I was asked to lie down and put my legs up

Every once in a while, there comes a moment in every girl’s life when she needs to have ‘the talk’ with her mother. It is embarrassing, and it can quickly spiral out of hand, but this is a conversation you can’t avoid, trust me. 

As I couldn’t. My nether regions had been feeling weird for a while. I couldn’t tell my friends, of course, because it was...kinda private. I looked it up online and immediately closed the tab because the internet doctor said I probably have vaginal cancer with three months to live. So I did what any independent, mature woman would do - I called mommy. 

Mom, of course, began with her usual tirade. She went on a vehement trip about how the new-fangled ‘intimate washes’ were really bad and how she was sure I wasn’t changing my panties as often as I should. Then she did the unthinkable - she asked me if I have had multiple sexual partners...you know, because I live alone and all. 

The next thing I knew was that I was sitting in a gynaecologist’s office with Mom. I hadn’t even opened my mouth before my mother started talking about how I was feeling weird down under and how she thinks it could be related to habits I am not telling her about. I slouched low in the chair, and then jolted upright the moment the gynaec spoke, “Have you had sex with multiple partners?” I didn’t know what to say! I mean, really, in front of my mother? 

A few painful moments went by. I could feel my mother’s piercing gaze boring through the side of my face when I sheepishly answered, “Maybe…” and then her eyes widened in horror when I cleared my throat with “One or two people. Maybe three in all. Oh no, wait, four. Yes. I have had four relationships in the last 10 years or so.” 

At this point, Mom was sitting with her elbows on the table, head held in her hands. I refused to look at her. I even turned away a little, trying to block her from my sight. But the gynaecologist wasn’t done. She was intent on butchering me: “And you used a condom every time?”

My life flashed before my eyes. It was like a fast forwarded movie sequence. Was there a condom every time? I think so. Oh wait, no, not every time. I winced at how this was going to be even more painful. I muttered, “Mostly.” Mom’s head sunk deeper. I turned away a little more. 

“Hmm, so you are around 30, and you’ve been sexually active, not always with a condom. I don’t get you young people. Do you not see how a condom can prevent sexual diseases? Or is pleasure more important to you than safety,” the gynaec droned on. I died with every syllable she spoke. Mom was in heaven by now. 

Then she said something alarming. I may have exposed myself to the Human Papillomavirus - or HPV. She must have seen my reaction because she hastened to explain that it is an STD that happens to almost everyone at some point in their lives. She mentioned that sexual contact with multiple partners is a prime reason for it, but it can also spread from low immunity. And it can affect the vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus - anything! Most of it goes away on its own, but Types 16 and 18 could lead to cancer. 

I stole a glance at mom and there were tears streaming down her face. The doctor said there was nothing to worry about, and a simple test could check for the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells in the cervix. I just had to do a pap smear test. 

I went in the next day for the pap smear test. I went alone this time, thank you! I was asked to lie down and put my legs up on the stirrups - a scary proposition in itself. I was feeling mildly shy about how literally all of me was on display, but then I saw this steel thing in the doctor’s hand. It was a speculum, she said. It would hold my cervix wide, she said. I died. *That* was going to go inside?

I felt the cold steel inside, followed by what seemed like a tiny pinch. And then I was asked to put my legs down and get dressed. There was no pain. And in a few days, the results were in - I didn’t have the HPV and I was to get back for another pap smear test next year. 

On my way back from the doctor’s, I couldn’t help but Google the number of instances of cervical cancer in the country. Did you know it is believed that 1 in 53 women in India may get cervical cancer soon, and this is really bad, because developed countries only see 1 in 100 women affected. I wonder how much of this could be stemmed if we women only knew about how pap smear can help detect cancerous cells in the cervix?

A pap smear test is simple, really. And it can detect cancerous cells way ahead of time in the cervix. More importantly, for people that have had multiple sexual partners, chemotherapy and have lowered immunity, pap smear is an excellent way to check for the chances of cervical cancer. If you have only been with one man, still get a pap smear test because there is a chance the virus lies dormant inside you. 

There is also a vaccine available against HPV. Ideally, vaccinate your girl child at the age of 11 or 12. In some cases, vaccines might be given till age 26. Talk to your doctor about both screening and vaccination. You don’t want to be in my position - not when you are feeling weird down below and have to visit the gynaec with your mother…!

*Author’s name withheld for privacy reasons

Feature Image Source: tqn.com