Pap smears tend to be the kind of unavoidable appointment you know is on your calendar, but that you wish you could have a sick day from (like going to the dentist or getting a flu shot). However, they tend to take on a different meaning after you've become a mom. The feeling of getting one has a certain déjà vu to it, but without any of the fun and fanfare associated with the pregnancies that surrounded your previous OB-GYN appointments. A lot of the things moms think when getting pap smears have to do with these kinds of comparisons (I assume and, in the name of solidarity, hope to be true).
I know the pap smears I've had following my pregnancies have felt like real denouements. I went from this very important person entering my doctor's office — a woman about to give birth, with so much hanging in the balance — to just a regular chick needing her annual collection of cells taken. Big whoop. And while so much about the procedure of the day felt familiar (the getting undressed from the waist down, the flimsy covering over my lap, the cold stirrups, the uncomfortable speculum), my body was like, "Hey, do you have any idea who I am?!"
And how was it that my body was all of a sudden a sissy when it came to routine procedures like a pap? And why was I shy around a doctor who knew parts of me better than I knew myself? I am sure I am not alone in feeling this way. Ladies, do you feel me?
"Why Do They Call It A 'Smear,' Anyway?"
Seriously, it is a stupid name. The "pap smear." How on Earth are you ever supposed to order a proper bagel with a "smear" of cream cheese again? As you lie there with your legs in the stirrups, you might find your mind wandering to questions about semantics and why anyone would want to ruin bagels and cream cheese forever by taking a word associated with something so pure and good and mixing it up with the likes of something so awkward and mildly uncomfortable.
"You Would Think I'd Be Used To This By Now"
I've had, what (counts on fingers, gives up) nearly 20 pap smears in my life by now? And after going through childbirth twice, you would think I'd be used to lying in this position, legs in stirrups, and being asked to "relax" and lean my knees away from their protective stance of shielding my vagina. Yeah, no. Nope. I am still not used to it.
I don't know how many times a person would have to do this kind of thing for it to no longer feel like a big honking deal, but for me, it still is. It just is.
"I Am Still A Delicate Flower"
Even though my vagina has been to a few rodeos, if you know what I mean, apparently we need to use the small speculum and that makes me feel just as good about myself as I imagine a man feels when he is told he is too big for the size large condoms (or whatever).
I know it is completely effed up that this is a point of pride, but I enjoy going home at the end of the day and telling my husband that my OB-GYN had to break out the mini speculum for little ol' me.
"Remember When I Was A Warrior Goddess?"
Remember when I could feel basically everything my doctor was doing when I was undergoing surgery for a c-section (because the epidural had basically all but worn off), but it was fine because I was a warrior goddess bringing life into this world?
Yeah, I don't remember that either, because right now all I can think about is how majorly this miniature speculum is bothering me and how much this pap smear is about to pinch me.
"I'm Feeling A Bit Shy For Some Reason"
Even though my doctor and I have been through a lot, and she certainly has seen it all, it is kind of like bumping into an old boyfriend and suddenly being aware of the fact that he's caught you without your lipstick on and your hair unbrushed. Suddenly I find myself worrying about the fact that I haven't gotten a waxing in some time, and whether I have any ingrown hairs I should have paid attention to before spreading my legs, or stuff that she probably doesn't care about but that now I can't stop thinking about. Oh the shame!
"It Is Really Weird To Be Here And Not Be Talking About Babies?"
There is something a bit let-down-ish about being here on this crinkly paper, under these fluorescent lights, without the buzz and excitement of baby talk. For so many of these kinds of visits, there was always the anchor of talking about a pregnancy, that now that I'm here for just a ho-hum pap smear it is almost depressing.
Not that I wish I was pregnant or anything. It just doesn't really feel like a party, or special in any way, like we were all preparing for something really big, like when there was a growing life inside my womb. Now I'm just here for my doctor to collect some cells, which sounds so straightforward and medical and not fun at all.
"No Matter How Close I Am To The Edge Of The Table, It Is Never Close Enough"
It just doesn't feel right to have one's butt that close to another person's face, no matter the circumstance and even if medicine requires it. That is why, no matter how close my doctor tells me to scoot my butt down to the end of the examination table, I never seem to get it close enough. Never. Not after the dozens of times I've had to do it over the course of two pregnancies, nor after the other regular times I've just had to do it for routine pap smears and appointments. It just doesn't seem natural.
"There Damn Well Better Be Nothing Wrong With This Pap"
Listen, I've got a lot on my plate as it is. One kid is in kindergarten and the other is in preschool. If there is anything abnormal about this pap smear, and I have to shlep all the way back up here to the Upper East Side from Brooklyn, I am going to be mighty pissed (to say nothing of the Earth-shattering freakout that I will endure if I get a weird phone call about my test results).
Let's just pray that everything is fine and I can go about my business as usual after this appointment. But until I get the test results, I will be imagining all the various horrible outcomes that might occur and will be savoring my last few moments on this planet until then.