How to start medically advocating for yourself

How to start medically advocating for yourself

Going to the doctor’s can be a daunting and overwhelming task.

The New York Times recently released data about ‘medical gaslighting’ and, tbh, it’s not surprising.

“Studies show that female patients and people of color are more likely to have their symptoms dismissed by medical providers.” The expert advice given? Keep asking questions.

That’s exactly what August and Twentyeight Health want to encourage as well. Ask the burning questions, and don’t question the validity of them – YOU know your body best. Doctors come into play for the solutions to better the health of your body.

Keep reading for tips about gender inclusive OB/GYNs, how to talk to parents/guardians about birth control, and more!

Let’s start at the beginning: How to talk about puberty for the first time

First of all, be unapologetic! It's totally natural for you to be going through puberty (like body hair & your period & emotions you didn’t think were possible!)

Depending on what insights you’re looking for, you could choose to start these conversations with just one person, a couple different people, or or a bunch of trusted post-puberty role models! Whoever you choose to tell, make sure you do so at a time and in a place where YOU feel most comfortable.

You could tell them verbally (either face to face or on the phone), you could also tell them through text or even write them a letter! If it’s just period products you’re looking for, you could always just sneak it onto the grocery list…

Basically, once you get past the first conversation about puberty, it will hopefully become normal!

Okay so you’ve passed basic puberty…When should you go to your first OB/GYN appointment?

“We suggest coming to see an OB/GYN just to say hi at some point as a teenager, whether you're sexually active or not. You can ask us all of your questions. We will recommend testing for sexually transmitted infections if you are sexually active (even if it's just oral sex). We don't start doing pap smears until you are 21 years old!" – Dr. Heather Irobunda, from the August Medical Board

It’s always good to remember that an OB/GYN is not just for birth control or pregnancy related topics! If you are sexually active it is great to get STI tested at your OB/GYN. Also, if you get periods and are interested in helping regulate your cycle, ease cycle symptoms, help with skin issues, or PCOS symptoms the OB/GYN can assist with those topics too!

What kind of things do OB/GYNs check for?

The gynecological exam includes a pelvic exam, a pap smear test, a breast exam and possibly a urine sample. The pap smear checks for precancerous or cancerous cells. It is recommended that people receive a pap smear every three years, if you are between the ages of 21 to 29 years old. People older than 30 can get both pap smears and HPV (human papillomavirus) once every five years. You can also talk to your OB/GYN about birth control and other questions you might have about your changing body. You are always welcome to have a nurse/staff member present while a gynecological exam takes place, all you have to do is ask (it is not weird and totally normal).

How can I make sure that the OB/GYN I am going to is gender inclusive?

The best way to start is by word-of-mouth. Ask any gender non-conforming people in your network about gender-inclusive OB/GYNs and their local OB/GYN experiences. Another great option is to visit an 2SLGBTQIA+ center in your city and ask them for recommendations. If you are up for some solo research, check online and read the reviews of all your local OB/GYNS. One definite indicator of an inclusive practitioner is their language. For example, are they using inclusive language like ‘menstruator’, ‘people with a uterus’, ‘person on their period’, etc. ?

In partnership with Schuyler Bailar, August created a ‘Gender Inclusivity Guide’ that (obviously) mostly focuses on periods but also provides some insights into opening up space for gender inclusivity byway of advocacy and education! Check it out HERE. If you are specifically interested in learning more about advocating for yourself as a part of the Transgender and Non-binary community you can read more HERE.

So you’re thinking about birth control? How do you bring up THAT conversation?

Talking to guardians, parents, and partners about sex and birth control sounds much scarier than it really is! For some people this is a comfortable and open conversation, but for others it can bring to the surface differing opinions.

You may be nervous that your guardians/ parents will be upset or angry if you bring up the topic of how to get on birth control, but more likely than not, they will be grateful that you want to protect your health. Open the conversation in a comfortable and safe environment – you don’t want to feel rushed or cornered into anything. Tell them what it is you are interested in and how they can help (if that is what you want). Don’t forget to ask any questions that you may have! And remember, your parents went through all of this once upon a time…

If you’re interested in having a direct conversation with a doctor, that’s great too! You can always be honest about your needs with your doctor, after all they are there to support your medical needs! You should be able to schedule doctor’s appointments without your guardian’s help if you would like, but in some states you will need parental consent to receive birth control medication.

I think I’ve noticed some irregularities with my period…How do I make sure my doctor is really hearing out my concerns?

YOU know your body. You and you alone have a front row seat to any changes that you see in your reproductive health. Although there are some changes that commonly occur (even into later adulthood!), there might be an underlying issue that could be solved with a proper diagnosis. Stand your ground and come to your doctor prepared with tracked periods, descriptions of any irregularities, and any other symptoms that you may have observed in your body.

Hopefully, as society gets more comfy talking about reproductive health, sex education, and all the beautifully embarassing stuff that comes with it, you won’t need to ‘medically advocate’ for yourself. Until then, stick with us and know that we’re here to empower you and your journey to get to know your body’s needs!

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This article was written in collaboration with Twentyeight Health and August.

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