In praise of a vital relationship all women should have
Women have numerous options when it comes to self-care. It might be an indulgent spa day where you welcome the assault of hot steam on your weeping pores. It might be just ten goddamn minutes with a glass of wine without a tiny human asking for another snack and living dangerously with a permanent marker.
I like a good spa day and welcome any brief reprieves from motherhood. But in the name of self-care, there isn’t much more that I look forward to than my annual visit to my OB/GYN.
You read that right.
No, I don’t particularly enjoy the actual exam. Like crochet tops or puff sleeves, the giant paper towel gown is just as unflattering on me. And the splay-legged, sunny-side up position naturally evokes a fight or flight response. I power through the awkward silence the only way I know how: by being uncharacteristically chatty. Normally with a sudden interest in the weather. “Hey, doctor, can you believe this unusual cold front we’ve been experiencing lately?”
But it’s a small, bearable part of an otherwise enjoyable appointment that I look forward to every year. Without fail, I leave my OB/GYN’s office with an appreciation of being listened to, reminded of my reserves of untapped strength, and empowered with new knowledge.
Above and beyond
My particular appreciation for my physician is in part related to my unique situation. I’ll always be grateful that she graciously took me on as a new patient when I was 38 weeks, after I arrived in a new city with moving boxes and the stubborn, ‘screw you, I’m not turning’ baby in breech who would become my second daughter. My OB managed to make a C-section uneventful and has seen me through every conceivable bodily and emotional transition these last five years.
Her medical expertise and even emotional support took on greater meaning in the absence of a mother in my life to guide me through pregnancy and post-partum life.
But beyond my personal circumstances that have fostered such a deep appreciation, there are more universal truths why we may overlook how the OB/GYN relationship is so vital to a woman’s life.
A Unique Relationship
OB/GYNs witness the full trajectory of a woman’s life cycle — our sexual, fertile, child-rearing, post-partum, menopausal selves. They see us at our most vulnerable as we try to recalibrate from the seismic changes of trying to get pregnant to adjusting to the physiological end of our reproductive stage.
OB/GYNs often cite this continuity of care as a primary reason they chose the field. But as patients, we also reap the benefit of such a consistent relationship.
Taking into account our whole self
Our cultural sensibility and some of its tired jokes tend to reduce women’s health to our worst days, be they rage-y, crampy. But a good OB/GYN engages with a whole-body approach that takes into consideration the full complexity of womanhood.
During my appointments, my doctor asks me how I’m doing after the death of my father; how I’ve adjusted to two kids; how I’m navigating a work/life balance. My doctor’s sincerity in asking these questions isn’t just a reflection of her remarkable bedside manner.
It’s an important acknowledgment that women’s bodies function (and thrive) with all these related factors in mind. And that we are the sum total of our social, mental, and emotional health.
Honest conversations about our bodies
The conversation you have with your OB/GYN is likely the most honest one you’ll have about your body. Happy hour with girlfriends is one outlet, but a conversation with your doctor is informed by their understanding of your past and how that plays into your present concerns.
It seems like each decade or so comes with it a new way of understanding our bodies. How we grapple with those changes spills into our marriage, our careers, our parenting, and our images of self-worth. At various points in our life, we celebrate our body, feel betrayed by it, don’t even recognize it, and maybe eventually arrive at a place of bodily grace and acceptance.
An OB/GYN is there for all of it. We depend on them for valuable insight and simple, powerful truths: that these feelings/issues are all valid, that we’re not alone, and that there are perspectives or solutions that can be applied.
My yearly appointment is a reminder that — as a mother, a wife, and a woman — my health is paramount. While the visit is borne out of medical necessity and diligence, it’s also a much-needed reminder that we are deserving of this hour devoted to ourselves; a check-in that recognizes our needs and reminds us to take care of ourselves in every possible way.
In the context of self-care, a spa day and a doctor’s appointment aren’t really that far apart. Self-care is actively taking a role in your own wellness and happiness. For women, we play into the false idea that it’s indulgent so we put it off, delay it, or convince ourselves that we’re too busy.
But a trustworthy and empathetic OB/GYN is something all women should have. It’s an often-overlooked relationship that plays a crucial point in all stages of our life, reminding us how our womanhood, motherhood, and selfhood all intersect.
Miun Gleeson is an educator, writer, wife, and corner brownie piece apologist. As the mother of two girls, she hopes one will always write her lovely notes that move her cynical soul and hopes the other will maybe stop drawing her with a messy bun all the time.
You can find more of her writing at www.anindeliblelife.com