A gynecology appointment is a bit like going to the dentist. No one particularly looks forward to it. At best it’s going to be uncomfortable and we hope that they don’t find anything wrong requiring another appointment or a procedure.
According to a June report from the College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 40% of women don’t go to their postpartum checkup.
That seems really high, but I kind of get it. I was definitely looking for excuses to avoid this appointment.
In those first weeks with a newborn, I agonized over the postpartum checkup. The inflatable doughnut was my crutch and I didn’t want anyone near my torn up perineum or my still chaffed nipples.
The idea of going to this postpartum appointment exacerbated whatever reluctance I already had to visiting the OBGYN. This was especially true considering I was still physically and emotionally recovering from the pregnancy and delivery.
But I knew it was a necessary evil.
I actually had quite a few questions and concerns. For instance, I wondered about that little red flap of raw tissue hanging out at the base of my vagina. I also had pain and a deep vaginal heaviness that felt like my uterus was going to fall out, and I could only hold my bowel movements for a few minutes from the moment I had the urge to go.
Despite these valid issues, I desperately tried to think of ways out of the visit, or at least postpone it for a few more weeks. Anticipating the possibility of being told something might be wrong was overwhelming.
I was already frustrated with how poorly I thought I was transitioning to motherhood, and I felt ashamed for trying to wimp out of this standard postpartum visit.
I was compromising my long term health for a near term anxiety.
My hesitation had a lot to do with not fully knowing what to expect or why the checkup was necessary, and fearing some loss of control (over what? I’m still not entirely sure).
I shared concerns with my postpartum doula and she recommended (with a clean finger) gently feeling around and inside my vagina.
Doing this isn’t for everybody, but it was good for me.
It helped me get familiar with the sensations I might feel during a pelvic exam, so I wouldn’t be surprised by any pain/trigger points. It made it easier to share with my OBGYN what hurt and where, or where I didn’t feel anything.
I didn’t bail and I didn’t postpone. Instead, I showed up prepared with a list of questions on my iPhone so I wouldn’t get distracted by my spontaneous urges to cry. Hormones!
The pelvic exam portion (with a speculum and all) felt surprisingly close to a regular exam—a tad more uncomfortable but manageable.
There were some follow ups and notes to keep an eye on certain issues, but nothing too overwhelming.
It now seems silly that I wanted to avoid this checkup for fear of finding something wrong. That kind of logic makes no sense.
Ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to health.
To help me (and other new moms) learn more about why this appointment is so important and what we can expect, I connected with Dr. Tracee Suetsugu (a Honolulu-based OBGYN) to ask her about this standard postpartum checkup.
I’ll be posting the Q&A with Dr. Suetsugu very soon.
In the meanwhile, join the conversation.
How was your postpartum follow up? Did you hesitate going? What questions did you have for the appointment?