Gynecologist: You’re fat (said when “in the position”)

Heather Anonymous writes:

I made an appointment with a new gynecologist because I had been bleeding for several weeks straight, and I was new in town. Going to a new gynecologist is always stressful, but this appointment started out fairly well. She asked a few questions, and then wanted to do a physical exam. OK, so far, so good. So I undressed and *ahem* assumed the position. Then she said it:

“You’re fat.”

Did I need to hear that while naked from the waist down, clutching a pale blue paper ‘blanket’ to my nether regions and with my feet up in the stirrups? Was there not a better time to bring that up? Like WHEN I HAD MY PANTS ON?!?! And honestly, did she think I hadn’t noticed? For godssake, I’m overweight, not undersmart. I can understand that she might have needed to bring the topic up. But for the love of all that is good, there is no reason that she couldn’t have done it in a way that wasn’t so humiliating and rude!

That wasn’t the end of it, though. She proceeded to tell me about all kinds of diet options (now with her hand up my hoo-ha) and about how public weigh-ins are good for motivation because the “group pressure tends to keep people from cheating”. As she was doing all this, I lay on the exam table trying not to sob. I literally thought my heart was going to stop — that I would actually die from the humiliation.

I found the whole process so excruciatingly dehumanizing and demoralizing that the very thought of an appointment with a gynecologist raises my blood pressure. And that means that all of my subsequent gynecologists think that I have high blood pressure — I have to bring in recent blood pressure readings from another doctor to back up my claim that they are seeing the results of stress, not hypertension.

Because of my health condition (the one I had gone to this doctor for help with — and one for which weight gain is a SYMPTOM), I cannot have children without medical intervention. After this experience, I find visits to the gynecologist so horrible (even to the point of requiring sedatives), that I have decided that I would rather not have children than subject myself to repeated visits to a fertility specialist.

Thank you for running the Do No Harm blog. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to see that I’m not alone — I’m literally typing this with tears running down my face.

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21 Comments

  1. Jen

     /  July 20, 2009

    *HUGS for Heather* Thank YOU for sharing your story with us.

    Reply
  2. Electrogirl

     /  July 20, 2009

    Wow. I think you win the dubious award of Worst Gynecologist Ever. (As in, having the worst OB/GYN, not being the worst OB/GYN.) My former gynecologist saw fit to lecture me on the evils of fat and how I might be able to get a lover if I lost weight… after I told her that my previous experience with Pap smears had been painful and I was incredibly nervous. Seriously. That asshole brought up my love life, or lack thereof, while I was on the table bracing myself for pain. At least she shut up during the actual exam. Which once again was painful, but I just wanted to get it over with at that point. This was pre-FA, so I came out of the exam room as a sobbing wreck convinced that this was somehow all my fault, and having seizures to boot. (I’m epileptic, and stress is a seizure trigger for me.) Fortunately my mom had driven me to the appointment, and once she saw my reaction she proceeded to lecture the OB/GYN. I’m not sure exactly what she said, since I was so out of it, but the tone was ‘what the hell did you do to my daughter?’.

    What is it with gynecologists and fat-shaming? I can almost understand this with GPs who are drinking the Kool-Aid, but one goes to an OB/GYN to get the reproductive system examined. Not to see if one has hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, or any of the other myriad diseases attributed to the Obesity Epidemic .

    Reply
  3. Wow, just wow. I’ve been putting off going to the gyno because last time she reminded me of how fat I am and made me cry. (Not that she meant to, she was very nice about it, but doctor’s offices already make me emotional.)

    I’m so so sorry that this is preventing you from having kids, and I hope that if that is something you really want that you will be able to find a way.

    Reply
  4. shoutz

     /  July 20, 2009

    Oh, please, please, please, I hope the letter writer comes back to read this. Once upon a time, I could have been you writing this letter. I’m fat, and I have PCOS, which also required intervention when it came to fertility (plus I was over 40 when I started to try). I want to tell you to PLEASE not stop trying to get help with this doctor alone. While it was a difficult thing to do, I went to multiple gynecologists before I found one who would treat ME and not rebuke me for my fat. She then referred me to a wonderful reproductive endocrinologist who helped me a great deal. I was “looked at” by 22 different people in the RE’s practice, and not a single one of them gave me the impression they were judging me because of my size. When, ultimately, I didn’t get pregnant, and blamed myself (inevitably) for not conceiving because I was too fat – and had, in fact, gained weight over the course of my treatment because of the hormones involved – my doctor held my hand and patted my husband’s shoulder, gave me a huge smile and said, “If only you hadn’t waited so long to get around to this. Stop. This is not an issue of your weight.” He told me what really was true – it was a matter of my age – something also within my control, but only in the sense that if I’d met my husband sooner and we’d started trying sooner, my eggs might not have been so darned old!

    Please don’t give up. I understand there are other ways to build a family, and I’m all for those. But I also understand the desire to bear a child, and if that’s something you don’t want to give up on, please don’t. Please keep looking. There are doctors who will help, I promise.

