As someone who is not sexually active for religious reasons, I’m still *intimately* aware of what it’s like to hoist myself on a sterile exam table and mount my legs in uncomfortable stirrups at the gynecologist. You’re probably wondering why. Well, since my mother has a history of endometriosis, I’ve frequented a gynecologist to ensure that I haven’t inherited the potentially fertility-altering diagnosis (fingers crossed, I’m in the clear). Everybody knows that the first question a gyno asks before they get up close and personal with your lady parts is if you’ve ever been sexually active. Yet, people falsely assume that visiting a doctor who pokes around for STDs and preps patients for childbirth is reserved for people who are having sex. Spoiler alert: There is way more to these visits than routine pelvic exams.
I, like many others, still check on my ovaries even if I don’t plan on having a baby or sexual partner any time soon. “It’s easy to forget that an OB/GYN is a primary care specialty,” explains Dr. Kecia Gaither, OB/GYN. “As such, it’s recommended that women have annual exams for not only Pap smears and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases—but also preventative health evaluations specific to women.” According to Gaither, there are other legit reasons why someone should visit a gynecologist. Read about them all, below.
1. Physical Exams
Many women actually use an obstetrician/gynecologist as their primary care doctor. Which, by the way, makes a whole lot of sense if you’re already at your annual checkup. Killing two birds with one stone is the way to go sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with a women’s health issue that gynos see on a regular basis. For example, if you’re complaining about fatigue and weight gain, your gyno may test your thyroid—which will save you a trip and possible vacation day to your physician. “Depending on your age, family history, medical history your OB/GYN will obtain a thorough medical history, a physical exam, and pertinent testing as dictated by history and findings on your physical,” Dr. Gaither says. But, this does not mean you should shut out your family doctor when dealing with things like mental illnesses, respiratory issues, metabolic conditions, digestive diseases, and other all-inclusive assessments. The bottom line: It’s always wise to see a specialist!
2. Breast Exams
Like your primary care physician, your gynecologist can examine you for breast cancer with a mammogram or an ultrasound. But, if your breasts feel different than usual, you shouldn’t wait for a yearly checkup to make an appointment—especially if you have a family history of breast cancer. “, a patient should refer to genetic analysis for breast cancer,” Dr. Gaither says. This includes the BRCA gene blood test that can determine if you have changes (mutations) in your DNA that increase the risk of breast cancer.
Besides breast cancer, gynos check for other gynecological cancers like endometrial, cervical, ovarian, and vulva cancer. Most of these diagnoses are determined through pelvic exams and pap smears. They’ll then check your lower abdomen, which is by far the most uncomfortable part, to feel the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries for any abnormalities. Once it’s done with, though, you’ll feel so much better knowing that you’re putting your health first. Plus, because these doctors specialize in women’s health, they may be more attuned to these areas of your body that need special TLC.
4. Vaginal Discharge
If you’ve expressed concern about the odor or color of your discharge (most of us have been there!), your gyno will check for yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and STDs. Because, yes, contrary to popular opinion, diseases can be transmitted without intercourse! Additionally, your doc may take this opportunity to educate you about good hygiene routines or cleansing products that cause itchiness and inflammation.
5. Abnormal Bleeding
According to Dr. Gaither, abnormal bleeding may be the symptom of fibroids or polyps. Which, of course, sounds like medical jargon but in reality just means non-cancerous growths that form in the uterine wall. Sounds scary as hell, but it’s nothing to worry too much about, though it can be painful and get in the way of your ability to conceive if it’s not treated properly. During a pelvic examination, your gyno may feel your uterus for any irregular shapes and ultimately use an ultrasound if they detect something unusual. Upon inspection, they can examine how these complications may affect your fertility.
Ultimately, people will always assume gynecologists only see patients who are sexually active unless they’re educated about the many ways in which these doctors examine all women’s health issues. So, the next time you’re thinking of paying a visit to your gyno you can be sure that they’re on the lookout for way more than just STDs.
There I was, legs elevated in metal stirrups, counting backward from ten, losing consciousness by the second. Why? For $7K… duh.
There’s not much I won’t consider doing for money. As a kid, I worked a lemonade stand, sold snacks at yard sales, and scammed grown-ups with bets like $20 for throwing an inflated football through a tire. I’ve had an array of jobs since I was 16 and almost never just one at a time. I was even offered $200 in high school to take a guy’s virginity. I didn’t, but does that matter?
