It’s easy to be overwhelmed during a doctor’s visit – for infertility or any health concern. Your doctor has a long white coat, an impressive credential and an incredible knowledge base.
But it’s important to remember there are TWO experts in the room: 1) the doctor and 2) YOU.
As the patient, you are the expert in your own body, your own experiences and your own feelings.
This is particularly important in reproductive health. There’s a problematic history where women were dismissed as “histrionic,” which roughly translates to “her womb is making this woman crazy.”
Have you ever felt treated that way?
Did you know that doctors and nurses often dismiss or minimize women’s pain? Racial and ethnic minorities too. Women and people who belong to minority groups are less likely to get pain medicine and likely to get less of it.
Establishing a dynamic of teamwork early in your relationships can be helpful and empowering. Here are some practical tips to consider:
Write down your symptoms and concerns: writing them down will help make sure you get an opportunity to share everything you want to share.
Assert your preferences: are you concerned about a certain intervention? Or concerned you’re missing a diagnosis? Say so. And say the words, “I am concerned about [x] and I want to make sure you understand.”
Bring a buddy: If you would like support, bring your partner, a family member or a trusted friend who can help you make sure you share what you need to share and your doctor hears you. Share your goals with them ahead of time.
Get a second opinion: If your doctor or other clinician doesn’t make you feel like you’re a part of a team, see someone else. You deserve to be respected.
And please don’t give up. I research health communication, and even I have been made to feel small in the doctor’s office.
I’ve been told, “just keep having sex, honey” even when I knew there was a problem. And been forced into tests that I knew from my own research were more likely to upset me than yield any actionable information. And even been touched on the shoulder, looked in the eye and told by an older white male physician, “don’t worry; I’ll get you pregnant.” And, “you just need to let go and let me handle it.”
You are knowledgeable about your own body. You are knowledgeable about your own feelings and values. Keep demanding to be heard.
Catherine, PhD, MPH (CJHSnaps), a researcher in patient communication who also struggles with infertility.