    Reply
    • Heather Anonymous

       /  July 25, 2009

      After my immediate issues were dealt with (I too have PCOS, and I had been bleeding for 8 straight months), I never saw that doctor again. I live in a different city now, and I have a reproductive endocrinologist/gynecologist who is wonderful. She does bring up my weight, but only insofar as it is relevant to my PCOS, and always in a respectful way (and never when I have my pants off).

      I still can’t bear children due to an unrelated condition, and I still have high blood pressure readings at the gynecologist’s office, but I don’t need sedatives anymore and overall, I’m in an incredibly better place than I was in the bad old days.

      Reply
  5. Cooker

     /  July 20, 2009

    Wow. I am really sorry you went through that (and that that gyno has probably put many, many other fat patients through such an ordeal). That is just beyond the pale.

    Reply
  6. IME, the three most fat-phobic medical specialties are endocrinology, orthopedics, and obstetrics/gynecology. OB-GYN in particular is very biased and perhaps more shocking because I never expected it there. The stories of size bias I hear in the childbirth field are unbelievable.

    Please don’t let this keep you from having children if you truly want them. Many women of size are able to find fat-friendly help with their fertility issues. Sometimes they have to search long and hard to find that fat-friendly dr, but they ARE out there. You absolutely should NOT let a jerk like this keep you from having children.

    For regular GYN care, I highly recommend trying a midwife instead of an OB-GYN. They tend to take more time, are more open to alternatives, respect your right to make your own decisions better, and tend to be more size-friendly. Not all are, of course….but I think it’s easier to find a size-friendly midwife than a size-friendly GYN. And many have some expertise in fertility-related issues.

    There are also “alternative” healthcare approaches (like acupuncture) that have helped many women conceive. That is also a possibility you can explore.

    But if you are sure that you truly need medical, high-intervention help in order to conceive, then you should try seeing a reproductive endocrinologist. Some are very fat-UNfriendly, so it’s important to ask around to find a size-friendly one beforehand if at all possible. But there ARE good ones out there that do not judge on size alone.

    Don’t let size-phobic healthcare providers make your child-bearing decisions for you. You CAN find better care than this, and many women of size, even with PCOS and other issues, ARE able to have children, with and without outside help. Think outside the box and consider all your alternatives.

    Reply
    • Heather Anonymous

       /  July 25, 2009

      Thank you so much for your comment. Just as an update: I am in a new city and a new place in my life, and things are much better than they were. I can’t have children because of a totally unrelated (and sadly, very serious) medical condition, but I have a new reproductive endocrinologist/gynecologist who is amazingly better than the bad old one, and I am doing really rather well now.

      Reply
  7. jaed

     /  July 21, 2009

    What is it with gynecologists and fat-shaming?

    The problem is they’re taught to do this. Taught that every encounter with the medical system is a good opportunity for fat-shaming. And taught that hurting and humiliating patients will “motivate” them to lose weight (since of course as we all know, that is only a matter of dieting and exercising. Sigh.). When they say things like this, and throw in comments about one’s lack of sexual appeal, lack of willpower, etc., they think they’re doing the right thing. They’re not being careless or unthinking; this is deliberate behavior, done specifically to create this emotional effect in their patients.

    This sort of abominable behavior will not end until women simply start refusing to tolerate it. (I don’t say “fat women”, because fat women are not the only ones subjected to it – there was a fairly thin woman on this very blog a week or so ago who had something similar happen to her during a pelvic.) If a gyn starts making body-shaming comments during the physical exam, “Please do not make comments about my body during the exam” is a perfectly reasonable request. If they persist, “Please end the exam now. I don’t wish to continue,” said as loudly and repeated as often as necessary, is also reasonable.

    No one – NO ONE – should ever have to be subjected to what anonymous Heather describes.

    If a doctor insists on behaving in ways that are damaging, we need to start putting on our clothes and walking out. Submitting to the rest of the exam and nodding as the doctor tells us all about how ugly and bad we are is perfectly understandable, since it’s how we were all taught to react to doctors, but we need to start taking care of ourselves in this regard. This sort of experience causes real emotional damage, it leads to avoiding medical treatment for fear of further damage, and a doctor who does it is not likely to be looking at our actual health issues, since that might take time away from the weight scoldings. It needs to stop and we are the only ones who can stop it.

    Reply
    • Heather Anonymous

       /  July 25, 2009

      I am in a new city and a new place in my life, and things are much better than they were. I can’t have children because of a totally unrelated (and sadly, very serious) medical condition, but I have a new reproductive endocrinologist/gynecologist who is amazingly better than the bad old one, and I am doing really rather well now.

