What Should Your Relationship with Your OBGYN Really Be Like?
A gynecologist is crucial to women’s health. Why is it so hard to find a good one?
My first gynecologist was no other than the man who delivered me from my mother’s womb. The way in which our relationship had come full circle was, well, ironic to say the least. He had pulled me out from my mother’s vagina and now, here he was looking straight into mine.
Needless to say, my experience of going to the OB-GYN got off to a bit of an odd start. It was awkward. Uncomfortable. And despite patient confidentiality, I couldn’t help but feel that anything I told this man was somehow going to get back to my mother. So I did what I did best as an introverted teenager — I stayed quiet.
In the years since, I’ve seen a handful of gynecologists — some good and some not so good. For the most part, these experiences have felt more transactional than anything else, which I suppose is somewhat inevitable, intentional even, though surprising at times given the intimate nature of the relationship.
My view of the OB-GYN as a necessary but unpleasant part of womanhood has also no doubt contributed to my experiences. I find it unsettling now to think about the apathy I once displayed towards my body in these situations. There are many questions I never asked. Many pieces of information I intentionally left out. But this has since changed, and my current gynecologist can surely attest to that.
I Think My Gynecologist Might Hate Me
For the sake of this article, let’s say the name of my OB-GYN is Dr. Evans. And because I very much like to think that my real gynecologist and I are on a first-name basis (which we are not), I’ll simply refer to her here as Marie.
From my first appointment with Marie, I loved her. Her casual, laid-back demeanor is the perfect antithesis to my neurotic overthinking. I typically show up to my appointment as a knotted ball of yarn and one string at a time, Marie helps to unravel my nerves.
… she possesses knowledge that I do not. And with knowledge comes power. And from an imbalance of power often comes infatuation.
You might be thinking, “Kate, how often do you go to your gynecologist?” At least this is what my friends usually ask after I talk about Marie a little too much.
Lately, the answer is not often. But there was a time about a year ago when I saw her every few months — both in-person and virtually during the pandemic. I won’t go into the details of why, but any woman who has experienced the unpleasant symptoms of a hormonal imbalance knows it can take a few tries before everything gets worked out.
During this time a pattern emerged where I admittedly looked to Marie to be not only my gynecologist but also my therapist. My appointments typically concluded with Marie waving her hands in a downward sweeping motion and repeating, “You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine.”
However, over time, this has come to feel less like a comforting reassurance and more like an impatient effort to placate me. My appointments with Marie often last no more than fifteen minutes and even then, she is sometimes walking out the door while I’m still trying to talk to her. I tell myself that she’s just busy. She’s doing her best to be direct and efficient. But I also can’t avoid the feeling that as soon as she exits the room, she’s likely rolling her eyes.
Dismantling the Doctor-God Complex
While many of my thoughts and questions are anxiety driven, I don’t think that I have ever truly asked Marie anything unreasonable. I come to my appointments prepared with questions. I express my concerns in a respectable manner. All I am looking for is to be informed for the sake of my health and my sanity.
However, despite feeling rushed and struggling to ask my questions without being interrupted by Marie at least once or twice, my affinity for her remains. I yearn for the relief that she provides, chasing this feeling like it’s a kind of high.
Is it healthy to seek out a gynecologist who can provide more than just routine exams and prescriptions? Or is it better to remain distant as to not set our expectations too high?
Maybe it is wrong of me to hold Marie in such esteem. After all, she is a human being. Though she possesses knowledge that I do not. And with knowledge comes power. And from an imbalance of power often comes infatuation.
But why am I willing to tolerate the feeling that I am a burden in order to access Marie’s power? She is certainly not the only gynecologist in New York. The thought of scaling this city for a new OB-GYN is exhausting though. What if my new doctor turns out to be even worse?
Marie is at least accessible; I can book appointments easily and while she sometimes replies to my online messages with an aggressive undertone, at least she responds at all. Though I ask myself: why am I so willing to trade compassion for convenience?
Becoming Your Own Advocate
While my interactions with Marie often make me feel as though I am being an irrational annoyance, at the same time, I refuse to accept this as being true.
The OB-GYN-patient relationship is a complicated one for many reasons. For most women I know, going to the gynecologist is an uncomfortable, awkward experience that we’d rather avoid altogether. In various online chats and support groups, I’ve witnessed women share their stories of being given Band-Aid solutions to issues they’ve experienced for years and sometimes seeing more than a dozen gynecologists before finding one that actually listens to and addresses their concerns.
What’s more is that the overarching narrative around women’s health remains focused on a woman’s ability to procreate — whether she intends to have children or not. And despite it being 2021 and not 1955, women still experience bias and judgement for engaging in pre-marital sex, let alone any kind of promiscuity or behavior that defies heterosexual norms. But whether a doctor may pass judgment or not, there’s often an inherent shame or impulse to protect oneself that arises from decades of mixed messages and scrutiny of women’s sexual choices.
Of course, this is not to say that all gynecologists are bad. There are plenty of good ones out there and I have also seen many women praise their OB-GYN’s for tons of reasons. My mother is among them — it’s why she took me to see her gynecologist for my first appointment and why he is still her OB-GYN today.
So I ask, what should our relationship with our OB-GYN really be like? Is it healthy to seek out a gynecologist who can provide more than just routine exams and prescriptions? Or is it better to remain distant as to not set our expectations too high? But what is the cost to our health by doing so?
Personally, I’m done staying quiet and sacrificing my well-being for the sake of being polite. After all, if we don’t advocate for our health and our bodies, who else will?
Originally published at https://sheexploreslife.com on April 19, 2021.