was the point of those exams. I took that excuse and ran with it.

    • Reply Roo January 30, 2014 at 10:44 am

      Well, that’s the point of a pap smear, but not a breast of pelvic exam. Get thee to a gynecologist, Sister.

  • Reply Kelly January 28, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I thankfully went to a college with great free health care for students and got a great doctor for my first exam (she made those awkward moments so much better). It was not my favorite thing in the whole world but I’m glad that I went. My second trip to the OBGYN I found out I had HPV ( this was before the wonderful shots they recommend now!) Thankfully we caught everything before it turned into too anything bad but I still had a lot of not so fun things to go through, lots of tears and some recovery time. I now have been to my fair share of OBGYN appts (4 a year for 3 years after the diagnosis) and I’m so thankful I took the step to get my self checked each year starting at 18. Please ladies at least make an appt for a chat, we have had no history in my family of women related health issues but that doesn’t mean it cant happen!

  • Reply Natasha January 28, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!!! Thank you for writing this, for realisies. Even growing up with a very, erm, Irish Catholic mother, she realized the importance of overall health and researched/looked around and found me a good lady parts dr at 15, to get to know and be comfy with alllll dat business. Which is good, cause I was diagnosed with PCOS at 17. I think my fav OB/G is the one I have now…she’s a little awkward and blunt but she is hilarious and it’s kinda like hangin with your BFF. And she def takes the time to discuss things, so that is a plus.

    • Reply Natasha January 28, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      Also, pretty sure we had that same Cruel Intentions poster in our dorm haha. And an Oscar de la Hoya ‘Got Milk’ one, where he is only draped in the American flag. Our room was popular.

  • Reply Nicole January 28, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Agreed on all counts… It’s just something you have to do, even though it can be uncomfortable. It was definitely more awkward for me when I was in my teens and early 20’s, but the way I see it is that my OB/midwife has seen countless vaginas, so I highly doubt my nethers are anything to be particularly up in arms about. :).

  • Reply Julie January 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I agree! Knowledge is power. I had seen multiple OBGYN’s for annuals, but then I had one amazing doctor that decided to do some further testing on me. What we found was unbelievable and completely changed how I approach getting pregnant. Though the husband and I don’t plan on kids any time soon, I’m so thankful I know exactly what is going on “down there” so we can plan appropriately. Many women with my condition don’t find out about it until they either are pregnant or unable to conceive while trying. Never stop being your advocate and get yourself checked out!

  • Reply Kristy @ Kristy's Health Revolution January 28, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    File me under the woman who literally cringes at the thought of going to the lady doctor. I had an abnormal pap smear a few years ago and I ended up having to get a LEEP procedure — worst experience of my life. But if I hadn’t sucked up that awful feeling, those “pre-cancerous” cells could have become cervical cancer. It sucks, but do it. I know I tell you this all the time, but you’re my favorite blogger.

  • Reply Laura @losingrace January 28, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Getting regularly checked is SOOOO important. I’ve had many issues in that area since I was younger and I constantly tell people…get yourself checked. No excuses.. it’s not worth letting a small problem turn into a big one because you didn’t want to go.

  • Reply Sandy January 28, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    If your GYN is a cool doc, that makes going even better. It also helps if they don’t have cold hands.

  • Reply Kate January 28, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Hey Roo! Thanks for posting about this topic! I remember the first time I went, I was all “Yay! Girl Power – taking care of myself!” This was before getting creeped out about what had just transpired. Since then I have had wonderful GYN’s and Nurse Practitioners. I am also one to freely give recommendations, because I feel like if a GYN or NP is good in this area, as girlfriends we should shout it from the stirrups. Hashtag winkyface.

  • Reply Stephanie Abbott January 28, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    OK CONFESSION TIME. So, I have told you (and I suppose the readers of your comments) this before but I had a baby in October of this year. Fun Fact: The first time I went to a(n) (OB)GYN was for my first “I have a baby in me” appointment. I wasn’t a promiscuous gal, per se, but I was no saint either. I was safe….but, um, active. In any case, I was not concerned in the least of STDs or pregnancy before all of this. Anywhoo, after being with my (now) husband for 8+ years we hadda babby…and my very first “pap” (sounds fun, no?) was at previously aformentioned first (OB)GYN appointment. I am 24. I was 23.338 back then. WHOOPSIE. Anyways, before I was even pregnant I was very much aware that it was embarrasing that I had never been to an GYN before. My BFFLOMGWTFBBQ begged me to go– she’s a good girlfriend, but I was ashamed. I was also sooo nervous to, ahem, “spead eagle” (oh gosh, that’s crass…appologies! But It’s the only term that went through my mind beforehand). Well, I get there and explain my circumstances. The most amazing thing happened next. They gave me a Pap smear, they checked my uterous, I was given the “aw cute 12 weeks” ultrasound that just shows this tiny little (looks nothing like a) human, and I was sent on my merry way. NOT ONCE EVER was it weird, or uncomfortable, or inappropriate. In fact…it was soo chill it makes my bi-annual dental checkup seem a little frisky. SERIOUSLY. Like, complete and udder NBD for the Dr. which makes it a breeze for shy gals like me. Point is, I think a lot of people are like me and just SHY! It’s a little weird to let a stranger ba-fongle your ba-jiggle-gagglez…and yet….it’s totally not. OBGYNs are amazing people. (side note: If you’re like me and super duper shy-master-McShyGuy I might suggest a female. Just, because.)