      Reply
  8. MargB

     /  July 21, 2009

    Heather,
    I feel for you but PLEASE don’t let this stupid thoughtless incompetent gynecologist make YOU give up on YOUR life plans. Whatever your medical condition, the stress she continues to bring out in you is only going to make conception more difficult. I really recommend finding a decent psychologist/therapist (you might need to try several before you get the right one); even if you decide you never want children, you need to develop the skills required to demand and expect decent medical treatment for your underlying medical issue. YOU ARE WORTH IT. Don’t live down to this stupid gyno’s expectations; find a decent doctor, get proper treatment and think of the look on that gyno’s face when your baby projectile vomits all over her clothes when you pass in the street.

    Reply
    • Heather Anonymous

       /  July 25, 2009

      I am in a new city and a new place in my life, and thigns are much better. I can’t have children because of an unrelated (and sadly, very serious) medical condition, but I have a new gyno who is amazingly better than the bad old one, and I am doing really rather well now.

      Reply
  9. Charlotte

     /  July 21, 2009

    I’m overweight, not undersmart.

    That was brilliant.

    I’m so horrified that happened to you. Not only is your doctor extremely fatphobic, she also has a serious lack of couth. Body shaming you while giving a gyno exam? That’s horrifying, humiliating, and extremely rude. I hope that experience doesn’t ruin whatever plans you had for having a family. I

    Reply
  10. Alyssa

     /  July 25, 2009

    Ugh, the prevalence of horrible gynecologists is really disheartening. The OP and some of the comments sounds like some of the experiences I’ve had with gynecologists as well. My first one gave me a very painful pap smear and told me that “this shouldn’t hurt since you’re not a virgin.” My second gynecologist told me that the severe side effects I got from birth control (dizziness, headaches, vomiting and blurred vision) were due to the fact that “young women don’t understand the importance of birth control.” Both of them also body-shamed me, telling me that I shouldn’t have as much hair down there as I did and I should get laser hair removal. I regret not having the self-confidence at the time to give them both the tongue-lashing they deserved. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a good gynecologist.

    Reply
  11. Kate

     /  July 25, 2009

    Heather, that’s just awful!! Did you report her? Her behaviour was cmpletely unacceptable!

    Reply
  12. Yeah they want to blame your weight when they don’t know what they are doing OR they simply want to treat pretty, thin young mothers. I actually had one jerk said, “You are too fat, but you didn’t need ME to tell you that did you”, then right before he inserted the speculum said, “Here it comes baby” AND didn’t sterilize his instruments so I got P.I.D. I should have sued him. Instead I wrote a letter after I paid part of my bill and asked why I should pay anything else. I didn’t get a response, nor another invoice. I really should have sued him for pain and suffering. Good GOD what is WRONG with people in the medical profession!! He wasn’t the only one, but he was the worst.

    Reply
  13. Emma

     /  May 22, 2011

    I feel naseayted right now!
    I’ve had my period three times this month and I need a GYNO asap
    BUT I am very overweight… and just the thought of having to face that, I just can’t do it.

    p.s They need to shut up and stop being rude because what if the reason for not being diagnose of a cancer early enough is their fault for being rude, they are putting lives at risk.

    Reply
  14. Beth

     /  May 30, 2011

    Check out our forum:

    http://blogcritics.org/culture/article/unnecessary-pap-smears/

    Lots of support for women traumatized by gynecologists, and a different pov on the practice of gynecology.

    Reply
  15. Barb

     /  November 7, 2011

    And your comeback should have been “I can lose weight, but you’ll be an idiot forever.”

    Reply
  16. Candice

     /  January 22, 2012

    I’m so so sorry that you had to go through that. My heart goes out to you. It hurts, doesn’t it? People just don’t understand how hurtful they can be when they don’t express themselves appropriately, and when you confront them they act as though they are in a position of authority and that “well they needed to know and the truth hurts.” Though I’ve never been through this, I know I would cry profusely right then and there. I would also have a very, very strict talking to with her and with her superiors. She wouldn’t hear the end of it. Oh lordy she would not have a good day after hearing my speech. lol I’m getting worked up, do forgive me. But back to the point, I am so sorry that you were subjected to that. I know it must have been so embarrassing, mortifying and even scary to be in that situation. I will pray for you and for that doctor even, so that God may give her a desire to show compassion instead of a cold heart. I want you to know that I struggel with my weight as well. Both of my parents do and even as a child, when I was stick thin, I absolutely hated people who mistreated someone because of their weight. If that ever happens again, I want you to think about Oprah. She is overweight but you and I both know she wouldn’t take that crap from anyone. No way jose!

    Reply
  17. Danielle

     /  July 11, 2012

    I got lectured by gyno today. I let her have it. When she told me when am I going to lose weight? I told her when the cows come home, and she could save her breath with her lecture because what she says I told her goes in one ear and out the other. When she asked me what I eat to get this fat and what exercise I do…I told the jerk that I eat everything in sight and I do no exercise, but lifting my remote control. This shut her up, but also made my visit very short and she was the one upset. Too bad.

    Reply

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