Midwives of the Revolution

Explorations, analysis, and reflections on women's health, midwifery, and politics from a feminist, marxist lens


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Updates Galore!

I have made it past the 3 month mark…it’s hard to believe it’s only been three months. Almost four now, but still…

Here are some highlights and lowlights from my world these days…

1. Looking forward to the Socialism Conference.

It’s this weekend — an extended conference this year, it started today. But I can’t take any days off work until my six month work anniversary, so I’ll only be attending Saturday and Sunday. Here are some talks and featured events this year that I’m looking forward to:

Special Education & Disability Rights

Marxism and indigenous feminism

Women, race, and class: A history of Black feminism

Who needs gender? A Marxist analysis

Capital’s missing book: Social reproduction theory and the global working class today

Who cares: Work, gender, and the repro­duction of labor power

From criminalization to “rape culture”: Re­thinking the politics of sexual violence

From restrictions to criminalization: The fight for reproductive rights today

Capitalism, socialism, and mental illness

What should socialists say about privilege checking?

Microbes and Marxism: Capitalism and public health

“Obamacare” as neoliberal health care reform

…OMG there is so much! Obviously won’t be able to make it to all of those sessions, but those are some of the ones I thought might be of particular interest to readers, and which speak to some topics I’ve been thinking about/excited about lately.

2. I’m sick of the judging.

I feel like everyone I work with is burnt out and cynical. I’m sick of victim blaming, slut shaming, poverty-ignoring, moralizing attitudes coming from people I work with. Especially the OB I work with. It’s poisonous, and trying to figure out how to respond with fierce compassion. Patients and staff deserve to feel human. 

3. Getting into the hospital…

This will of course bring new challenges. Now, I kinda have it good. Getting used to being in clinic full time, getting to know my patients, learning what basic and expanded skills I need to have for clinic. But it will be nice, come September (fingers crossed!), to have hospital privileges so I can actually start to be present with my patients in the hospital. I still have to have a bunch of deliveries supervised by the aforementioned physician, and hopefully by some midwives I’ll be working with, but it’s good to know it’s on the horizon. 

4. Got a rad shout-out by the fabulous Feminist Midwife!

My friend, mentor, and trail-blazing hero over at Feminist Midwife gave me and a fellow red midwife a lovely mention in her recent post here, honoring the work of sharing the journey via the blogosphere. Thanks, FM!

5. Feeling appreciated

Though every day is emotionally and clinically challenging, it is also rewarding. I am feeling every day that I make a difference when I provide good care, and I can see it in my patients’ faces and in their continuing to come in for care and opening up to me. Another perk is outside of clinic — being known among friends, fellow activists, and family, as someone who knows some things about reproductive health — and who can be trusted to ask about it. Maybe it’ll get old one day, but I doubt it. I love those calls/texts/FB messages about family planning, pregnancy, and sexual health. So, thank you to those folks who have come to me with those questions, and I hope I have been helpful. 


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Why You Should Choose a Nurse-Midwife for Your Pregnancy/Primary/Well Person Care

When I started on this path, I was in my mid-twenties. None of my close friends had ever continued pregnancies or chosen to parent. This is partly why midwifery had never occurred to me as a career at that stage in my life — none of us were in that place in their lives. But now that we are approaching “AMA” or “advanced” maternal age, or the ripe old age of 35 (haha), many of my friends are now starting families (or trying to). Lucky for them, they now have a midwife friend! 

So, this is an open letter to all my baby-making (and aspiring baby making) friends and family. 

My basic advice/message is:

Choose a nurse midwife for your pregnancy care!*

Here are 5 reasons why many pregnant people should consider using a certified nurse midwife (CNM) as their prenatal care provider and birth attendant.

1. Client education and counseling

Nurse-midwives aim to spend time with our patients and get to know you. We want to know what is important to you and meet you there. If you want a provider to listen to you and to openly and without judgment respond to your concerns about pregnancy and birth, you have a pretty good chance of finding this in a nurse-midwife.

2. Supporting physiologic processes

This is a hallmark of midwifery care. Take initiation of labor, for instance. A midwife will take a holistic approach — to ensuring your due date is correct, to providing physiologic means of helping you go into labor on time, and choosing not to admit you to the labor and delivery unit until you are really in labor. All of these are part of an approach that supports the pregnant person’s ability to have a baby when it’s time. It may also mean helping you push your baby out to minimize trauma and tearing of the perineal muscles, and certainly avoiding cutting your muscle to make room for baby’s head or shoulders (episiotomy). 

