Where Logic Meets Love

Just a Number

Saturday, October 23, 2010

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Just a Number | Faith Permeating Life
About a week ago, I took a pregnancy test for the first time in my life.

I didn't want to, and I didn't think I was pregnant. Actually, I was about 99% sure I wasn't. And that is why I'm not going back to this gynecologist.

When I first went to this gynecologist a year ago, I was newly married and naturally had some questions for her. She was efficient and business-like, but did take the time to answer my questions. She seemed to know what Natural Family Planning was and didn't push birth control pills on me, so I was satisfied enough. The nurse beforehand had, of course, asked a lot of questions about my medical history and taken a lot of notes. Not surprising for a first visit.

This time, though, I was struck by how little they knew or cared about me as an individual.

When the nurse first took me back, she asked me questions I expected, like when was my last period. It then quickly became apparent that she hadn't bothered to look at my chart ahead of time. "Any surgeries?" Before I could answer she flipped back to my chart from last time. "Never mind, I see them." She seemed to be filling out a blank version of the exact same chart as last time.

"Sexually active?" "Sexually monogamous?" I was a little taken aback by this. Sure, it was standard enough information for a gynecologist to have, but it seemed a little insulting to ask the questions so briskly of a married woman. She may not have even realized I was married until she started to ask another question and then flipped back a chart and said, "You live -- with your husband?"

Without going into too much detail, I had brought my cycle charts because my current cycle was pretty screwed up. It looked to me like I just hadn't ovulated at all, but because I'd had a week of heavy spotting in the middle of the month, I knew I should bring it up. I started to explain about the various signs that were out of whack, but it was clear it all went over the nurse's head until I got to the part that I hadn't gotten my period when I expected to.

"You trying to get pregnant?" No, I explained, if I were pregnant I would have a consistently high basal temperature, but I had a consistently low one, as if I hadn't ovulated. But that wasn't my biggest concern--

She came back with a cup.

Naturally I had just used the bathroom before being called back (who wants a GYN exam with a full bladder?), so I had to suck down the contents of my water bottle, pace for five minutes, and then go pee in a cup. It was humiliating enough that I had to wait for my turn outside the one-person bathroom for a good five minutes holding a cup, and then bring a cup of my pee down the hallway back to the nurse, but the fact that it was completely unnecessary just made it all the worse.

The nurse was unsurprised when the test showed I wasn't pregnant, and muttered about the doctor, "Just because you a week late she want to do a pregnancy test. You knew you weren't. You got a chart." Never mind she didn't have any clue what my cycle charts meant.

About five or ten minutes later, the doctor breezed in. "We just doing a pap smear or you need an STD test?"

I'm sorry?

A standard enough question, I'm sure, but I'd been interrogated enough between this and my last visit that she should have known that was an unnecessary question.

The exam itself only took about five minutes, but the kicker is that the second she looked at me she could tell I was about to start my period. So the pregnancy test was even more unnecessary.

Before she left she asked, "You need any refills on any -- wait --" she looked at my chart "--you're not taking any birth control or anything, right? You don't need a refill on anything?"

No, no refills.

"OK, you should get your results in three weeks. Call me if you don't." She turned to head out the door.


The nurse hadn't told her anything about the cycle I was concerned about. I described the symptoms, and she agreed it sounded like an anovulatory cycle and said it was nothing to worry about.

And that was that.

When I got home, I tried to find a gynecologist in the area who specializes in NFP (or the non-Catholic version, Fertility Awareness Method), but there's no one anywhere close that I can find. In any case, that might be a trade-off if they subscribe to CCL's notion that "responsible parenthood" means "being pregnant as much as possible."

At this point, though, I'd be happy with anyone who bothers to look at my chart before seeing me and knows that they don't have to ask me every time if I need an STD test.

I don't know if I have any NFP- or FAM-practicing readers, but anyone have any suggestions / similar stories?


  1. Hi Jessica,

    I came over from Jen at Conversion Diary. I read your comment on the post about answering the question "do you want more?"

    I don't know about your specific location, but have you looked for a midwife group? I won't go into detail about my history, but I started my first birth with a midwife group and they were all very willing to look at my charts and were very open and supportive of the idea that of course a woman should track her cycle and they were all more or less knowledgeable about charts -- not from a Catholic point of view, but from sort of a "granola feminist" point of view (does that make sense? I don't want to offend with my characterization, as I might have put myself in that category at one point).

    Anyway, this midwife group sees women even who are not pregnant (my friend uses them) so it's a possibility you might find a similar group close to you. You also might try checking on baby-wearing or breastfeeding or other "granola" type forums (as opposed to Catholic ones) to find practitioners who know about cycles and tracking.