Donating your eggs is not easy money, but that is the illusion.
Just the lengthy application alone can weed out the weary. Then you have to get over the fear of stabbing yourself with needles, followed by the realization that you might release children into the world. It’s enough to make anyone think twice.
Obviously, money is a primary motivator when it comes to a procedure like this. A study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that 81% of egg donors “indicated that the offer of payment was significant to their decision.” Yet, I found that the end result was way more rewarding than the cash, and that’s why I donated my eggs not once, but twice. The money is long gone. After Uncle Sam reached between my legs for a quarter of it, I used the rest to leave a job I hated, pay off debt, and buy myself some boobs. But when I look back on my donation process, it’s not the money I remember.
First, it’s important to clear up a common misconception: Donating doesn’t affect your egg count. According to the Cleveland Clinic, women are born with approximately one million eggs. Even prior to puberty, these eggs die each month. So the eggs you donate would naturally die in your next menstrual cycle.
Thrust into living alone after my boyfriend broke up with me unexpectedly, my credit card became a crutch. I couldn’t get through the week without dipping into unpromised money. A friend of mine introduced me to Shady Grove Fertility, an organization dedicated to infertility treatments. She had considered donating her eggs but was daunted by the application process due to her family medical history. Less than 40% of applicants pass the initial screening, a statistic specific to SGF provided to me upon completion. I answered the preliminary application, which consisted of a few essential questions used to easily disqualify any red flags—one of which I held. I had traveled to the Caribbean with my ex (eye roll) just five months prior and ZIKA was a major concern. I was asked to apply again in another month, since six months was the threshold for exposure.
After re-applying, I was accepted and provided a link for the comprehensive application. Holy Moly. Now, I’m a writer and fully enjoy talking about myself, but this was on another level. I provided personal statements and short essays about everything down to my musical ability and every detail about my family including the color of my dead paternal grandfather’s eyes. The application actually serves as a profile for a donor when they are being selected by hopeful recipients. I uploaded pictures of myself as a child and an adult—the latter is not required but increases the probability and rate of being chosen.
I was then invited to begin the medical screening portion. Based on when I had started my most recent pack of birth control, an ultrasound and bloodwork appointment were scheduled. They also performed genetic screening which tested for 105 conditions. At this point, it had been about three months since I first reached out. I received $150 through an application promotion and $50 for approved lab work.
*calls produce manager of whole foods* hi yes i’m interested in donating my eggs
— you thoughtttttttttttttttttttttttt (@youonebigyike) September 1, 2019
I took a brief online course that provided an overview of the procedure and then was scheduled for “Donor Day,” which requires a day off from work when current donors meet at the office with a nurse for in-person training and screening. After screening, we took a 150 question multiple choice personality test, learned about the procedure, ate pizza, and practiced our first injection. We practiced mixing solution, dialing the pen to the correct dosage, and finally pinching some stomach fat and stabbing ourselves. I bled, which never happened again, but I had my first “what have I done?” moment. The day earned me $450.
Then, I signed consent forms and met with a social worker. Basically, it was a therapy session to ensure my sanity and comfort with the process, especially the fact that this would likely result in real live children running around with my DNA. I was and am completely comfortable with this fact. Once cleared, my profile went live for recipients to view. I was selected within a week. They switched my birth control in order to sync with my recipient’s and I received fertility medication to my home.
No more drinking, sex, drugs, tattoos, piercings, smoking, etc. Over the next two weeks, I injected hormones into my stomach at the same time each night and went into the office for bloodwork and an ultrasound about three times a week. The one shot, which I administered through an insulin pen, didn’t bother me. But the second shot, which required mixing a powder and liquid, burned as I pressed the plunger releasing the solution under my skin. You get used to it, but I always dreaded the second shot. The medication grows the egg follicles, and the ultrasound measures that growth process. With a lubed-up wand between my legs, I watched my uterus morph into a crop field on a blurry screen, and it was fascinating. My monitoring visits increased with my follicle size. Eventually, I added a third shot to my daily routine. The nurses followed my progress and emailed me with specific dosing instructions as they changed.
All of the coordinators, nurses, and doctors I worked with throughout the process were incredibly helpful. They answered my questions, wrote me a note to freeze my gym membership, and even worked around the travel required for my job, scheduling me at locations that were convenient to my home, office, and wherever I was traveling. And yes, I did this while working for an event production company (one of my bosses had actually used a donor herself). I brought my medication in a cooler and took strategic breaks so that I could shuttle to an offsite condo where I’d disappear into the bathroom with my needles.