3. Evidence-based practice (EBP)

From my first semester in nursing school, EPB was drilled into my brain. I can’t tell you how many papers I wrote about EPB…but I’m glad I did, because it instilled in me a drive to provide care that is based on rigorous review of current evidence and is patient-centered. What does this mean? A good provider (social worker/doctor/physical therapist, etc.) draws upon current research and literature reviews to determine how they practice. I am very proud that this is a centerpiece of nurse midwifery education and culture. Not that seeing a CNM is any guarantee of this, but it certainly something that most CNMs should be familiar with. The CNM professional organization put together this fabulous resource compiling data about how we use EBP – Midwifery: Evidence-Based Practice. Our practice is not (or at least should not be!) based on expert opinion, tradition, convenience, fear of malpractice lawsuits, or other provider-centered philosophies — but rooted in solid evidence and a patient-centered approach. 

 

4. Labor support!

The best midwives will support you while you’re in labor — not just leave you to labor on your own and then show up at the end to do the delivery. In some busy practices, that may not be possible, so I always encourage pregnant people to find out what their provider does. Midwives are trained in labor support, meaning they can help keep you active and can provide comfort measures that can help you out throughout the process. Unfortunately, many physicians do not (but should!) receive training in normal birth, and often do not know what to do to promote your comfort during labor other than offer drugs. Midwives understand that labor is hard work and can support moms through it. 

5. Greater chance of normal birth

According to a recent survey of research on midwifery, you are more likely to experience the following when getting care with a certified nurse midwife: 

• Lower rates of cesarean birth,
• Lower rates of labor induction and augmentation,
• Significant reduction in the incidence of third and fourth degree perineal tears,
• Lower use of regional anesthesia, and
• Higher rates of breastfeeding. (Newhouse, Stanik-Hutt, White, et al, 2011)

These are not reasons you should not use a nurse midwife

1. I want an epidural

If you choose to have your baby in a hospital, your nurse midwife can still order you an epidural, if that is the anesthesia/analgesia option of your choosing. 

2. I want to have my baby in hospital

No problem – the vast majority of midwife-attended births are in hospitals. You may not even realize it, but there may be midwives at your local hospital. 

3. Midwives don’t know enough stuff

So you may have heard that terrible slam Bill O’Reilly made about advanced practice clinicians (APCs, formerly known as mid-level providers, yech!) — worried that the increase in care by folks in these professions aren’t qualified be good healthcare providers. (Yeah, I know, my readers are big O’Reilly fans.) “Lenny from community college” couldn’t possibly be my provider, he said of physician assistants! (See the response from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners here.) Even so! Many people don’t know what training we receive. O’Reilly’s ridiculous comments (among thousands he’s made over the years) aside, becoming a CNM is no joke. I’m proud to say that I have attended many community colleges throughout my education, but I also will report that CNMs are required to have a bachelor’s degree, be a registered nurse, hold a master’s degree, pass a rigorous certification exam, and become licensed through the state they live in as both a registered nurse and an advanced practice nurse. We are very well prepared to take care of people when it is within our scope of practice.

4. I want someone I can see always, not just when I’m pregnant

No problem! Loads of midwives work in settings where they can provide well woman, gynecologic, family planning, and even primary care. It depends on how the midwife’s practice setting works, but in many cases, you may be able to see your CNM across the reproductive lifespan. 

5. Doctors know best

Haha, I know no one reading this blog would think that. But I really ran out of reasons why you should not see a midwife. 

***

So…if you are low risk (not diabetic, chronically have high blood pressure, etc.) you may be a great candidate for working with a midwife! Get out there and FIND A MIDWIFE!!! And if there isn’t one in your area…well, shoot. Maybe you should get on the path to become a midwife, or tell someone you know who would make a great CNM to get on that path. We need more great women’s health providers. If you are feeling the call…better answer!

 

Reference:

Newhouse RP, Stanik-Hutt J, White KM, et al. Advanced practice nursing outcomes 1990-
2008: a systematic review. Nurs Econ. 2011;29(5):1-22

*Or your well person/family planning/gyne/primary care. More on “women” later…


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How I Got Here; Or: Why I Am a Nurse-Midwife

Now that I’m here, I’ve jumped through the hurdles of getting my degree, passing boards, getting licensed, and becoming employed, I thought it would be nice to reflect on how I got here. It’s easy to take for granted sometimes, now that I just wake up and go to work every day. But I’m doing what I set out to do! I’m midwifing! So…how did that happen?

