You would think that 30 years after sexual abuse that an exam would not be so triggering. It is. Especially if it is a gynecological exam. These are things that are not spoken of and they should be. The only way we can help each other with experiences that come after abuse is to talk about them. So that is what I am about to do.
It was not until a week ago that I realized the impact of these exams on me. I’ve decided to write a list of boundaries and expectations. I know that even being prepared, things may not go exactly as planned so I have plan B. Plan B is to leave. I want every woman out there to know that at ANY point during an exam if you feel uncomfortable, as if you cannot do it anymore, you can ALWAYS leave. End the exam. Even in the best case scenario you may still feel triggered. But can that trigger be managed?
I took a young girl to an appointment this past week. I had no idea what mothering and nurturing and protective mechanisms would kick in while being there. I did not want her touched. I did not want her to feel violated. I was there as her advocate. I was there to make sure she felt safe. I had to make sure that my “issues”were not put onto her while also making sure she felt heard. While doing this, I came up with my list. On the spot I came up with a list of things I wanted for this girl during her exam. I stepped out of the room while she had her exam and had an immediate panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. I started to cry. The impact of my entire life flashed before me. The amount of men who had violated me. The amount of gynecology appointments that I felt unheard and disrespected. I flashed back to being 16 years old and driving myself to my first appointment. There was no advocate there for me setting up rules to make sure I felt safe. Anger washed over me and then sadness. Our mothers should be sitting there with us and then in the waiting room advocating for our bodies and our wishes ESPECIALLY after we’ve been violated. But even if our children have not been violated, they should be treated with respect.
If you wait until you get on that table to voice your boundaries it will be too late I have found. I have been laying on a table with a woman ripping off something on my cervix while I felt I was raped all over again stuck in a PTSD frozen state. When I finally got the courage to speak she did not respect my words. This is why I created a plan. I found a woman who knows about doing vaginal exams/ Pap smears for women who have been sexually assaulted. That was step one. Step 2 a list of rules. 1. Tell me what you will be doing before you do it. Before you touch me or put anything on me I need to know verbally. 2. I don’t use a cover because I want to see exactly what is happening as it is happening. 3. I am not comfortable with anything going into my body other than a swab so if fingers need to be involved then I require an ultrasound instead. No fingers. 4. For the speculum I expect it to be put in very slowly and I want to hear a count1-10. It should take 10 seconds to put that in. If the doctor can’t spare 10 seconds to put a speculum in then you don’t need to be on her table. 5. I need 30 seconds to open the speculum. If the doctor doesn’t have 30 seconds to open a speculum then you don’t need to be on their table. 6. I want to be assured no one will enter the room while the exam is being done.
This is my list for the exam. Second is my own list for self care. 1. Bring something to hold in my hand to concentrate on that is calming. It can be a ring, feather, shell, anything that brings comfort. 2. Bring some music to listen to softly on my phone that is calming. 3. Tell the doctor that I may be talking to myself reassuring myself that I am here, present, and all is ok and I am safe.
None of this listed should be too much to ask from a Gynecologist. I asked for all of these things for the young girl I took in and all of these things were implemented and that girl felt completely as comfortable as one can feel for an exam involving the vagina ( I mean in reality none of us want someone probing around down there).
I have this appointment next week with the same doctor. I have my plan. I have no idea if my plan will work but I HAVE a plan. Women who have been sexually assaulted, raped, violated, need a plan before going into these appointments. We have to. We are teaching our violated selves that we are going to protect and keep safe the areas that have been harmed. We are in control. Keep in the forefront of your mind that you can say stop at any point. Even come up with a signal if you cannot speak. Hand signal. Tell your doctor “If I raise my hand you stop immediately.” I have done this and it worked. It is how I actually made it through my dentist appointment. You wouldn’t think being sexually violated would have anything to do with a dentist appointment but for me it did. Laying on a table with someone over me feeling vulnerable is triggering for me. So I came up with a dentist plan too that worked beautifully.
I’m still processing my past. I am so sad for that girl inside of me that had to go to that appointment alone when I was so young and had been so violated. I left that appointment and can tell you that the feeling is burned inside of me how traumatizing it was. I am hoping by protecting myself now I will show those parts of myself that I will keep you safe.
I had no idea that childbirth would be so traumatizing for me. But that was before I knew I had PTSD and knew the depths of trauma that I’d been keeping a secret and how damaging that was. I did know when I gave birth to a girl my first thought was worry. My first thoughts were that I had to protect her for the rest of her life with the utmost vigilance. Because I was not protected. What I didn’t know at the time is that I would raise a daughter who would have the strength, and voice, to stand up for herself. I raised a powerfully strong woman as a daughter. She knows though, that she will always have a mother bear in me nomatter what.
It is what daughters should have.
A mother that always has their backs. Always makes them feel safe. Always keeps the door open to conversation.
So, as a woman who has been through horrible sexual abuse, I have had to come up with self protection plans when I see the doctor. I have to minimize what may be perceived by my PTSD brain as more trauma and I need and deserve to be respected in my wishes for my medical care. I realized if I could do it for another girl I could and should do it for me. I’ve spent 30 years feeling forced to endure these appointments every year. No more. The appointments are necessary. The feeling of trauma is not.
Hopefully my tips will help another woman out there or even a mother of a daughter so we can keep ourselves and our daughter’s feeling empowered about their medical care.