I actually relished the time that preceded the retrieval procedure. My body felt productive, like a factory. I was preparing for this really important gift while still working full time and living my life. Around three days out, I could actually feel my ovaries sloshing beneath my pelvis. The hormones swell each ovary from the size of a ping-pong ball to that of an orange.
After about two weeks, monitoring took place every day and they watched my progress closely to determine the exact date and time of retrieval. My mom was on standby to come stay and drive me to and from surgery. Once a date was defined (about two days out) I was instructed to take my trigger shot at a very specific time two nights before retrieval. I also took an antibiotic the night before with no food or water following.
My mom and I woke at 4am and drove to the surgery center 45 minutes away. I started to cramp. The building was immaculate. I felt very safe and comfortable. The staff was warm and attentive and kept thanking me for my “gift”. They also handed me a check for $6,500.
I dressed in some fabulous surgery attire (booties, gown, hair net) and received an IV. The cramping started to increase minutes away from surgery. I received anesthesia through my IV. Aside from having my wisdom teeth extracted, this was my first surgery. I walked with my IV tree and a nurse to the procedure room. I laid on a table and lifted my legs into metal stirrups. For the first time, I suddenly felt incredibly exposed. The anesthesiologist placed a gas mask over my nose and mouth and before I knew it, I was asleep. While I was out, a long needle-like vacuum was inserted into my vagina and pierced the vaginal wall on each side to essentially suck out the eggs from each of my ovaries. They retrieved 13 mature eggs. The actual retrieval only took about 20 minutes.
The drive back to Baltimore was rough. I wanted to sleep, but the bumpy roads aggravated the cramping. Plus, my ovaries were still enlarged. I slept when I got home and watched Fixer Upper for the rest of the day. The doctor gave me a prescription for pain that I ended up not needing. By that night, I felt back to normal. I stayed home from work the next day because why not, ya know? I returned for a follow-up visit about a week later and I was on my way! I had sex the following weekend even though I shouldn’t have. But I missed alcohol and d*ck. TG for Plan B.
SGF reached out to me about three months later encouraging me to donate again. Although hesitant at first, I excitedly agreed. Since I was already vetted, the process proceeded much quicker—only about two months. They completed an initial screening before reactivating my donor profile. Unlike the first time, my profile was selected by three families instead of just one and my retrieval was split amongst them.
Things went even smoother the second time around. And not just because I knew the ropes, but because my body did too. I hardly experienced any cramping before and after surgery. They retrieved 22 mature eggs the second time and I received a total of $7,500.
I haven’t donated a third time (worth $8k) for a few reasons. Honestly, I’m nervous to jinx myself. The last thing I want is for something to hinder my ability to have my own children in the future. Another reason, which I only thought of more recently, is that I plan to stay in the Baltimore area as I have my own kids. This sounds like the plot to a titillating beach read, but my future kids could very well meet and date my donor children. One reason women aren’t allowed to donate more than six times with one organization is for this very reason.
Moral of the story: egg donation is incredibly involved, but it’s an extraordinary way to help a fellow human. If you made it to the end of this whirlwind article and are still interested in donating, do as much research as you can, especially as it pertains to the options in your area. Really consider the possibility of a child seeking you out in the future. Although the information is private, we all see the leaps and bounds DNA technology have already made. If you have more questions about my experience, feel free to DM me. Although I don’t plan to continue donating, I’d love to facilitate that opportunity for others.
Images: Kara Kinnamon (2); Nikola Radojcic / Unsplash; SGFertility, youonebigyike / Twitter
“The HPV test was positive again. We’ll need to do another cervical biopsy.” I immediately burst into tears as soon as I hung up with the phone OB-GYN. I’d had my yearly Pap Smear three days earlier and was ready to say f*ck-all to HPV. I was DONE with that.
The year prior I’d undergone my very first colposcopy after a positive HPV test. I felt cursed. Finding out someone is going to cut pieces out of your cervix is sh*tty under normal circumstances, but for someone with an anxiety disorder, it was fuel on an already heavily unstable fire.
I’d broken up with my boyfriend of over three years in September, only to wind up with HPV in October. I had had the Gardasil vaccine. I’d had sex with two people. TWO PEOPLE. And here I was with a positive HPV test. I wish I could say the first cervical biopsy was no big deal. I cannot.