Back in the day…

My background is in languages and literature. I studied English and Spanish in undergrad. Like many undergrads, I had no idea what I would do when I grew up…Like many women, I thought I was “bad” at science and hadn’t really taken myself seriously in that regard. When the nursing shortage blew up in the mid-2000s, my mom suggested I look into nursing. I didn’t really think it was for me. I had the old-school pre-feminist movement (and very middle class) idea about nurses as doctor’s handmaidens and couldn’t see myself doing it. But then I started looking into it, and taking my prerequisites for nursing school (adventures to tell of another day), and more and more found it seemed like the right next step for me. Hands + heart + science + possible unionism + healthcare activism…that I could get into.

I originally planned to be a WHNP. When I started nursing school, I had never attended a birth, and I really didn’t know much about midwifery. I liked the idea of working with women, but I didn’t want to try to get into a program/field that I wasn’t as passionate about. I knew folks who were planning to be midwives, and they were excited about Ina Mae Gaskin and doulas and home birth. But I was in my mid-twenties, and no one I was close with had had a baby yet, and these topics were remote from my experience. The abortion world was more my bag, and I knew that as a WHNP, I could possibly train to provide early aspiration abortion or at least do lots of cool family planning work.

Trust Women Tiller

Then, I fell in love with birth and also realized that, as I later saw expressed beautifully in the documentary After Tiller, trusting women and being pro-woman/pro-abortion was midwifery. The issues of birth and family planning and abortion are inextricably linked. And, from a practical standpoint, I realized that it made sense for me to provide pregnancy and birth care as well as the other family planning and gyne care I would do as a WHNP. Why hand off patients to another provider to attend the birth, when I could actually be the one to be there for the whole lifespan? So, during nursing school I asked the women’s health department if I could switch to midwifery. They OK’d me.

An Alternative Route

For a variety of reasons, my path to practicing midwifery has not been traditional, at least how it’s done “typically” by CNMs. According to tradition, an RN works in labor and delivery, then goes to midwifery school, then works as a CNM. When I finished my nursing program, nursing jobs in labor and delivery were hard to come by. I got one interview on a hospital unit but did not get the position. I applied to dozens of others. I also had put out my feelers for work in abortion care and managed to get a position through a student colleague connection, at the abortion service in the county hospital.

My first nursing position was a nightmare, but it paid the bills for my first semester of midwifery school and gave me valuable insight into the lives of women seeking abortion in fairly desperate situations. I then got a scholarship so I didn’t have to continue working as a nurse during my program, but it required me to complete it in two years. I babysat for a wonderful family and watched their family grow throughout my graduate studies. Then, as I was completing my final semester of my masters program, I landed another position in abortion care, which eventually turned into a broader family planning nursing role. That is the last job I held until beginning this current job.

After I passed my boards (got certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board), I again looked for jobs around my city. This time around, I had more interviews and got a lot more interest, but still, employers and even my mentors questioned if I could work as a full-scope (meaning: catching babies, not just working in the office) CNM without having worked as a nurse in labor and delivery. Some suggested that I should swallow my pride and try to get such a position and then try again in a year or two for a full scope  job. It was a full six months between my initial interview and my start date for the position I landed, and there were times that I considered this option. Luckily, this position came through, and I got to do things the way I originally thought I could (more or less).

Acceptance

What is midwifery? Is it only possible to be a midwife if you’ve been a nurse during hundreds of births, many of which were probably complicated or high risk? I don’t think so.

It’s hard being one of the handful of people who graduated from programs like mine, that allow you to graduate without having to work labor and delivery, having to prove that you belong and that you can hang with the more experienced nurses. But I am not alone, and I’m grateful for others who blazed the trail before me — whether they intended to or not.

Midwifery is a whole lot of things.* True, the only births I’ve attended are the ones where I was doing the baby-catching (or doing labor support in a few instances). I haven’t seen a ton yet. My career is young. I am humbled by all I have to learn. But I have also worked in women’s health for over six years, and have learned compassion and to not judge women’s lives and choices. Midwifery is trusting women, it’s listening to women, and it’s being present with women. You can’t learn that from a textbook or demonstrate that on a board exam, but you can show it in the type of care you give. I am confident that, as one quarter of women in the United States will have an abortion before the age of 40, my background in abortion provides a ton of useful clinical and emotional skills to be a good midwife. Good midwifery care has to include all phases of the reproductive lifespan, including abortion. (And hopefully one day CNMs will be legally allowed to provide spontaneous and elective abortion care in all states!)

