I Stood Up To My Doctor, and So Should You.
May 14, 2021
I had a really uncomfortable experience at a new doctor’s office. I need to share it because more women need to feel comfortable speaking up when they’re unsure of what a healthcare professional wants to do.
Let’s just jump right in here: vaginal checks are uncomfortable for me. That can probably go without saying. They’re awkward, painful, and I just don’t like them. I seem to always get crampy and sometimes get infections afterwards and I really just tense up when I know they’re coming.
So imagine how I felt when I was blindsided with one at my “new patient” visit at a new doctor’s office.
Since I had moved, I made an appointment with a new doctor’s office. They scheduled me a “new patient” appointment and told me I’d just be meeting with a nurse practitioner and would meet with a doctor or midwife for my next, real OB appointment. They didn’t tell me anything about a cervical exam.
I arrived and was prepared to fill out a lot of paperwork and answer a lot of questions, which I did. The NP was nice enough, asked lots of questions, and told me about the next appointment. But then, she told me to undress from the waist down for a cervical check.
She then left the room.
As I stood there a little shocked, I started thinking…
“I’m only 26 weeks, why do I need a cervical check? My other doctor didn’t start checking my cervix until 36 weeks, and warned me at the appointment before that it would be coming. I hadn’t had any cramping or bleeding or anything unusual, so why would she want to check my cervix? She’s not even an actual doctor. She wouldn’t be doing any future checks because I’d be seeing an actual doctor, so why did she want one now, or at all? I didn’t get a chance to shower yet today. Ew. She didn’t even listen to the baby’s heartbeat, or listen to my heart or lungs. Shouldn’t my vitals be more important to check than my cervix at this point? They had already requested my records from my previous doctor, which included the results from a recent pap smear so they didn’t need to do one of those, and we had discussed that so that was clear, and they really didn’t need to do anything “down there” at all for that matter. This feels so weird.”
As all of this went through my head, I didn’t undress but instead opened the door and was surprised that she was standing right there. She asked me if I was ready and I told her “No, I’m just wondering why I need a cervical check if I’m only 26 weeks pregnant?” She said, “Because I need to get a baseline.”
And here’s where I was weak: I unconfidently replied, “okay,” and went back in.
But it wasn’t okay. I didn’t feel okay. I didn’t understand why she wanted a “baseline,” and at 26 weeks. She would never compare it to anything because she would not be seeing me throughout my pregnancy. Not to mention there was no medical reason to do one: it would be zero, nothing, closed, normal. There was nothing to indicate my cervix would be even close to ready to give birth, it wasn’t even close to ready when I was 38 weeks pregnant with my daughter. I’ve since researched and found that even at 36 weeks cervical exams are not necessary unless there are other signs that your body is getting ready for labor and could be starting the process, and that until 41 weeks it’s not necessary and can potentially cause more harm than good. That point is debatable, and I’m not totally against them, but at 26 weeks they are DEFINITELY not necessary. This article here was really bold and made me realize that this situation was not okay and that I can refuse cervical checks and everything will be okay.
But I got undressed and laid there shivering. I shiver when I’m nervous or have anxiety. The NP came in with a nurse and I cringed and squeezed my fists together while she checked. It felt so unnecessary. I’m shivering as I’m writing this just thinking about it.
I left there feeling really violated. And I didn’t even tell my husband or anyone else about it because I was embarrassed.
What if I just didn’t know and that was their regular procedure?
What if they treat me differently because I said something about my being uncomfortable?
What if she’s a really respected member of the medical community and I’m pointing fingers at her?
I’ve already been reporting to friends that this office was great, so for me to speak out now about this concern would make me sound less credible. And to be honest, it was great in every other aspect.
It took me nearly 2 weeks to realize that this event being on my mind for so long was not okay; that her continuing with the check even after I expressed my concern was not okay, and that my feelings of violation were not okay. How would I feel if this were my daughter feeling violated or that she had been undermined by a medical professional? Just thinking of her feeling the way I feel got me fired up.
That was my motivation. Who cares if I don’t sound credible, or need to switch doctors? Even if this is standard procedure at this office, that should have been made known to me. Everywhere I’ve looked since says it isn’t. When I expressed concern to this NP, she should have acknowledged that and explained “I know it’s earlier than normal, but we do them early here because ___.” I should have been told that it wasn’t a necessary procedure. I understand that in this line of medicine there is a need for caution, but this isn’t my first go-around at an OB office and I know the drill, I’m not just thinking back on it and looking for things to be upset about. I was vocal and expressed concern, but it was not acknowledged.
So I took action.
I called the office that deals with ethical concerns. I still felt embarrassed that I had waited so long and that they would question me because of it. I only got an answering machine and left a message. I decided to call another patient services line because I needed to get this out. I got through to someone and she said I could tell her what happened and if I needed to talk to someone else she’d transfer me to the correct department. I explained my situation straightforwardly, like I did above. She apologized and said she understood, and that she’d talk to the management team. She said she wasn’t sure if it was common procedure but even so, they definitely want to prevent this from happening to anyone else and that the management team, or even her personally, would follow-up with me. Her phone call was reassuring and I felt better that she understood my concerns and felt it necessary to take action.
I didn’t hear anything the next day, but the day after that I got a call from the same girl who worked in the patient services department whom I had spoken to previously. She said she spoke with management and they’re going to have the provider call and explain herself to me. I also sent a message on the online portal that this office uses to the doctor whom I wanted to see on future appointments and asked him if I should expect cervical exams at appointments now, and if this office does them starting at 26 weeks. I felt better knowing that the management team in patient services was going to address my issue with the NP, but I still wanted to know if this was a standard procedure and if they would want to do one at every appointment. I also wanted to be clear from the beginning that I would NOT be comfortable with that.
The doctor responded promptly and, in all caps, told me that “NO” they do not do routine cervical checks at every exam, and he told me what I could expect at our upcoming appointment. So that cleared up that question. I still haven’t heard back from the NP or the patient services department, but I at least have peace of mind knowing that my doctor does not regularly do them. I was planning on switching offices if it was a normal procedure for them to start cervical checks so early.
Now I’m just waiting to hear why this NP randomly decided to do a cervical check on me with no warning, no medical reason, complete disregard for my concerns, and against protocol. I don’t even want to think about what the reasoning could be. Not that it matters anymore – I needed her to explain herself weeks ago when I was shaking with nerves in the cold doctor’s office. I’m not sure what good her explanation will do, now. But if she’s doing random, early cervical exams on other pregnant women in that office, who knows if others have experienced complications as a result. I will definitely not let this slide.
But regardless of how that turns out, this was a good lesson for me to learn.
The bottom line is: I am in charge of my health and my body.
If I am not comfortable with a procedure or I don’t understand something, it needs to be explained to me and my provider needs to be respectful of my wishes. I am eager to meet with this recommended doctor because I understand that, especially in labor, sometimes circumstances arise where action must be taken immediately and it’s important to trust my provider to do what’s best for me. In the future, if I am put in a position where a questionable procedure is presented to me, the questions I will ask are:
- Is it necessary?
- What are the risks?
- What are the risks of NOT doing it?
- Can it be done, or will it be more effective, at a later date?
- Can I get a second opinion, first, or is it urgent?
But never again will I be passive or hesitant or bulldozed when it comes to something regarding my body or my health. I will ALWAYS be involved in the decision-making process.
I want to hear from you. We need to change the way we interact with our medical providers, be more involved with our care, and encourage others to do the same.
Have you had a similar experience with your health care? It can be hard, but please share it with others, or even anonymously on this post.
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