Photo by Catherine Gifford I hate going to the gynecologist. No surprise there, right? Who doesn't? Going to the gynecologist ranks right up there with getting a tooth pulled, having a colonoscopy and getting stuck in an elevator with a bunch of sweaty strangers, right? The thing is to me going to the gynecologist is more than an unpleasant activity. It is the equivalent of walking through a field of deadly land mines with every unpleasant moment rife with potential emotional dangers.

First, there is the whole body image thing. When you are sitting naked with your feet up in stirrups, it’s pretty hard not to acknowledge that your mind and soul are definitely attached to flesh, a fact I often try to ignore. I’ve written about it before, but like many women, learning to like, let alone love my body, has been a lifelong battle. It’s hard enough to feel good about my figure fully clothed, but I bet even Gisele feels self-conscious laid bare under the harsh fluorescent lights of a gynecologist’s office. There is nowhere to hide, no way to suck in your stomach, no way to ignore your imperfections. It may not help that among my history of unhappy gynecological experiences, I had a doctor who loved to comment that I was as fat as she was – that went a long way toward making me feel both relaxed and confident, thank you!

Which, second, brings me to that whole relaxation thing. When a doctor puts a stethoscope to my chest and tells me to breathe normally, I often find myself holding my breath beneath clenched jaws. My body’s interpretation of relax is much like a deer caught in headlights – freeze, sit rigidly, don’t move and maybe it will all go away. I don’t intend to be difficult I try to tell the doctors. This is my version of relaxed. In the past, on more than one occasion, this has led more than one gynecologist to quietly slip me the name of a psychologist at the end of my appointment. Oh yes, one more way to help me feel “normal” and good about myself.

Third, and this is the one that brings tears, every trip to the gynecologist reminds me of what’s missing – the children I haven’t had. Bad enough in your twenties and thirties, but in your forties? Now, even the most optimistic physician acknowledges that ship has likely sailed. I know there are still ways to be a mother, but let’s face it, being at the gynecologist’s office getting an ultrasound for a fetus-sized fibroid instead of a baby, is a literal punch to the gut. I remember the first time I learned I had fibroid tumors. At that ultrasound, my mother was there looking at the screen as the nurse read out the size of the benign tumor and I realized that other mothers and daughters had the joy of seeing a baby there. We did not.

Most days I press on, keep my dreams alive, console myself with nieces, nephews and pugs, lose myself in a busy life. Sometimes in the right clothes, on a good hair day, I pass the reflection in the mirror and really like what I see. I remind myself that my life is full, it, and the body in which I dwell, deserves grace and thanks, and to be fed with faith and gratitude, but there is something about the gynecologist’s office that lays too much bare – fear and shame reveal themselves, fully exposed. My dignity, hopes and dreams sit piled up in the corner with my respectable shirt and jeans; they seem to mock me.

Such is usually the case and so I began my appointment teary-eyed, worried more about the feelings this exam would produce than the actual exam itself. And, then suddenly something switched. My inner journalist came out and I found myself asking the doctor about her life, what had possessed her to choose such a career. As she talked and I listened, I forgot that I was naked, my hopes exposed, it was just me talking, conducting an interview like I do everyday. And, to be honest, I have had some really bad interviews; ones that made me panic way more than the gynecologist’s speculum. Nothing that happened in that room could really change the feelings I had about my life. Sure, it was unpleasant and the medical tests could have some worrisome repercussions – that’s the way things go – but suddenly, I didn’t feel like such a freak. My blue jeans and black shirt might have remained folded up on the doctor’s table, but my dignity, hopes and dreams had crossed the room and folded themselves back into my body.

None of us is solely flesh nor solely spirit – we are mind, body, and soul and regardless of the baggage handed to us, we get to decide what we’re going to carry or at the very least how we’re going to carry it. I walked out of the gynecologist’s office, clothed in that knowledge, to a day that had turned unexpectedly temperate.