So you’re sitting in a busy office waiting room, waiting to have your lady bits poked and prodded by a metallic piece of equipment. There are children running around, remaining successfully un-caught by their mothers who are already another 5 months pregnant. There are very important-looking ladies having very important-looking hushed conversations on their cell phones. There are plenty of other single girls about your age darting from their phones to their paperwork. And then there’s you – feeling more alone than ever.
Nobody seems to want to make small talk. But everybody seems to be taking a second look at you, like you’re doing something wrong. Should you have dressed differently? Should you not have brought both your purse and your work tote? Is the knit hat too much on this 34 degree day?
What is it about this place that makes you feel so vulnerable? Maybe it’s the knowing that you’ll have to get naked soon, which is your least desired state in which to be. And once you enter that state of nakedness, you are exposed. Every flaw is apparent; you can’t hide. A doctor has every ability make you feel judged, to find something wrong with you, something that might be incurable, some disease or cancer that only a woman can have. It’s unsettling. It’s unnerving. But it’s the way it has to be. So you take a deep breath and continue to wait, observe, plan.
You’d think a room full of women in (mostly) the same predicament would feel some more camaraderie. But apparently that’s not the case on this cold Monday afternoon.
You’re still calming down after rushing in with a minute to spare before your appointment, so you’re expecting a long wait as punishment. Your spot was probably given to somebody else. But you’re afraid to get too engrossed in anything, because your name could be called at any minute. You just never know in a place like this.
The receptionist seems annoyed when you bring back your paperwork. You’re supposed to hand it to the nurse, but no one ever told you that. One of the doctors is late because she’s in delivery. Her patient is juggling a child in a stroller and is obviously upset by this. The same receptionist who couldn’t be bothered to answer your simple questions seems very empathetic to this pregnant patient. Maybe I should be pregnant, you think to yourself. Then they’d pay attention to me.
After pretending to watch the HGTV home renovation show on the TV, you hear your name called. It takes about 7 seconds to gather your belongings, but when you round the corner to meet your nurse, she already seems frantic that you hadn’t appeared yet. Of course, she hadn’t bothered to check to see if anyone was standing, even though you did as fast as you could. You note that no one calls you Heather here. They call you Meek. This is new.
You enter the hallway of rooms and remove your heavy jacket before they have you stand on the scale. You don’t face the numbers. That’s cause enough for them not to read the number out loud. You don’t know how much you weigh, but your jeans have been the same size for years and they still fit, so that’s good enough.
You follow your nurse to the private room that will be yours until the doctor arrives. The nurse asks all the same questions she’s asked before. You say nothing’s changed. It feels weird to go to the doctor when you’re pretty sure nothing’s changed, but you’re a woman now and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Thinking this cryptically makes you begin to think that some kind of devastating news will be revealed this afternoon, but there’s no cause for alarm. No need for STD testing. No pain. No nausea. Your last PAP smear was a year ago, and according to the sign on the wall, you’re good for another year or two. When you’re 30, you’ll be able to wait every five years. It’s good someone is keeping track of all this on their computer. You know you’d never remember.
You ask a question that the nurse doesn’t know the answer to, so she leaves to get you one. You’re left alone for several minutes, staring at the printed gown that opens from the front lying folded on the examination table. Maybe I should be putting this on, you think to yourself after no one comes back to check on you. Maybe this is one of those things I should already know. So you pull back the curtain and begin to undress, then redress, then sit safely down and gaze at your phone, because what else are you supposed to do in this quiet room with pictures of babies on a bulletin board. Still no one has returned. How difficult was that question and why can no answer it? Are you an idiot? Are they all laughing at you out there? It feels like it’s been so long, but maybe it hasn’t.
Finally the nurse returns. She’s surprised you’ve changed already. She doesn’t have an answer to your question, but it’s nothing too important, so we can wait until the doctor arrives. Five minutes later she does, and while she’s friendly enough, you can sense that she’s rushed. When you reiterate the question, she gives you a rather flippant answer, like you should have known. How are you supposed to know when no one tells you these things? How are you supposed to feel supported when you’re told that no one else has ever asked that question before?
You know the gynecologist doesn’t know you. It’s your third visit, but she only sees you for about 10 minutes at a time. She asks some questions based on previous notes, not kindred knowing. She makes a joke about the table whose sole purpose is to assist women seated in an open straddle. She takes your heartbeat, questions the mole that has always been there, and then opens up your robe to check out your breasts. You find yourself subconsciously sucking in, the same way you do in a swimsuit in the summertime. You know she doesn’t care. She’s likely seen worse. This is no time to be vain, you think, but there’s no avoiding the fact that this is the moment of exposure you were dreading the most. You’re caught off guard when she asks you about exercise. You secretly wonder if this is related to your weight. Maybe there was something in those hidden numbers on the scale. But she only asks what you do, and comments that she, too, would like to get into yoga. She doesn’t tell you to exercise more, which is what a doctor would do if they were truly concerned and believed that you needed to, right?
You still feel paranoid and self-conscious as she moves on to the other one.
You make a mental note to be better next time.
Apparently your breasts are perfect candidates for hard-to-detect cases of breast cancer. You tell her you haven’t had a mammogram yet. She tells you you don’t have to. But still you worry. Should you be more proactive? Should you get one soon? She shrugs and says it’s probably fine, but to keep an eye on things. You don’t find this very reassuring.
Now it’s time for the fun part. “Slight pressure here,” she tells you as the tool enters your body. Yep, that’s pressure. And then just like that, she’s done. Apparently she is also able to feel your ovaries. You don’t know what she’s looking for, but she doesn’t seem concerned. It makes you wonder if you could feel your own ovaries, but you don’t exactly want to try.
After about 5 minutes of all this, she’s gone. One and done. You assume this might be what sex feels like when you’re with someone who doesn’t care about you. The check out is in the lobby now, you’re told. So you dress and clean yourself up with the provided wipes and make your way out.
You stand at what you hope is the checkout counter for a long time, behind two pregnant women who are setting up several appointments. Pregnant women are always given the most attention here. When you rescheduled your initial annual appointment in December, March was the first thing available. You’re glad you weren’t worried about anything. Though you hope you would have been given more immediacy if you were.
When it’s your turn, things come easy. You book an appointment for a year from now, when you will be poked and prodded again. You wait for your PAP results to come in the mail, because apparently they still wanted to do that again today. You don’t feel worried, though you accept that anything can happen and hope for the best. It’s hard to know what’s going on in there, even when everything seems normal and predictable.
Being a girl is fun, you think to yourself. Then you walk to your car and drive to Trader Joe’s, where you feel extremely accomplished for finding a quick and easy parking spot in the chaos that is Green Hills and hope that your healthy choices drown out the echos of that exercise conversation you had an hour ago.