Your OB/GYN has an incredible breadth of knowledge and skills, but mind-reading is not one of them. Chances are good that listening is, however, which means your objective in each of your appointments is to speak up.
That can be easier said than done. There’s a reason blood pressure readings tend to be higher in doctor’s offices. Sitting basically naked on that exam table is just the start (and what a start). Even an annual exam can be intimidating, and it may become outright scary if you’re addressing health concerns.
How do you get the most from the time you spend with your OB/GYN? It pays to plan. Here are a few tips for overcoming the discomfort and anxiety that so many of us experience during an appointment.
First, know that you deserve answers about your health.
Your OB/GYN has a distinct information advantage—unless you also went to medical school and completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, in which case they simply have the objectivity you lack about your health.
You, however, have all the valuable information they don’t. You and you alone know what it’s like to live inside your body. You are the expert in strengths, symptoms, and weird little changes, like did my nipples change color, and why does my sweat smell so different around the time of my period?
You’re also the only one living inside that body, which means you have every right to ask questions until you feel you’re satisfied by the answers. The time you spend in your doctor’s office is time that’s been set aside just for you. You (or your insurance company) bought it, and it’s yours to use to get the answers you need.
It’s awfully difficult to remember all the things you were curious or worried about after you step foot in the doctor’s office; throw in stirrups and a speculum, and that difficulty skyrockets. Which is what makes writing down your questions ahead of time absolutely essential.
If you’re a super-organized person who keeps a list as questions arise, so much the better. If you’re like the rest of us, it’s worth starting a list a week or so before your appointment. You’ll be surprised at what pops into your mind if you get it revved up, so make sure you give yourself time to get in “what do I want to ask” mode and let the questions resurface. Write them all down, in as much detail as you can muster.
Think through your health.
Pain or issues that inhibit your life will be obvious, but there’s a lot more to consider. As you prepare questions, consider your health from several different angles.
- General well-being. So much of how you feel day to day relates to how your reproductive and hormonal systems are working. For example, if you’re sluggish, having trouble concentrating, or experiencing mood swings, you might have a hormonal imbalance. Take careful note of changes or ways you just don’t like feeling.
- Menstrual health. Are your periods regular? Have they become heavier or more painful? Has your cycle length changed? Is PMS getting difficult to endure? Heck, do you wonder whether breezing through your cycle every month is a sign of something off because none of your friends is so lucky? Think through anything that has bothered or surprised you. (Oh, and make sure your period isn’t due on appointment day.)
- Sexual health. Now, here’s a doozie, and one so many of us struggle to talk about. But after a physician has peered into the literal core of you, can asking about STIs really be so bad? Well, yes, in fact, although it shouldn’t—doctors have heard it all and are utterly unshockable. If you’ve written out your questions before your appointment, the sex stuff is just more points on a list you just happen to be reading. That helps. So think about all of the physical and psychological elements of sex that interest, flummox, or concern you. Write them down. Read them through until they seem like no big deal, because that’s exactly what they are.
- Reproduction. Hoping for a pregnancy? Prefer to avoid one? Moving out of that part of life altogether? A lot of the information you’ve put together from the previous questions will help lay the groundwork—how you’re feeling, what your cycles are like, and how sex works (and doesn’t work) for you will be important for making decisions about reproductive health.
Keep the conversation going.
Just because you’ve asked the question and the doctor has said words doesn’t mean you know what you need to. Some doctors are better than others at giving plain, clear answers. You have every right to follow up and keep asking until you get the information you need.
You might also want to start keeping a log of questions and concerns year-round instead of just before your appointment. The more attention you pay to your body and its many surprises, the better prepared you are to recognize and address early symptoms. Your body and your well-being deserve the attention.