Oftentimes women complain that they hate going to the gynecologist because they don’t like the procedures. Sometimes it is likened to going to the dentist but more uncomfortable and personal. I can’t say that my reasons are related to the procedures. In fact, what makes me most uncomfortable about the speculum is the historical exploitation of black women whose bodies were violated as subjects in the development of this tool.
I also cannot say that I dislike the intimate discussions about my personal life and habits. Ideally this space should be like going to a mental health therapist where I would have an opportunity to learn about my body, my habits, and my emotional well-being without feeling less than or abnormal. Unfortunately this is not what happens.
Why do I have such idealistic notions regarding the possibilities of a gynecological visit, you might ask? Well I have had phenomenal experiences early in my life that suggest that my ideas about gynecological safe spaces could be the norm. I want to take a quick moment to shout out three good experiences out of numerous horrific encounters. Nurse Fuqua at Spelman College Health Center, a black woman who taught me to feel powerful as a sexual being and to be cautious. Dr. Martin Dukes, a retired black male doctor who always made sure to have another person present and was deliberate about making me as comfortable as possible in the exam room. The Feminist Women’s Health Clinic in Atlanta has been a “breath of fresh air.” I engaged in real-talk with the white female nurse practitioner (whose name I cannot remember) and was treated like a grown up worthy of dialogue and not health-insurance-speak. Unfortunately I the FWHC cannot function as my primary health provider.
So I have told you the good, now here are three ridiculous scenarios I have experienced myself and one disturbing story I have been told by many friends, who are black women.
1. Most recently I went to a gynecologist at a clinic and the black female doctor was so extremely rude and rough that I literally left in pain and with an unhealthy fear of returning. When I came back to get test results I brought a friend, who at one point actually asked the doctor to leave the room. I wanted to do violence, and those who know me know that is out of character.
2. In 2009 I went to black female doctor and during my examination I requested an AIDS test, and she replied, “but aren’t you married.” (Strike one, two, and three–you cannot be my doctor).
3. In 2008 I was having pain in my uterine area and was going to “holistic” black female doctor who gave me an ultrasound which indicated that my ovary was attached to my uterine wall. Even though the pain was on the opposite side of my uterus she suggested outpatient surgery. The background story is that she had identified that my estrogen levels were high and that I drank soymilk regularly. It turned out nothing was wrong, I stopped drinking soymilk and the pain went away instantly, and realistically as second ultrasound (which is cheaper and less invasive) would have revealed that my ovary was not attached to my wall. Needless to say that was my last visit there.
4. Over the past few years I have been having this discussion about finding a good gynecologist. I am very disturbed that one of the main reasons why many women I know indicate that they stopped going to the gynecologist altogether is because they would go for an annual exam and get a lecture on weight loss and BMI. Now it is one thing for a doctor to have a holistic discussion about healthy bodies. It is something totally different to peddle weight loss programs and pharmaceutical drugs in a gynecological space, especially if it has no bearing on the concerns that bring women into the space.
What am I looking for in a gynecological relationship?
1. Access–I don’t want to wait 6 months to see my doctor about a yeast infection.
2. Dialogue–I need them to respect me enough to give me non-scripted explanations provided by pharmaceutical and insurance companies. I want to know why you are asking particular questions about recreational drug use and how that is related to my uterine health.
3. Be gentle and kind–Recognize that internal investigations and treatments are intimate and have emotional costs.
4. Be supportive–If I am in good health, don’t target me for weight loss products and leave my body esteem intact.
5. Respect me–If I have particular concerns address them to the best of your ability and refer me to someone else if you cannot. Furthermore, don’t require me to fit into a normalized lifestyle to receive excellent care, know your craft and treat me as an individual.
As you can see, I have a commitment to supporting black female and women-of-color doctors, but honestly my best experiences have been with female nurse practitioners. It is not my intent to suggest that black female doctors are not good gynecologists, my experiences suggest this but I simply refuse to believe it. Ultimately, I want to open up some dialogue about the right to have good gynecological experiences. What are some of your good/bad/ugly stories? What are you looking for? What have you found?