It doesn’t really hurt.
This post is about what to expect during a well-woman’s exam.
If you don’t care or don’t want to know, scroll down for my love affair with muesli (a traditional Swiss breakfast dish).
You’re going to strip. Don’t bother wearing anything that’s difficult to take off. You will get something that seems like the product of a threesome between an apron, a Snuggie and a dish rag. I know reproduction doesn’t work that way– work with me here.
You will put your arms through the Snuggie portion (sleeves are t-shirt length), drape the apron portion over your torso and lap and then attempt to tie the apron portion behind yourself. It will not be the warmest garment you’ve ever worn (hence the dish rag aspect). You will get a curtain to change behind, which is a nice gesture. You will also get a large napkin-like sheet (like the bib used in dentist’s office) to drape over your lap.
Are you on birth control?
Do you like guys or girls or both? (Not always asked, but will be asked by good providers.)
Have you ever been pregnant?
What was the date of your last period (start date only)?
Have you ever thought about contraception? If not, know that it is available and covered if you should ever consider it (thanks to the Affordable Care Act).
Have you ever had any pain when urinating or funny discharge?
You will take one arm out of its sleeve at a time. You will bend it and lay it by your head as you’re laying down, like you’re in class, but your teacher is on the ceiling and your chair is laying on the floor. You will be poked on your breast and told that “it’s good to become familiar with your breast” and that some lumpiness is normal. Lumps that are not normal are harder and do not hurt when you push them– you should get not normal lumps checked out because you know… cancer. You will be told that breasts will feel different if they are bigger. You will silently say, “Thank you for reminding me” and remind yourself that it’s okay, because you can jog anytime you want, without having bags of chest fat slapping yourself in the face.
If you have never done a pelvic exam, you will be introduced to the instruments that are about to enter your body. The most intimidating instrument is the “speculum,” which looks like a plastic duck. If you are petite or your vagina has never been penetrated, there may be smaller speculums available.
Another instrument is a strange item, the name of which I do not know, but I will call it the Scepter of Magicalness, simply because it looks like something that King Triton’s brother must have had. The other instrument is something that looks like a cousin to the tiny brushes that dentists use to clean tooth gaps.
Scepter of Magicalness
Tooth Gap Cousin inside Plastic Duck
The Scepter of Magicalness and Tooth Gap Cousin will go into your cervix to collect cells to check if you have cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is commonly caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is common among both males and females, especially among those who are sexually active. HPV is so common that it is even found among those who have had only one sexual partner (even if married). It can cause genital warts and anal cancers as well. There is an awesome HPV vaccine that can drastically reduce your chance of getting HPV, given in three shots over six months. If you have friends with kids, let them know that ages 11-12 years old is the best time to get this vaccine.
You will put your butt on the edge of the “table” like you’re about to fall off and put your legs in stirrups. It will not feel like you are riding a horse. You will think about all the TV shows you’ve watched where someone gives birth. You will lie down and think it is silly that you have a large napkin covering the places where the doctor is looking, but you will be thankful for the gesture and the intent of dignity.
The doctor will talk you through the exam (if they are a good doctor) and they will tell you that the speculum is going in, and that you should feel swishing from the Scepter of Magicalness and the Tooth Gap Cousin, although they will not use my highly scientific medical terminology. They will tell you that you may experience some cramping. They might not be able to find your cervix, which is when they will move the speculum around. This part might be uncomfortable, but there is nothing that should hurt. Try to breathe and relax.
Then they will remove the speculum and then tell you that they will use two gloved fingers to check your ovaries (bimanual exam). You will marvel at how they can feel your ovaries from your vagina. This part is less uncomfortable than the speculum, unless you are more disturbed by fingers than hard plastic. I don’t know what to tell ya, kid. Early prevention, rocks?
At one point, you may be told to lie down so that your doctor can press your stomach at different points. I don’t remember what this was for, because I was too busy wondering whether or not there is a medical term for ticklishness.
Fun fact of the day: your first well-woman’s exam of the year is covered by the Affordable Care Act.
More on the HPV vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
“HPV vaccines are recommended for 11- or 12-year-old boys and girls. HPV vaccines are safe and effective, and can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV that can lead to disease and cancer. HPV vaccines are given in three shots over six months; it is important to get all three doses to get the best protection. Boys and girls at ages 11 or 12 are most likely to have the best protection provided by HPV vaccines, and their immune response to vaccine is better than older women and men.
- Girls and women: Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) are available to protect females against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. One of these vaccines (Gardasil) also protects against most genital warts, and has been shown to protect against anal, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Either vaccine is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls, and for females 13 through 26 years of age who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger. These vaccines can also be given to girls beginning at 9 years of age.
- Boys and men: One vaccine (Gardasil) is available to protect males against most genital warts and anal cancers. Gardasil is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old boys, and for males 13 through 21 years of age who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men should receive the vaccine through age 26 years. Males 22–26 years of age may also get the vaccine.”
The HPV vaccine is covered by the Affordable Care Act, and you can find a list of other covered vaccines here.
Time for muesli!
Muesli is a traditional Swiss breakfast that was made by a doctor who wanted something to feed to his patients that was quick, easy to make, easy to store and nutritious. It is traditionally made with oats, dried fruits and milk or orange juice. I made it because I was a) inspired by JoytheBaker and b) am always running out the door with no time to make breakfast, which often results in me doing things like shoving oranges and chocolates in my face. My version includes a layers of toasted oats, untoasted oats, toasted flax seeds, honey, untoasted quick oats, strawberries and vanilla almond milk.
I filled jars with these layers, then added almond milk to the top. The mixture will soak up the almond milk, so just fill to the point that you will eat and keep the jars in the fridge for at least two hours so the oats can soften and get creamy and so the flax seeds can thicken and get a gel-like coating (in JoytheBaker’s recipe, she uses chia seeds). It’s super delicious and good for you. I’m hardly restraining myself from eating them as a snack. I don’t have a picture of the soaked muesli because it’s just that delicious.
There will be bubbles from the dry mixture drinking up the vanilla almond milk. When the muesli is soaked for at least two hours in the refrigerator, the mixture expands and all layers press together in creamy goodness. YUM.
Protip: to toast oats, spread them evenly on a baking sheet in an oven set to 275 degrees. 250 degrees wasn’t fast enough for me and 350 threatened to burn them. 275 should be fine. To toast flax seeds, use a hot skillet, but be careful– flax seeds jump! Why? They’re full of linseed oil, and you know what oil does in a skillet… so feel free to moderate the temperature as needed or just stir often and don’t be heartbroken over the stray seeds that decided to jump ship. You can also toast flax seeds in an oven and there are instructions online, but I haven’t tried that, and I don’t know what happens in the jumping situation in that case.