July 14, 2014

Legs Wide Open.

by Ana Teresa Barbosa

All heart opening practices failed when I found myself confused by a gynecologic exam.

The confusion started when I was standing in front of my closet choosing what undies to wear. Somehow, I decided it had to match my bra—which was ridiculous since I knew there was no reason why the gynecologist would make me strip down to my bra.

Plus, theoretically speaking, it would make even less sense since I wouldn’t be wearing any panties that the bra could hypothetically match. But I couldn’t help myself. I chose matching underwear.

In the shower my dilemma continues. To shave or not to shave? And if so, what? With all my might I tried to not visualize the outlook of her daily job, then failed. As an act of compassion toward my gynecologist and as the protection of what felt like my personal integrity, I decided on a compromise: to shave my legs but not in between—assessing the three-day-do there as a nonchalant fit.

I remembered this level of bodily hygiene awareness only from dating. With shocking ease I slipped into that pattern I’d repeated enough in my life for it to become a pattern. I caught myself habitually trance-like applying two layers of mascara instead of the normal one when I told myself this madness has to stop.

It hardly did. The confusion only got worse when I entered Dr. Vogelvang’s office—her name meaning “bird catcher” in Dutch, another brick in my steadily building wall of anxiety. Standing in her “changing room,” which really just was a curtain in the exam room, I decided that being naked only from the waist down is really weird in almost all circumstances.

For a brief moment I wondered whether I should take off my socks (hello habitual pattern) but then decided surely I wouldn’t, as I knocked down an ominous pack of maxi pads while looking for my way out from behind the curtain.

Tilted backwards, legs wide open and the gateway to my uterus about to be, too, I tried a variety of breathing exercises and meditation techniques so hard that I mixed them all up and none of them worked. Let everything stop your mind and open your heart is one of my favorite quotes from Pema Chödrön. But even this Buddhist nun was nowhere to be found as my mind raced and my heart closed.

“I bet Pema didn’t make that one up while doing a gynecologic exam,” I told myself afterwards, feeling embarrassed and relieved at the same time. Apparently, either my heart or my legs can be wide open, but doing both at the same time proved a bit too much, which troubled me.

Feeling cold, somewhat violated but also grateful that the worst part was over, my gyno made an echo of my uterus while enthusiastically exclaiming that it looked “perfect.” Leaning on my elbows I looked at the screen where she was pointing out stuff and saw nothing. Which was fine with me. I was still shocked by my experience and lack of ability to cope with it yogic-like. Opening up through my body feels like a different galaxy compared to opening up through books, writing or cuteoverload.com. I keep forgetting.

I keep being shocked when I go through an experience “body first.” It feels kind of embarrassing and humbling and relieving at the same time. The shock-gap usually is replaced by the reliable tug of habitual pattern (hello there!). When the exam was over, Dr. Vogelvang tilted the chair back up, advised me to use one of those maxi pads while turning her back to me and walking out of the room.

“That’s it?” I think. No, “How was that?” No mental cuddling? I do as instructed, shake hands with my gyno and drift out of the hospital with a confused raw heart and uterus to match.



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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Ana Teresa Barbosa (used with permission)

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