My sister came to the appointment. My doctor had advised I take “two Ibuprofen” before coming. I took two Valium and four Advil. My doctor used no numbing cream, no local anesthesia, no anything for the pain. The cervix, she explained, has very few nerve endings and so pain management isn’t necessary for this in-office procedure.
She used a hole puncher-like device to “punch” cervical tissue in five different places. The pain was so immeasurable I thought I’d throw up. My sister was there holding my hand. She wasn’t prepared for the gore she was going to witness. She literally fainted on the f*cking floor. I cannot emphasize enough how scary this experience was.
Also, she FAINTED and it wasn’t even her procedure. Way to make it about you, Scarlett, you asshole.
After this first colposcopy, the cells had come back “highly abnormal.” Meaning, I’d need a cervical ablation. My doctor would use a laser to remove the abnormal cervical cells so they didn’t become cancerous. F*ck me, right?
The surgery was a breeze. I was under anesthesia, my whole family came to support me, and they gave me the good drugs. I didn’t love paying $3,000 out of pocket (my insurance would only cover 75 percent of the surgery), but overall I can say with complete certainty that I would have rather have a weekly cervical ablation than ever have another cervical biopsy.
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Had my yearly pap today. Even though the CDC specifies that women 21-25 get Pap smears every three years (and every five after that), it’s my recommendation as a sexual health professional to ask your OBGYN for a Pap every single year. And additionally, to request an HPV test every single time. Get tested. Stay safe. Stay informed. Do not get intimated by doctors when they tell you you “don’t need one.” HPV is dangerous and extremely prevalent.
Yet, here I was, about to be subjected to yet ANOTHER cervical biopsy. I’d only had one new partner since the surgery, a combination of being scared sh*tless of sex and, like, falling in love with my now-fiancé. What the actual hell was my life?!
I was a nervous wreck for the week leading up to colposcopy #2. My fiancé, god bless him, is very nurturing and loving, so having him with me was calming. Sorry, sis, but after Faint Gate, she was NOT going to be my emotional support system through this hell. I love her, but no.
I decided to document the entire experience on Instagram. As a sexologist and journalist, I felt it was my duty to actually talk about what happens during this experience. It feels like NO ONE does. I was so woefully unprepared for my first colposcopy that I didn’t have the slightest idea of what to expect.
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I went into the office, having not slept the night before due to intense anxiety, high as a kite on Valium and Xanax. Look, a girl has to do what she has to do. My doctor simply said, “I don’t do that,” when I asked her for lidocaine or some other form of numbing cream, a tip I’d gotten from a friend whose mother is an OB-GYN.
Cool, cool, cool. I guess we were going to do this the good old fashioned way again like it was the Victorian Area. Dope.
This second time, I requested that a nurse I liked be in the room. She seemed nice and didn’t force me to get on the scale, a thing I am very against during random procedural visits. I was given a cup and told to give a urine sample. Doctors need to do a routine pregnancy test before a cervical biopsy. If only they gave you a routine Vicodin, amiright?!
My fiancé held my hand, letting me squeeze it as hard as I needed. My doctor applied a solution to my cervix with a Q-tip. This is used to highlight any abnormal cells that need to be biopsied. It burned a lot.
She needed two samples, one from the cervical canal and another where cells had glowed-up as “abnormal.” The cervical canal is necessary because you can’t physically see it with the microscope.
She instructed me to “cough” each time she punched out a section of tissue. The coughing supposedly helps push the cervix out, making it easier to retain a sample. It absolutely SUCKS and causes the pressure of the biopsy tool to reverberate through your abdomen. At least, that’s how it felt to me.
After about nineteen hours (ten minutes), it was over. My fiancé took me home, putting me on the couch, wrapped in blankets. He fed me chicken fingers, painkillers, and Xanax. We watched Scream Queens.
A week later I went in for my follow-up appointment. My doctor let me know the cells had only had mild changes and no cervical ablation would be necessary. “We’ll just do another Pap next year and keep an eye on it.”
Once again I burst into tears. The relife was immense and overwhelming. I don’t know what will happen next year, but I’m praying to every higher power that the HPV will get the f*ck out of my system and die.
Oh, and if this ever happens to you, please advocate for yourself. Tell your doctor you’d like some kind of numbing cream on your cervix. Ask for any kind of pain management they can offer. And for f*ck’s sake, take a Valium.
Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, educator and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.