Now

Tomorrow will mark three months as a practicing CNM, but I think I’ve been practicing the midwifery model of care for more than that. I respect that other midwives took other paths — and they may have done so out of their own necessities. I hope that as I enter the birth setting again in a few months, when I get my hospital privileges, I can continue to safely develop my labor and birth skills and humbly continue my journey with new mentors and teachers.

 

*There are, of course, other paths to midwifery outside of nursing. I respect direct-entry or certified midwives, but I don’t claim to know much about their paths. I can only speak as someone that went the CNM route, and know that non-nurse midwives have their own contributions to women’s healthcare that may differ from where CNMs might be coming from (e.g. Ina Mae Gaskin).


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Calling on the Saints

I am an atheist. I’m not a person of faith, though I was raised Christian. Despite my parents’ best efforts and wonderful role modeling of spiritual life, god doesn’t make sense to me conceptually or as a foundation for my world view. I have dabbled in Buddhism and attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation, I practice yoga, and there’s some Pagan stuff that speaks to me, but the only philosophy that I have been able to commit to is revolutionary marxism. A smidgen of woo-woo and commitment to personal growth is as spiritual as I think I’m gonna get.

I remain a bit of a black sheep in much of my family for not being part of any church, though I know they love me unconditionally (and pray for me often). My mother, a mystic secular Franciscan who converted to Catholicism when I was in high school, has never given up on me returning to theism. She is quite subtle in her attempts to spark faith back in my scientific mind and heart. She is not an evangelist in any sense, but she knows and works with my soft spots, like the work of Anne Lamott — she gave me that author’s most recent book for Christmas last year (haven’t read it yet).

My mother’s most successful breakthrough in getting me to open up spiritually came when she and my step-father took a trip to Ireland, where my mother discovered this beautiful cross on people’s thresholds and in some of the local shops and churches. They had been to Ireland a few times before, but she had never noticed it before. She asked around about the meaning of the cross and came to find out that it was St. Bridget’s cross.

Image

St. Bridget’s Cross, traditionally woven

Bridget, whose feast day is my birthday. Bridget, who is a patron saint of midwives, healers, brewers, and poets. Bridget, who by one account, may have brought the miracle of abortion to a woman in need. Bridget, who is recognized by Celtic paganism as goddess of fertility and earthly fire.

When they came back from the trip, I met my mother for lunch. I was having a hard time — I had failed to pass the certification exam for nurse midwives and was feeling a little lost, doubting myself and fearful of not being able to continue to pursue my dreams. My mother was beaming as she slid this small tissue-wrapped gift across the table to me, and as she told me about Bridget while I opened the package. It was perfect.

I have come to adopt a bit of reverence for and connection to saint/goddess Bridget. I may not believe in god, but I do find it useful and calming to call upon the “spirit” of Bridget and to work to embody her legacy when I am struggling. I keep the cross my mother gave me on my desk at work, and I wear her cross on a necklace some days. I may even get a Bridget tattoo one day. It’s not magic, but I began calling upon Bridget as I prepared again to tackle my midwifery board exams, and I continue to do so to help myself get grounded. I have adopted (and adapted ever so slightly) this traditional prayer and find myself reciting it as my mantra when I find myself stressed, worried, or needing to find strength. I’m glad Bridget’s got my back.

Brigid.
You were a woman of peace.
You brought harmony where there was conflict.
You brought light to the darkness.
You brought hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious,

and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made.
Brigid you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit.


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“Cool, you’re a midwife! So does that mean that you, like go to people’s houses?” Or: What Is a Nurse-Midwife Anyway?

The number one most frequently asked question of midwives in casual conversation or upon doing the whole “what do you do for a living” thing has to be about home birth. This piece is to set the record straight for the less informed readers and friends out there who may have some interesting ideas about what modern midwifery is about. 

International Day of the Midwife is around the corner (May 5), so in preparation, I invite you to learn about midwifery so come the 5th, you can show off your knowledge and love for women and midwives!

1. The vast majority of midwives who attend birth do so in hospital or out of hospital birth centers.

According to the American College of Nurse Midwives, a 2012 survey showed that only 2.5% of all certified midwife or certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) attended births in the home. Home births comprise a tiny minority of all deliveries — according to the CDC, only 1.36% of all births were not in a hospital setting, and that includes birth centers. 

