This might seem a bit taboo to some; however, reproductive health is especially important for women who are disabled. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Nearly 20% of U.S. women aged 18–64 have a disability, and disability is associated with health care access”, so this could mean a plethora of different circumstances. It could mean that women with disabilities can't receive services because they don’t have access to this fundamental part of healthcare. That being said, I’m going to utilize a recent experience I had in regards to my reproductive health.
My muscles are tight, and my attending interning doctor knew this. He knew about my Cerebral Palsy. I got into the stirrups and tried to get myself in a position where he could examine me. After three or four times of inserting and removing the speculum, he told me that he couldn’t find my cervix. I jokingly said: “Well, I hope I didn’t lose it, doctor, it’s kind of important.” Meanwhile, the entire time this is happening I am clenching my teeth. It HURTS. The attending nurse offers to hold my hand and tells me that everything will be OK, to just relax to make things easier. When he finally finished, he told me that my pelvis was spastic. I wasn’t sure what to take from that.
He left the room with the culture he had procured and I put my clothing back on. I ached. I've had pap-smears before, even a sonogram done, but I had never hurt like this. At first, I thought it was normal. My doctor called a couple of weeks later, giving my exam results the all clear, and I expressed to him my concerns: “I’m still hurting from the pap smear.” “It is because you have a spastic pelvis. The pain will go away in two to three weeks. As long as you aren’t spotting or running a fever you should be fine.”
So, the lingering pain didn’t go away. It persisted, and alongside my normal chronic pain, it was simply unacceptable to me. So, I did what many of us would probably do, and I googled: “disabled women and pap smears”. I learned that there are different, more comfortable positions that could be used with the patient to minimize discomfort, even something as simple as lying on your side. I have an appointment soon to get my issues addressed, but I learned several valuable things from this experience that I think will help you.
- If the doctor is an intern and they are making you uncomfortable, demand the overseeing physician to examine you
- When you schedule your appointment, ask whether any of the doctors on staff have treated disabled individuals
- If it hurts, tell your doctor, and demand that they stop. (Refer back to bullet 1) It SHOULDN’T hurt. It is uncomfortable in nature due to the pressure, yes, but it should never hurt.
I know, this probably isn’t warming you up to the idea of going to your OBGYN, but we need to work with our Healthcare Providers and let them know that we deserve adequate treatment, and trust them with the knowledge that they are prepared and fully equipped to examine a disabled woman comfortably. That aside, these are our bodies, and we need to speak up for them.