The Illusion of Modesty (TMI alert)

TMI alert – Seriously, you have officially been warned.  This post deals with going to the gynecologist.  Stop reading now if you can’t handle it.

A visit to the gynecologist in Finland (and France from what I hear, and possibly the rest of Europe) is a different experience than a visit in the US.

In the US, when a woman goes to the gynecologist, she is put in a room and left alone.  There is usually a curtain she can hide behind to undress, and then she goes and sits on the exam table with a paper “shirt” that opens in the front and a paper rectangle that she drapes across her lap.  Then the doctor comes in and the exam starts – during which he/she will push the paper shirt apart and examine the breasts and push the drape up to perform a pelvic exam.

I’ve always been amused by this sham of modesty. Why do you have this paper draped across your lap when the doctor is just going to be all up in your business?  I’ve always assumed that it’s a disassociative thing, separating the woman (face) from the bits.  Whether it’s for the doctor’s benefit or the woman’s, I don’t know.

Here in Finland, though, there is no modesty to be had.  In my first gynecological visit here, I was surprised when the doctor said, “take off your clothes and lay down,” and then sat there all but watching me.  I stripped down in a corner, stacked my clothes, and asked if there was a drape or anything I should have.  She looked confused and gestured to the table.

Then came the funny part.  I’m laying there, naked from the waist down, legs in stirrups, and I realize the window in front of me is open.  The window with the perfect view into the office building next door.  Where anyone inside could basically see…everything, should they choose to look.  I stifled a giggle.  Things are certainly different here!

Fast forward a bit, and I’m pregnant.  I’ve been seeing the same public health nurse my entire pregnancy, and I feel quite comfortable with her.  However, due to the size of our town, they don’t offer childbirth classes in English.  My nurse said she would do an abbreviated class with me, but I decided to also contact a doula based in Helsinki who offered online childbirth classes in English.  It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my nurse, but the doula (a Finn) had lived in the US for several years, and had given birth both in Finland and the US, so she was able to understand my (US based) knowledge of the delivery process (hospital stay, etc) and describe the Finnish process to someone who wasn’t familiar with it.

Between the two women, I feel like I have a fairly good handle on things, but there have been some funny-strange moments, again related to false modesty.  In the US, everything is so very clinical – technical terms are used to describe things.  Here, whether it’s because of a language barrier or simply because of fewer puritanical hangups, the technical terms are not always used.  I’ve heard “pee hole” instead of “urethra.”  I was told when I pushed that it was like when I “poo.”  Although I get a good giggle out of these instances, I feel both more comfortable and uncomfortable at the plain speaking.

All of this is to say, I think the US system provides nothing more than an illusion of modesty.  Your doctor is going to see your parts, what purpose does the drape serve?  The doctor knows the plain words, why bother with the technical terms?  Is it for his/her comfort, or the patient’s?

Baby J update – 12 Days to go! I’m blogging every day until I give birth, so you’ll know when the baby is born!

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Categories: Random | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Illusion of Modesty (TMI alert)

  1. It’s very interesting to read your experience there going through what I just did last year. My experience sounds just like yours! I wonder if this is because I chose alternative care with a midwife? I also liked the plain speak, the comfortable setting, and making things personal – no sheets/paper gowns.

  2. robinallisontaylor

    Working with doctors to design their practices, I can safely say the only one I met that cared about the patient’s comfort was an IVF doc….. Cause you pay him a lot! Only one, and I designed for multiple medical practices! I also knew a doc that thought it was a bit much when a lady wore matching black bra and panties. He seemed to wish at that time that he had a paper shirt for her?

  3. Sweetteamob

    YES thank you SO much for bringing up this topic! I’ve had very similar experiences in France. It was bizarre at first to be asked by doctors to remove clothing in front of them, but I’ve come to prefer the overall process in Europe. In the US, you see a nurse, then are left alone to change into a paper or cotton gown and wait in a chilly room for an undetermined amount of time. In France, you see the doctor immediately, and clothing is removed in the context of the exam. I can remember having to strip down in America to have my foot examined, whereas in France a doctor asked me to remove my shirt (bra stayed on) when he needed to check for bronchitis. It’s one of those things that doesn’t stand out until you experience the better system.

  4. tg

    Sweetteamob – I don’t think I would agree that you’ve “experienced the better system”. Actually, the lack of respect in regards to modesty is a main reason I won’t move abroad! And if I wasn’t offered a robe, or cover up of some kind, I’d be out of there! I happen to appreciate a clinical, respectful, approach to my body that we have here in the U.S. Just my opinion 🙂

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