Now…if you ask me, there are probably loads of people who would do well in out of hospital or even home birth. And I would *love* to attend home births one day when I’m more experienced. But nurse midwives would be in real trouble if we only attended home births, since these are such a small number of the births overall. Now, we capture 10% of the deliveries, which is great and probably will only increase. 

Anyway! Most of us are employed by hospitals or physician practices, and you are likely to find us as an option for prenatal care or delivery if you look. We are often listed as “under” a physician — for instance, if you were to look under your medical insurance for a provider, you might not find us independently listed, but we might be in the office as well. 

Imagemidwifery today is not like this.

 

 

2. Home birth…

Studies have shown that for low-risk healthy women, home birth is as safe as hospital birth. We are not nearly as healthy as a society as we should be, so many women risk out of home birth. But as a feminist, I believe that women’s bodies are capable of normal birth (that’s how we survived as a species) and support the appropriate use of technologies that can help lower risk (like fetal monitoring or c-section when medically indicated). 

But for now, most women have their babies in the hospital, and that has its own risks in this country. But that is where you will find most of us midwives.

3. Labor

Unlike nurses working as RNs, most nurse midwives are not in a good position for collective bargaining. Once you get to the “professional” or health care provider level, you are likely to be in a position to negotiate personally for your working conditions, wages, and benefits. Many midwives do work for themselves in private practice in a physician office or doing home birth, but the question most people ask when they find out I’m a midwife is if I have to drum up my own clientele and run my own business. And the answer is no, that’s why I work for a clinic and not as a homebirth midwife. And even though I’m not in a position for collective bargaining, at least I have coworkers, someone to do billing for me, malpractice insurance, and an office I don’t pay rent on. 

4. One Day

I want to have hundreds of births under my belt before I venture out to be a homebirth midwife. There is so much to see, so many different experiences, good and bad, that I feel I need to be prepared to attend births in patients’ homes. Unfortunately, in this country, we’re not set up to get experience this way unless we want to have our own practice/small business. 

Image

 

I love this piece. Can someone please buy this for my office?

5. In the Meantime

What do midwives do? Of course, we attend births. We take care of (usually healthy, low risk) pregnant, postpartum, and lactating mamas. But what most people don’t realize is that we take care of women across the lifespan. Yes, most of us focus on gyne issues — family planning, sexually transmitted infections, menstrual or other reproductive system issues, menopause management, cervical and breast cancer screening and prevention. Others may train to do more advanced stuff like primary care management of chronic health conditions or do more complicated procedures like colposcopy or dilation and curettage or even surgical assistance for c-section surgeries. Much like other advanced practice nurses like our nurse practitioner or physician assistant colleagues, nurse midwives manage many of the same patients our physician colleagues may also attend to. We may consult or co-manage care with physicians for more high risk stuff (diabetes or high blood pressure in pregnancy, or preterm labor), or refer to physicians for surgical care like tubal ligation, fibroid removal, or cesarean section. 

6. Science and Stuff: Or, How We Practice

For historical reasons, “midwife” does conjure up the lay healer, and that experience or association is often degraded, even among midwives. Traditionally, the lay midwife’s science was her knowledge of her own experience and that of her mentors. She learned about the wisdom of the body from attending to women’s reproductive needs from contraception to abortion to birth and postpartum care. The advent of modern medicine and the revolution in obstetric care has in many ways contributed to loss of critical knowledge about normal lifecycle events. Though midwifery wanted during that revolution, it is back and stronger than it has been in decades.

Midwife means: “with woman.” We are present with the woman (or female bodied or female identified person) for everything. Midwifery means respecting the body and helping the body and mind be healthy. Midwifery draws on traditional knowledge of women’s bodies, and modern nurse midwifery is demands evidence based practice to wed experience with science.

Midwives, like providers in any care field, practice with a wide variety of styles. Wherever we practice, whatever our style, being a midwife is not about where we deliver care to women or their babies — the hospital, public health clinic, private practice, home — but about bringing our knowledge about and respect for women’s experiences and choices. Wherever we are, whatever our job title, we should be found working with women to achieve general, reproductive, and sexual wellness goals.

No, I don’t do homebirth (yet). Most of my day is not that glamorous…I’m usually in the office assessing women’s health needs and trying to help them manage issues like unplanned pregnancy, menstrual disorders, STIs, sad vaginas (see earlier post), alcoholism and smoking too much weed, parenting while father of the baby or boyfriend is incarcerated, depression, overweight and obesity, family planning goals, and pregnancy. Promoting breastfeeding, teaching about the menstrual cycle, and most of all, trying to get women to understand and love their own vaginas–and yes, the smell that comes with it!

