For Ladies Only: How Cerebral Palsy Impacts Pelvic Exams

I was an undergraduate in college when I finally relented to undergoing the “dreaded exam.”

It knew it involved being naked and vulnerable.

It knew it was “the healthy thing to do.”

I knew I had menstrual cramps that were excruciating.

What I didn’t know was that my cerebral palsy would make this exam significantly more challenging.

I didn’t know that my legs were going to be stretched out so far in the lithotomy position that they would spasm the entire time.

I didn’t know that after I left Health Services at SCSU, my hips would be in pain for over a week.

Neither did my physician.

“Are you okay?” she asked with an interesting and concerned look on her face.

“Yes?!”  I replied confused, shaking, and frustrated.  How was I supposed to respond?  My girlfriends had told me everything I should expect but no one mentioned positioning difficulties or muscle spasms.

 She finished quickly then offered to assist me in stepping off the table.

Perhaps this is the price you pay to be a woman.

That was nearly 10 years ago, and I’ve several exams since, most of them from physicians, who, if I were to guess, have treated very few patients with cerebral palsy.  I still find them stressful, vulnerable, and challenging.  Really, what woman doesn’t?  But here is what I wish I would have known and would now like to pass on to the” ladies only,”

  1. Unfortunately, pelvic exams will be yet another area of your life that is going to be more challenging for you than other women who don’t have spastic leg muscles.  Now I can communicate this to my doctor ahead of time and we can work together to find a solution. You may even want to mention that you have CP when you call to make your appointment.  Bottom line: There’s no need to be in pain for a week following an exam.
  2. Find a compassionate and skilled physician.  I’ve had gynecologists stare me in the face and say, “CP doesn’t have any effect on you.”  It does though and you need to find someone who understands this or is willing to be compassionate in the midst of their lack of personal understanding.  If you don’t have a good experience with one physician, try another.  You may simply need to find a skilled physician who can complete the exam quickly and has the sense to ask if you need any accommodations. There are alternative positions and ways to compete the exam.
  3. Make your health a priority. All women, able-bodied and disabled need regular checkups.  According to NIH, “The National Study of Women with Physical Disabilities found that 94% of respondents were sexually active with sexually transmitted infection rates the same as in women with no disability.”