Tips for a gynecologist exam when having PTSD

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.

70 thoughts on “Tips for a gynecologist exam when having PTSD

    • I’d love for other’s to put their tips in. I totally forgot to add that. Any suggestions for helping to calm the mind of someone with trauma and PTSD to get through a medical appointment like this.
      Thanks for your comment

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      • Honestly I have whitecoat syndrome so it’s especially hard. I think all of your tips are spot on. It’s important for people to know that they are in control even in these situations.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m always worried I will have a seizure just from the stress since I have seizures so i take extra medication to calm me to make sure that doesn’t happen.
        I’m so sorry it is hard for you too to go to appointments.

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      • That’s so rough. I’m sorry about your seizures. I wish those in the medical profession would be more sensitive sometimes. It feels like the good doctors who genuinely care are less prevalent than those who just want to take your money and send you on your way.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Also, I get that about the dentist. I didn’t know anyone else did… I tried talking about it on an app and some of the responses freaked me out. So I stuffed in back inside. Til now I guess. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anything that you want to talk to me about you can. It is totally normal infact my dentist said she had many women open up to her about it and they worked on some coping skills for it together. I have a dentist list that worked so well for me. The hand signal was the best actually.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I know it is so hard to not be critical. I do it to myself. Get frustrated like WHY is this so difficult when everyone else is doing this and it’s no big deal. I found myself gripping on the arm rests for dear life last time though and so I had to come up with a plan to tell her to stop when I needed her to and also to tell me what she was doign so i understood the noises and i told her, tell me when you are about to use a machine that makes a noise I need to know and it did help some. Plus i held my hands over my lap and put a blanket over my lap and held something in each hand that i concentrated on rubbing with my fingers so i was focused on that

        Liked by 2 people

      • I cry everytime. I’m surprised he hasn’t dropped me yet. They think I’m in pain from something but I’m not. I’m grateful to know I’m not alone in this somehow. But it is overwhelming too. I don’t want this for anyone. Thanks for the ideas. I’m going to try.

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      • The woman pschiatrist that I see knew of a gyn that dealt with trauma victims. The other doctor had worked with trauma victims as well. I’m really hoping it goes well.
        The thing I want to know is if you are crying why is the doctor not asking if you are ok. If there is anything he can do differently to make sure you feel ok. I mean how do they just go on allowing you to cry and think this is ok?
        You are NOT alone in this at all. And that IS sad to know so many of us are facing this. But I think we can at least help each other through talking about it. I mean no one has ever talked to me about it ever!
        Plus it is hard for me to advocate for myself. Easier for me to do it for others. That’s why if it is written down it will say what i may not be able to.
        ” I am a victim of sexual abuse that happened years ago but I have PTSD and this appointment could be triggering to me as past ones have been, so please read this list and be upfront if you can abide by every single one.” That’s top of the paper with the list below. That way I have to say nothing

        Liked by 1 person

      • They do stop when I cry. Slows everything down for nothing. I really haven’t told anyone offline except for my husband and my counselor. Idk if I could tell my dentist or even my doctor my chronic pelvic pain Dr knows because she gave me a questionnaire that asked and I just had to check the yes box. it made it much easier for me But I saved this post so I can try. Thank you for the helpful info. I have been putting so much off.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so important, thank you for sharing. My mother forced me to get an exam done at 12. I was way too young. I sobbed the entire time. I can now only bring myself to go when something feels wrong.

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  3. My husband goes with me to every appointment I have, no matter what doctor and especially for gynecologist. He is right there in the exam room. So I can talk to him or hold his hand if needed. Maybe bringing a trusted friend could help.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this post. I have also had to learn how to protect myself during exams. The first time I can recall having feelings like this was during a dental exam when I was 13. I didn’t understand at the time what was happening. Pelvic exams have always been horrific. And childbirth-perhaps the most traumatizing of all. I didn’t know until now that someone else has had the same experience at the dentist and with childbirth. I’m glad you shared your experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad that you know I can relate to something you were feeling. It is awful to wonder am I the only one who feels this way. With childbirth everyone described it as so beautiful and it was the most traumatic things I have ever experienced for so many reasons. Yes the end result was my beautiful girl but I went in with a plan A for a midwife and ended up in the hospital with nothing but terror.
      I’m sorry you’ve had the same. I really had no idea so many others had these feelings either.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Thanks for posting. I have never really thought about these kinds of things before, but I’m sure are some point I will need to… Now I need to think of some way to save this post so I can find it again years down the road.

    I know this is off-topic, but I have a foster three year old boy who is terrified of doctors. I have no idea why. As far as I know, he was never the victim of abuse. In two weeks, we have to take him to get an EEG, where he will have to stay calm and still for about an hour. Any suggestions on how to help him?

