I had been seeing my gynecologist every six months for the last two years after being treated for pre-cancerous cells on my cervix. A few months ago, during a six-month follow-up exam, my doctor entered the exam room, she informed me that she had a student doctor with her and asked if it was permissible for the student doctor to enter. I agreed and my doctor, the student doctor, and record keeper filed into the room.
After introductions my doctor quickly reviewed my medical chart and said, “I see that you don’t use a formal form of birth control. Most women decide that after a certain age they no longer wish to get pregnant. How old are you?”
I told her that I was turning 45 in a few weeks.
She said, “If you were to get pregnant it would be hard on your body and on the baby. So, you need to decide what age it is going to be [too old] for you and we can talk about birth control options. There are 30-day shots, IUD’s, you can get your tubes tied, or he can get a vasectomy.”
In my confusion and shock, I muttered “Ok.”
My doctor must have sensed my mood had changed because she said, “I just want to make sure everyone understands the risks.”
I could only nod my head in shock and confusion.
The exam proceeded as normal and the three women left the room. I sat on the exam table for a minute to collect my thoughts and to acknowledge the whirlwind of emotions flooding through me. I was hurt, angry, and disappointed. My stomach was turning and I was fighting back tears. My doctor’s words had hurt me deeply.
Given how often I had seen my doctor over the last two years I was completely caught off guard by her comments. I was wondering why we hadn’t had a conversation at my first appointment about my beliefs about birth control and my relationship status.
As I dressed, I became fully aware of how saddened I was to realize how little my doctor knew about me. If she had taken a few minutes to talk to me at my first appointment she would know I was a practicing Catholic, pro-life, celibate, and had just spent the last three years trying to accept the fact that God was not going to bless me with a family before menopause arrives. And now my doctor, in so many words, tells me not to get pregnant because I am too old.
Am I angry with my doctor? No. Am I disappointed that she assumed things about me that are not true? Yes. Am I disappointed by my inability speak up and clarify my stance on contraception and my openness to life? Yes.
However, there are two issues that disappoint me more than what I mentioned above. The first is that the gynecological medical community is so steeped in secular views that they don’t consider the fact that not every patient shares their thoughts and beliefs about contraception and the avoidance of pregnancy. Nor do they consider that these patients have not only made these decisions based on the dictates of their faith, but also on the medical research that indicates there are more healthy options to follow to obtain optimal physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual health.
The second issue that cuts deeply is the medical community’s lack of willingness to treat the whole person and to be sensitive to their patients’ life experiences and belief systems. I thought gynecologists would be more sensitive not only a woman’s physical experiences, but also her emotional and psychological experiences from puberty to post-menopause.
I think it would be wise for gynecologists to take a few moments to understand their patients’ viewpoints and experiences rather than assume and emotionally hurt their patients with callous remarks.
©Nancy B. Mann, PhD