  • Reply Amanda January 28, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    I HATE visiting the doctor and dentist. But I bribe myself into going every year with the promise of shopping for ME right afterwards. :)

  • Reply Christy January 28, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    I have never seen a GYN. Years ago when I asked my GP to refer me to one, she told me that she could do my PAP and other lady exam stuff during my yearly physical. This is what I have been doing ever since. I am 32 now and hope to be getting pregnant in the next year or so. I asked my GP recently if it was time to go see a GYN, and she told me she would help me with prenatal stuff and then send me off to one when I was pregnant (or if I was having issues). I am sure this isn’t an option for everyone but this is a normal practice for her and the arrangement works just fine for me. I get the preventive care I need and I only need to have one doctor!

    • Reply Lindsay @ fueled by diet coke January 29, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      I used to get my paps/pelvic exams from my GP, too! And I only switched to an OBGYN when I got pregnant. You are not alone! It was just easier for me to hit all my bases in one yearly appointment. :)

  • Reply Anonyvox January 29, 2014 at 10:03 am

    I want to jump up on my Planned Parenthood soap-box for a minute here, since this post is so topical. I started going to PP when I was 21 for exams and (more importantly it seemed at the time) for a birth control prescription. I had a seasonal job and was unemployed for about a quarter of the year, and PP’s sliding payment scale meant I could afford to go to the doctor and to make sure I didn’t get pregnant. Going to the gyn is not a great deal of fun, but it is so, so important. If you don’t think you can afford it, check out Planned Parenthood. In fact, when President Obama started changing up our medical care programs, my well-woman visits became totally free. I’m not sure if that’s a condition of my insurance, and if it applies to everyone across the board, but it is absolutely something to check in to.

  • Reply Kelly @ IdealistMom.com January 29, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Such a good reminder. Thank you for that.

    A co-worker of mine, a mom in her 30s, was shaving one day and noticed a lump under her arm. It turned out to be stage 3 breast cancer. I recently interviewed her for a post and ever since I heard that part of her story, I’ve been so much better about doing self-exams.

  • Reply harlie @ loveofsunshine.com January 30, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    I am 100% on board with seeing a gyno on a regular basis. They are so much more familiar with women’s bodies than even your GP.

    When I was in college, I started seeing a gyno. It seemed weird at first, especially since I wasn’t sexually active and got asked a lot of personal questions about that, but I’m so glad I started developing that relationship. When I started grad school a few years later, I began to feel terrible ALL THE TIME. I was cold in central Texas…in August. I was lethargic. I was overly emotional (I cried…no, BAWLED…at dog food commercials. Purina commercials were the worst. I’d totally lose it). I lacked any appetite and was losing a good deal of weight trying to keep up with my classes. The student clinic doctors just told me that it was the stress of grad school–a totally reasonable assessment because it was crazy stressful.

    After one semester of this, it wasn’t getting any better. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse. Thank goodness, I had my annual gyno appointment. After just chatting with me, she recognized from my symptoms that this was more than simple grad-school-stress and suspected hypothyroidism. After getting back the blood tests to confirm the diagnosis, she immediately put me on thyroid medication. It took a little while to dial in the exact dosage, but it changed my world. Suddenly, I had plenty of energy to devote to my classes and still feel like going out to dinner with my friends. I didn’t need to bundle up to keep warm in 90F weather. Dog food no longer reduced me to tears. I just felt NORMAL again.

    So, there…a good reason to start seeing a gyno that has nothing to do with examining lady parts.

  • Reply Emily January 30, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Yes! So important. It was an OB who first suggested that my crazy heavy, clotty periods could be caused by LYME DISEASE! I was sent to a natural doctor and surprise! Not only do I have lyme disease but a genetic mutation. After 2.5 years of searching I finally had an answer to not only crazy periods, but infertility as well. After 7 months of treatment I feel like a new woman!

  • Reply Sam February 20, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    I love love love this post so much!!!! I’m a medical student and we’re just finishing our reproductive system block and pap smears are fantastico!!!!! I work with a family med doc and we do pap smears all the time, NBD. They are such a great screening tool for anyone 21+!!!! And if you feel super awkward and uber shy about it, tell your doc. They (we?) completely get it and will do whatever we can to make you feel comfortable!

    I love the comment about ‘a doctor who looked a little like Santa Claus’ saying nuns don’t get cervical cancer!! :) On that note though, cervical cancer is completely caused by HPV, so holla’ at guardasil!!! Anyone 26 and under should get it!!! Tell your brother/boyfriend/husband/etc too! HPV can cause all sorts of unfun things, so vaccinate that stuff!!!!!!

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