    Like

    • You can definitely be in the room with him. I was in the room with my daughter when she needed an EEG. So if they tell you no then that is false. Is he allowed to watch anything or does he just have to lay there? Could you bring books to read to him? Putting the things on the head for the EEG takes so long that was the frustrating part. The actual EEG wasn’t as long as I thought. I also asked if I could lay in the bed with her and I could. I mean they didn’t like it but I could do it. Just a few thoughts. Why is he afraid of doctors? Maybe tell the person putting on the eeg wires to explain it to him like they are special wires and have the person touching him make sure they explain everything so he isn’t scared

      Like

  6. I like this. I had an exam once and the doctor didn’t describe anything to me. She didn’t tell me anything before and she just started to do the exam and only when she saw I was uncomfortable did she stop the exam. I felt so awful. I felt disgusted. Next time I’m going to do my research and find a doctor that’s right for me and I’m going to come up with a plan. As I was reading I crinched because of my own experience and next time will be different. Thanks for sharing this. It has really helped me a lot. Thanks for helping me to heal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so hoping your next experience is better. It should NEVER be a bad experience. That is just completely unacceptable. Just know you get to decide.
      I’m glad my writing this could be helpful

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you I hope it will be too. You’re right it shouldn’t be. She just assumed I knew what she was doing and I didn’t know what she was doing and it made me feel really bad. I agree it is unacceptable. Thank you. It makes me feel better about myself that I know that I get the right to say something and know that I get to decide. It was. It was very helpful. Without your voice I wouldn’t be where I am. I love you my friend. Have you seen Owls lately?

        Liked by 2 people

      • I am truly truly honored that my words can help you. I really am.
        I have NOT seen the owl. I miss her. But there is a hawk nest across the road and I take photos of them daily. I need to upgrade my wordpress so I can post more photos of all the things I have photographed but right now I am out of space.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Awww she’ll come back. She’ll come to you when you need her most. I’ve seen my butterflies. I miss them. That’s awesome. I can’t wait to see them. Do you still have my email? If so would you mind sending me some photos?

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      • My instagram is bethanykaysphotography and my facebook is beth dianne but yes I also have email. I just have SOOO many cool photos I’ve uploaded I’d love you to see them all. Especially all the wild horses

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This post is fantastic, awesome, wonderful, wow, you are so incredibly smart! All these years I have suffered, or put off needed exams for years, because of how traumatizing it is to me. It was almost 50 years ago that I was raped by my psychiatrist. Half a century of being triggered by doctors. Every kind of doctor, but especially gyns. Your list is so perfect!

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    • It mortified me to know that you went through that with a person you trusted. I am so so sorry that you were raped by your psychiatrist.
      I’ve just become aware in the last year how triggering doctor’s can be. I think it was when my daughter became sick and I watched how dismissive they were and how they accepted no boundaries and she was just like a number to them. Then I realized I had been treated the same way. And it may annoy or frustrate others and others may even just dismiss it to get an answer from a doctor or diagnosis and even think it’s worth being treated like that if they get an answer or that even more they have to accept whatever treatment they are getting for bad bedside manner as they call it just out of desperation to get an answer to medical issues. I realized this and then became acutely aware of how helpless I felt. I think it was when I had the seizure and was taken to the hospital unconscious and the doctor said he wanted to admit me and I said no and he didn’t want to accept that. I realized that helplessness was NOT good in a doctor setting and I needed to feel safe in all doctor situations. If that meant walking out of an appointment then i would. If it meant bringing my list, handing it over, asking if they can abide by it, and be willing to walk out if they say no then I would do it. I started with the dentist and this was after a traumatic visit to the gyn 6 years ago and I have not been back since. But I have a disorder that needs to be assessed and I know that. So I found someone I trusted and I gave over the list and she was ok with it for the girl I took in. Now for me to be able to advocate for myself…we will see. I hope I can do it. Either way I am having my husband drive me so I know I can at least relax and concentrate on the way there and home and not have to drive after.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Really interesting!
    I stopped having these about 3 years ago, because, in the big scheme of things these just made it worse. I havent wanted to back yet and Im still debating when, why, how and who. And I know thats ok too … but its one of those things that is on my list of ‘re writes’ … and finding a gyny that specialises in working with those that have been sexually assaulted would be great as a starter for Me.

    Once again, I love your plain speak and honesty xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting as always I appreciate your thoughts. It’s been 6 years for me and I know I need to do it. Not everything in life I can plan for but I thought this I can at least try. And I won’t beat myself up if it doesn’t work. Totally understand why you stopped 3 years ago. After my last one I thought I’m over this, no more, can’t do it.
      I hope you find someone that will take care of you and make you feel safe during one of these appointments. We all deserve that and nothing less.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have never gone to a gynae before, and I know that at my age (over 30) I should have been by now, but I’m too terrified. I came close a couple of times, but cancelled at the last minute. I know this is something I have to do, I’m just not ready yet. Thanks for sharing this.