    I've stopped being offended by doctors. I just consider them to be service providers who do tests and tell you results; if you get a nice one who actually has a decent bedside manner and can remember you as a person, that's bonus. That's how they act, so that's how I'm going to treat them. If they can't do a test for it, they don't know what to do about it.

    my similar story is about my ob/gyn. I just saw her last week (I"m pregnant) and she told me, after she did my pap and as she left the room "the number we're looking for is 6,000." Huh? Come to find after asking the nurse a series of explicit questions that they were going to do a blood test (no actual mention of this by the doctor or nurse previously) and that this number was going to help them figure out how far along my pregnancy is. I still don't know what the number measures.

    good luck!

  2. Elizabethe,

    Thanks so much for your advice! I found a midwife group in the area that says they do GYN exams and pap smears, so I e-mailed them to see if they are open to new patients who aren't planning to get pregnant in the near future. And I totally know what you mean by "granola feminist" and that doesn't offend me at all :) If you read any of my other posts you'll see that I don't tend to have knee-jerk reactions to many things.

    I definitely understand the mindset of doctors being service providers. In my case, I have a long history of terrible doctors who didn't take me seriously, so I've decided to seek out the best now. I was able to finally have problems resolved that I've had for a long time once I found doctors who actually listened to me. Thanks to the power of the Internet, I have a fabulous primary care physician, fabulous dentist, and fabulous ENT. Now I'm just looking for a fabulous GYN to complete the set!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Another vote for midwives! (You posted this 3 months ago; I hope the practice you found worked out.)

    I've always had long, irregular cycles. One of the reasons I first got interested in Fertility Awareness was the idea of being able to predict my period with something more reliable than counting days. By age 17 I could sometimes detect ovulation just by the abdominal pang. But until the midwife I never had a medical practitioner who took it seriously.

    Worst was the reproductive endocrinologist who responded to my two phone calls about unusual new spotting with, "Don't worry about it. You're never going to be normal." When I came in for my annual exam and she looked at the big picture of which days I'd had bleeding over the year, she said I was in PREMATURE OVARIAN FAILURE, just like that, without doing any tests or even a pelvic! I said no, I ovulated 12 days ago. She laughed and said, "I don't believe you've ever ovulated." At the end of the exam, as she was writing a prescription for hormone replacement therapy (remember, this is with NO TESTS of my hormone levels), I said, "Isn't there anything else that could cause this weird bleeding pattern?" and she rolled her eyes and said, "I'll send you for an ultrasound, okay?" Ultrasound showed a fast-growing fibroid tumor that had its own blood supply; it was the source of the spotting. And before my ultrasound appointment, I had my period just when I expected it. So there!!! I didn't go back to that doctor, but I did send her a photo of my son after he was born, with a note explaining that this was the baby she'd said I couldn't conceive without her help!

  4. @'Becca
    Wow, that's terrible! The thing that sounds the worst about that doctor was not just that she misdiagnosed you but that she did it so smugly, like she was so good she didn't need any tests, and you're just the ignorant patient who knows nothing about your body (when you clearly do). Yuck!

    I think it's so worth it to find good doctors you can trust even if it takes a while. I went to an ENT on my doctor's recommendation, and he literally brought me to tears poking and prodding my sinus cavity, never told me what he was doing, and showed complete disregard for what I felt. After a few visits and a bunch of meds that didn't help I got fed up with him and went to a different ENT, who was so kind and gentle and took the time to explain everything to me that he almost made me cry with gratefulness!

    I haven't been to the midwives' group yet because I won't need another PAP until next October, but they were super nice and said they were happy to have me as a patient even if I wasn't planning a pregnancy. I'm excited about going to a GYN that speaks my (NFP) language!

  5. Just discovered your blog and I'm really enjoying it....thanks for sharing your reflections on life! :)

    Just as an FYI, even though it sounds like your GYN is not all that fabulous, a lot of those weird questions may actually be required by law or part of standard practice for health reasons. I know when I went recently to my GYN, I was asked all those questions (I'm married too), but she also explained that they're required to do so every year. The STD test was something they were legally required to offer me. Though the other questions might seem a little invasive, I think it's important to realize that they are being asked so the woman can protect her health. Not all married women are monogamous (and not all husbands are faithful, even if their wives are), so giving women a chance to share that information with their doctors is a way to help them get appropriate health care. What if a married woman knew her husband was cheating, and was concerned about being exposed to STDs but was too embarrassed to ask her doc for a test? If it's offered, judgement free, she has a way to protect herself from possible harm. Just my 2 cents!

    I'm sure you'll be very happy with the midwife group, I'm using one now for my 1st pregnancy and they've been wonderful!

  6. @Not all who wander are lost
    Thanks for your comment! That totally makes sense why those questions would be required (although, as you said, that's not the only reason I was unhappy with my GYN visit!). This is exactly why I love blogging, because people clue me in to things I didn't know and help me see the gaps in my thinking. In that case, I'm glad that those questions are asked of everyone.

    Glad to hear you're having a good experience with your midwife group! I think everyone deserves to be taken care of by health professionals they're comfortable with.


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