And sex. Mostly, my day is spent talking about sex. That’s why midwifery is awesome. 

 


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Healing to the test?

In this day of Common Core and mandatory ACTs for high school graduation, it should not be surprising that patients are obsessed about getting all the lab tests they can to make sure “everything is alright.” Luckily, unlike my teacher friends being measured by their students’ test results, my patients’ performance on tests or other health measures does not directly impact my pay or job standing. But this preoccupation with testing does impact  how I work.

What tests matter?

Don’t get me wrong. The miracles of modern medicine include such wonderful innovations as cultures and blood tests for herpes, liquid based pap and HPV tests, vaginitis cultures, gonorrhea and chlamydia DNA tests, and sophisticated tests for syphilis and HIV. You don’t have to just rely on the patient’s history and the exam findings to make a diagnosis when such tests are available. I am ever so grateful to have these tests, as I like to compare my clinical diagnosis to the test findings to learn more about what I’m seeing, especially as a new provider. And duh, there are many infections and diseases you can’t diagnose from an exam alone, like HIV.

Someone that has high risk sexual practices, like multiple sex partners or a non-monogamous partner, or who doesn’t practice safer sex with new partners needs to be screened. Luckily, our scientist friends over at CDC have figured out based on evidence that such folks should be screened for common STIs even if they don’t have symptoms, based on such risk factors. In a healthy clinic environment, we can educate patients about what health practices put them at risk and for which screening is indicated. We can point to evidence based guidelines to shape our practices, and we can counsel patients about what we recommend they get screened for. We can also educate patients on reducing risk and promote prevention.

It’s also usually indicated to offer HIV testing to all patients at least annually and three months following a positive test for other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, or herpes.

Why isn’t it all about the test though?

I know why we’re all obsessed about getting tested for everything. It’s widely promoted as the be all and end all of healthcare. And it probably has a lot to do with the fact that lab testing companies make money every time providers order tests. They have put a lot of work into convincing the healthcare world that tests are better than anything for most diagnoses. This contributes to the the move away from physical examination as an essential skill in health provision. How many times have you been to see a physician for care and they have not laid hands on you at all? Not listened to your heart, lungs, and bowel sounds, not measured your abdominal girth, not palpated your tummy, not inspected your legs or feet? I hear frequently from friends that their doctors don’t even touch them.

We have been trained to think that the test says everything. And when it comes to women’s health, our bodies are so often the site of something wrong, something that could be wrong, and we want that test that says “everything is alright.” But we are not test subjects, we are human bodies. I hate that my patients think they need to hold themselves up to be examined like that: alright or not alright based on a test. Even if a physical exam appears to be normal or not normal, there are also other elements of the clinic visit to be taken into consideration — the patient’s history or symptomatology, for instance. Technology cannot replace the wise hands or critical thinking skills of an experienced practitioner.

Then what is it all about?

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. It drives me crazy that I have many patients who are not at risk for gonorrhea and chlamydia, who don’t even get bacterial vaginosis, but demand to be tested for these infections as though the results to those tests will be the major determinant of whether or not “everything is alright” for them. The far bigger impact on their health is not something that may or may not be wrong specifically with their vaginas but that they have sedentary lives, eat no fruits and vegetables, and eat a ton of fast food and junk food. Somewhere down the line, when they begin to develop diabetes or high blood pressure, there will be tests they can demand, and those tests may reveal whether or not everything is alright. Maybe everything is “alright” until the tests say otherwise. Maybe these test-hungry patients are trying to buy time until there will be a simple solution like a blood pressure pill or diabetes medicine to take, something far less complicated than trying to change a lifestyle when there’s nothing “wrong” except for…well, their whole lifestyle. And who can blame them? Pretty much nothing about how this society is organized facilitates healthy lifestyles for any but the few, and that’s why we are mostly an unhealthy society. If it were easy to be healthy, most of us would be.

What is it all about? Making the clinic a welcoming environment in which the normal and healthy are celebrated and explained, and the provider and patient can be partners in moving toward healthier habits and reducing risks. Demystifying the office visit and the technology we sometimes use to aid our assessments. Patiently explaining. And hopefully winning patients’ trust to lean on the exam and not just the tests.