Image from @peacewithpain
I’ve touched on this before… how I was dismissed by multiple doctors and told that I just needed to relax or “it will get better.” I learned to mask my pain with humor at GYN appointments. I learned to cry silently while they did the pap smear or pregnancy checks. I didn’t realize it then, but those experiences were strengthening the neurotransmitter pathways that said VAGINA = PAIN.
I wish I could hold my hand back then and say: IF A DOCTOR DOESN’T ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR PAIN AND BUILD TRUST PRIOR TO INSERTION OF A SPECULUM, WALK OUT OF THAT. DANG. OFFICE. If you tell a doctor that you’ve been experiencing painful intercourse and they dismiss your truth, put your pants back on and leave. If a doctor sees you start crying… if you’re inching up the exam table… if you say tensely, “sorry, it just usually hurts a lot and I’m nervous”… and they don’t pause to validate that emotion… GO. Just go.
I’m not faulting individual doctors. They are good people. They became a doctor because they wanted to help people, for heaven’s sake! I think the system is broken. From my experience, GYNs and OBGYNs in general have very little training and education in vulvovaginal disorders. This, coupled with the emotional strain and trauma that pelvic pain causes, leads to a concerned and confused doctor who fumbles over her/his words and defaults to advice that is socially acceptable and outdated… “have you tried drinking a glass of wine?”
And in our culture, we are taught to see a doctor as an authority figure. So when someone (who spent years studying this part of us that women have been taught to ignore) tells us that everything looks normal and maybe it’s all in our head… we believe them. Even if it feels contradictory to what our body is legitimately feeling… we believe them. Because the doctor would know, wouldn’t they?
The most helpful piece of advice that I have is this: get a list of GYNs and OBGYNs from your insurance company. Call the offices and ask the receptionist this question: “Has Dr. So&So ever had a patient with vulvodynia or vaginal pain?” If the receptionist stumbles over their words, ask them to please leave a message for the nurse to get back to you with that information. If the receptionist states, “Yes, Dr. So&So often sees patients with vaginal pain.” Mark that on your list of providers. Then, once you have a few doctors highlighted, do a general Google reviews search (or, pro tip, join a local FB group of other mamas) and see if anyone has + or – reviews.
In my experience, if a doctor has multiple negative reviews on bedside manner for people without vulvovaginal disorders… they are not the one for you. Just trust me on this one. Why would someone who is curt with pain-free women treat you differently? Hint: They won’t. Some doctors will even do a phone consultation, knowing that you experience pain. I’ve had to ask the receptionist or nurse if a consultation is available… but it’s worth it. I can tell a lot about how someone will treat my vulvodynia based on a 10 minute phone call.
Additionally, I encourage you to reach out and Google “vulvodynia doctors __insert location here__ .” Google can be your best friend when it comes to phase 1 of research.
And my last piece of insight for today is this: trust your intuition. Advocate for yourself. If you have an inkling that the kind of pain you’re experiencing is more than the average woman… trust that feeling. If you’ve been told that it’s all in your head, but you just can’t shake the feeling that something else is going on… trust that feeling. No one will advocate for your health more than you will. SO ADVOCATE, WOMAN!
“Gynecologist Andrew Goldstein, Director of the Clinic of Vulvovaginal Disorders, says that in average a woman sees 7 doctors before finding the right now.” As sucky (yes, I just said sucky) as this statement is… if the average is 7… you probably won’t get a diagnosis or understanding on your first try. So try, try, try again! I think I probably saw 5 GYN doctors before receiving a diagnosis and since then have seen so. many. more in order to heal.
And it’s been worth it.