When Ahna turned five I realized it had, in fact, been at least five years since I’d been to the doctor.
Moving from denial to awareness, I told some outspoken women friends so they would bug me about it. “You should go,” they said, “would you be OK with your daughters not going to the doctor for preventative care?”
Of course not.
“Well then, respect yourself the way you do your daughters.”
Later, my husband was clearing emails from his iPhone. To further “out” myself I told him I needed to schedule a doctor’s appointment.
“Is there an app for that?” I joked, “some sort of Pap app?”
We both looked thoughtfully at his iPhone, and then I wandered off to imagine how that might work. If I could figure it out, I could make a lot of money.
Six months later (I know!) I finally made the appointment. With a square of dark chocolate with cacao nibs and a glass of Malbec, I celebrated the end of my pap procrastination. It’s not that I have doctor phobia, it’s just that the last time I went to see my doctor, whom I will call Dr. Lost, she couldn’t find my uterus. Seriously. It took over ten minutes and she finally said, “Well, you are healthy so we could wait on the smear. We know it’s there.”
The morning of the appointment I woke up with a tingle of anxiety and I knew it was more than facing the treasure hunt with Dr. Lost. Looking bleary-eyed at my calendar, I realized that my doctor’s appointment was adjacent to kindergarten pick-up.
“Do you think you could pick up Ahna?” I asked my husband.
“Any other day but today, sorry,” he said.
I asked my friend and carpooler.
“Any other day except today, sorry,” she said.
As I dropped my older kids off at school I told Ahna, “Instead of kindergarten, today you get to go on an adventure with mom.”
“Where are we going?”
“To get a pap smear,” I said.
In the car, I previewed what would happen in chronological order. First, I’d fill out some paperwork and answer questions about my health. Then we’d wait. There would definitely be Highlights magazine in the waiting room. After that, I’d go into a room and get undressed. When the doctor came in she’d ask me some questions too. After that she’d feel my breasts and check for lumps.
“But she won’t find any lumps, right?” Ahna asked.
“No,” I said, “she won’t.”
I described scooting down on the table with the crinkly paper and the stirrups. She’d warm up her speculum…
“What’s that do?” Ahna asked.
“It holds open my vagina so she can run a little Q-tip around my cervix which is the entrance to my uterus and make sure all my cells are healthy.” Since being trained as a sexuality educator, I’ve been practicing using my precise vocabulary and keeping it simple to answer the question.
“They will be healthy, right?”
“And what does the speck-a-lum look like?
Oh dear. I had to think about that. The first thing that came to mind was a gun. The barrel goes in and she clicks the trigger to hold it open. No, no maybe more like a stapler with the top and the bottom. Oh, I know! The bill of a duck. Wait, ducks make Ahna nervous. She looked at me and waited for an answer. Her entire gynecological future hung on my simile.
“An umbrella,” I finally said (Ahna loves her rainy day friend), “It’s like a silver umbrella.”
She made a face and shook her head; “You are going to let her put a silver umbrella in your vagina?”
I rolled my eyes and shrugged with a conspiratorial, “The things we women go through” look.
We were on time and everything proceeded as I said it would. Ahna set herself up at the counter with her journal and sketch book. The nurse came in and took my blood pressure and then told me to take everything off except my socks. The vest should be open in the front.
“The doctor will be with you shortly.”
Putting my clothes in a pile, I chuckled at how I hid my underpants in the middle of the stack. Dr. Lost was going to see my innermost stuff and yet I’m shy about my panties?
“Check me out,” I said to Ahna as I hopped up on the table.
She regarded me and said, “They should give you pink tights to go with that vest.”
Knock, knock. Dr. Lost came in and Ahna answered questions for her about me like ‘Has your mom been healthy?’ and ‘Does she get exercise?’ In return Ahna asked why she had furry mitts over the stirrups and how the pedals worked for the examining table.
Then I told her about Ahna’s suggestion for pink tights.
“You can bring those yourself if you want, but we won’t provide them.”
I tilted my head to the side and thought, “Is that an attempt at humor?” Which, don’t get me wrong, is totally OK with me. I want her to be very good at lady parts, and if she can’t volley back a good comeback — that’s fine. I’d like to think she was watching ‘So You Think You Can Find a Uterus’ instead of stand-up comedy.
As she brought out her speck-a-lum she said, “Now remind me, does your uterus tilt forward or back?”
She asked that question in the exact same way she might say, “Are you right-handed or left?”
I knew I should know the answer, but I really don’t utilize my uterus for anything now that I’ve had my babies. Except for shedding my lining every twenty-eight days, my uterus just isn’t a focus. It should be, I know, there are probably many things I could be doing with my uterus to know which way I tilt.
Dr. Lost reassured me, “We’ll find it; we know it’s there.” Oh no, famous last words.
But my good-luck child, Ahna, was with me and Dr. Lost quickly found my uterus.
“Forward,” she said, “I’ll type antiflex in the notes so we remember for next time.”
With a quick swipe and a swift smear, we were done!
“You can go ahead and get dressed,” she said.
“Good,” sighed Ahna under her breath.
That morning I woke up not knowing that I would have Ahna along for my annual; I didn’t have a good speculum metaphor; I never dreamed of pink tights; I didn’t know I was antiflex. Now I do. I’m so thankful that I have my children around to remind me to treat myself like I treat them. They are my living, breathing apps for that.