    Like

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this. I will reblog it for my readers. I have wanted to write a post about my first gynecological experience but didn’t know how. You have written a very powerful and necessary post. I was 15 when I had my first gynecological exam. My mother took me to get birth control pills because she found out I was sexually active with my boyfriend. She hadn’t a clue that my brother had been having intercourse with me since the age of ten. I was grateful that she was taking care of me. The gynecologist was an old male who judged me from the minute I walked in. “So, you’re sexually active,” he scolded. He was very rough with me, didn’t say a word through the exam. My mother held my hand the entire time as I cried. I could tell she felt sorry for me. I wouldn’t go to another gynecologist until I was in my thirties. I can only have women do the exam. I now have an APRN who is absolutely wonderful. Experienced with PTSD/trauma survivors. She is extremely gentle, takes her time, and walks me through every step. I am grateful to have found her. I also have problems with dental exams. Having been forced to have oral sex with my brother, I get extremely anxious when a dentist goes near my mouth. I grabbed on tight to the arms of the chair and focus on deep breathing, telling myself I am okay. I now have a great dentist who has me raise my hand if I get anxious. He knows I have PTSD and is very careful with me.

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    • You found some wonderful doctors to help you with the aprn and the dentist. I’m really glad for you.
      It’s so hard to find.
      I’m so sorry that your first experience with ALL of those things was trauma related. With your brother and then to be treated with such carelessness and roughness at your first exam that your mom forced you to go to. I’m glad she held your hand but you. Should not have been crying. Your mom shouldn’t have let that happen. And your brother. How horrific. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through.
      My first GYN was after my mother realized I was having sex . She had no idea what had happened before. My gyn treated me like a slut and said I was acting like one. I’ve never written that because I assumed no one would believe me if I had. But after reading other stories maybe now they will. She treated me roughly because she was angry and said I would get more and more diseases being so slutty with men. She had no idea and never asked. I needed a cone biopsy because my pap was abnormal. So young. I remember getting in the elevator thinking I may as well just go and be a prostitute because that is what this life will be, trauma and victimization after victimization.
      It has taken me a very long time to process and live in the non-illusion.
      Infact, just last night I had a dream that I was living in this alternate world back at the lake i grew up in and everything was perfect. Nothing had ever gone wrong and I was cozy in my bed. I woke up calling for my mother. Then i read what you wrote here and It made me feel comforted to know that someone , many actually understand how it feels. Although I’m not comparing what you went through to what I did. But I know that we all must have some common feelings of fear and helplessness after trauma during these exams.
      I’m really glad you shared your story. I really feel honored to read the stories of lives and be trusted with them even as so horrendously sad they are and how much i wish I could have saved every person who was abused.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think the only ones who can truly understand are those who have been through sexual trauma themselves. Even though each of our experiences are our own, we all share many things in common, such as the feelings of fear and helplessness that you mentioned. I think it is important for us to share our stories, to let others know that they are not alone, and perhaps give them courage to tell their own story.

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  11. Hi I hope you are well I too have been so scared about being examined as I too was abused when I was little. I was suggested to write down a little letter to give the person who is examing you explaining your past and how they could possibly help you. I think this could maybe work only if you can do this I think your so brave xxx

    Like

    • I just had my exam yesterday and it went beautifully. I chose someone who I knew dealt with trauma victims and these exam. I have never been treated more respectfully and gently in my life. I did write it down on my list which i was going to give to her but decided to read it instead. So went above and beyond my expectations and my list. So now I know it is possible.
      Thank you for commenting! I know it is sometimes hard to comment on topics like this and THAT takes bravery too

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for posting this. I went to my first ever gyno appointment last year, without a plan or anything, and because my mother was working, I went ALONE. I was sexually assaulted in college (like 3 years ago) and foolishly figured it wouldn’t affect me, especially if I told the doctor first. I was wrong.

    The second she put her white instrument near that area, I felt that familiar pain and told her to stop. She did and we did an ultrasound instead. Found out I have endometriosis. I had a panic attack waiting for my ride home. Tears, snot, the whole thing. It was really embarrassing in public. I wish I had known this. Now I know for next time. Again, thank you.

    Like

    • Oh my heart goes out to you!!!! I hurt for you just thinking you had to experience that pain again.
      I will say I did have the exam. And it went amazingly well. Better than I ever could have expected. She showed me everything first. I told her what I wanted and explained what I did not want and she went even slower than I had planned myself. Asked me if I was ok every few seconds. Gave me ideas of things to think about like the ocean. She did not open he speculum all the way. I had no idea they could even do that so I did not have pain that was triggering. She also knew the second I felt discomfort that it would trigger me. She was brilliant. I will never settle for less now that I know this is possible. She also said a valium before hand would help which was helpful.
      I’m sure your ride home and that panic was awful. I wish I could have been there for you. I hope that never happens again to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I am so tired of doctors. Luckily, I found some good ones this year. Blessings to you. PS: I only go to DRs when I have too. Lots of meditation, positive self talk, working out with the Swedish ball. You’ll find a way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I made it through that appointment thankfully with all my little tips.
      Some things are necessary and preventative and so I knew it had been 6 years and I wanted to have that appointment but otherwise I only go if necessary too.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Sometimes I believe doctors can be total morons and should see signs of PTSD but they should read your email paperwork when it’s on the paper work, it’s crazy. This lunar for me cuz my last experience was not pleasant in it you’re really triggered me to the point I didn’t even go back to the doctor to see my results. Enough about me thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I apologize for the misspelling I was just speaking into the phone. I was just saying this post hit a nerve because of my last experience, just last year. This is really something to discuss thank you for sharing again

    Like

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