We crowded our little family into the tiny sterile room. I sat on the table looming in the center and my husband took the chair while our three kids lost no time in opening the bag of toys and snacks I had brought to keep them company during my prenatal appointment. The nurse took my vitals and then proceeded to open a drawer and pull out the things the doctor would need for the GBS test.
“He is going to do the GBS test today,’ she told me not bothering to even look up at me, “so undress from the waist down.” She handed me the paper sheet to put over myself and started to leave the room.
For those of you lucky enough to not know the GBS test is its a test that is routinely done on pregnant women. Its simple enough really, a swab is taken of a woman’s vagina and other unmentionables down there. Its really pretty simple a little q tip is swiped quickly over the areas and then the secretions left on it are tested for a type of strep common to pregnant woman that can cause complications for the baby.
I had it done with my second daughter and as you lay on your back with your legs in the air feeling completely vulnerable and exposed, some (usually male) doctor does the quick swab and in that briefest of moments you feel so little, and powerless, and just the tiniest bit violated. At least I did. I tried to shrug it off as part of pregnancy but I hated it. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal, he would be doing a lot more than that in a couple of weeks when I gave birth. But this was different and I couldn’t quite say why.
My next child, I was under the care of a midwife and when the time came for the test she simply handed me the long handled q tip explained what she needed and sent me to the bathroom. In that moment I knew what the difference was. I was totally capable of doing this myself. If you can wipe your butt you can do this test. And yet women are told to undress, present their most private parts to a complete stranger to let him do it for them as though they were as helpless as the baby they carry.
I understood then that it was violating to me simply because it was so unnecessary and because it wasn’t presented to me as a choice but as an order. “Undress from the waist down, the doctor is going to do this now” Could you imagine the tables are turned and that doctor or any man for that matter were told to lay on his back and present his genitals so some woman could wipe them down for him! I don’t know about the men you know but any of the ones I know would laugh in your face.
But lets go back to the doctors office. As the nurse handed me the sheet with her flippant order to undress, I stopped her. “Actually, can I just do it myself?” I asked, feeling shame even in the asking. Why did I have to ask some woman if I could do this for myself. I felt like a child asking to play outside.
She looked at me as though I had lost my mind. “Thats not a thing.” She said, just undress the doctor will be in in a few minutes. And she left the room. I sat there dumb founded. thats not a thing? Is that the reason she was giving as to why this couldn’t be done by me in the privacy of a bathroom? I’m surprised they didn’t demand to watch me give the urine sample for testing too.
A few minutes later she came back in the room.” I saw Dr. Burgett and asked him about you doing this yourself and he said it was fine!” She seemed blown away by the novelty of this strange concept. But handed me the supplies and I headed to the bathroom.
Her words and the result of that doctors visit have stayed with me though. “Thats not a thing.” In other words, no one does that, therefore it can’t be done. Well I did it, and now its a thing. If another woman were to dare suggest they could do this on their own she would be one nurse who would know that THIS IS A THING!
We aren’t children that need permission. We are adult women, equal to our male counterparts, as smart and capable (although admittedly without the knowledge or degree) as that male (or female) doctor. How many things do we do, or don’t do, subject ourselves to or live without because its not a thing. Ladies its time for us to start making things, THINGS! Birth is ours, our bodies are ours, our choices are ours! We can own this and be women or we can undress from the waist down and wait for the doctor.