Just a quick disclaimer:
Please remember that in this post, I talk about my experiences and mine alone. I understand that not everyone will have the same experience as me. Some people may experience more pain and discomfort than me. Some people may not feel any at all. Some people (probably) enjoy it. Only you, dear reader, know your body in the same way that you can’t know mine. I see people kicking off about this sort of thing on Twitter all the time so I want to get this bit out of the way early.
I understand that there are many legitimate reasons as to why someone may not wish to undergo a smear test. It’s entirely optional and 100% down to the individual as to whether or not they have one. Obviously I would encourage it – like it could literally save your life, simple as that – but I don’t wanna preach or shame people for not having one.
Also if you’re my parents, grandparents or generally don’t want to know the er, “details” (not to put too finer point on it) you might want to avoid this one altogether and tune back when there’s something less…intense.
Okay, on with the show:
I had a smear test.
It wasn’t that bad.
It also means that (hopefully) I won’t have to do it again for another three years.
I probably received my first letter in the post just before I turned 25. I thought “Oh, I should probably book that soon,” and then didn’t. I think with me it was more a case of “I’ll get around to it,” rather than a fear of embarrassment. I just kept putting it off, and off, and off. I turn 26 NEXT MONTH (holy shit, hadn’t even realised) so I thought that procrastinating for close to a year was bad form, even by my standards.
I went for a contraception review about a week ago and I was leaving, I thought “sod it, I’m gonna just do it.” It’s better to be safe than sorry, and Clark had been gently encouraging me to go for a good few months, so it would keep him quiet if nothing else. (I’m kidding – it’s nice to have someone care enough to continuously remind you not to get cancer). I booked it for as soon as was physically possible to get it out the way.
I did some tentative research into how people with Fibromyalgia found their smear tests, and found differing results. I was already expecting pain going into the experience, because it really doesn’t take much to set it off these days. The main bulk of the pain I have on a daily basis is in my hips, legs, knees and ankles. This is usually worse after sex (for obvious reasons) so I figured it was safe to assume that this would bring a similar result – although perhaps a little less vigorous.
Now, I won’t lie and say that it was an enjoyable experience. Unless you have a very specific set of hobbies, there’s nothing really that pleasant about laying on your back with your heels together, knees apart with a nurse shining a torch up your vag and then rummaging around with something that looks like a tiny candelabra on a stick.
When the day arrived, I wasn’t as nervous as I’d expected to be. I’m normally the sort of person who’ll wait for Clark to leave the room before I get changed, but apparently, getting my va-jay-jay out in front of a total stranger? No problem-o.
When the nurse called me through, she asked me a few questions about my menstrual cycle and contraception choice, and left me behind a curtain to get undressed from the waist down. I then lay on the couch and covered myself with a paper sheet. I had a weird hide-and-seek mentality going on, now I think about it. I decided to wear a dress & tights for “easy access,” so between that and a massive sheet of paper towel I was using to preserve what was left of my modesty, it all felt very “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me” Somehow that made me feel a lot more comfortable than if I’d had to take off trousers or leggings. Side note – I think if you’re nervous about having someone see your bits in such a stark context, that’s the sort of friendly advice I’d give you – dress or skirt, all the way – or if you’re not that way inclined and you’d prefer to wear trousers, then maybe throw a very big shirt on over the top.
Once I was ready, she got me into position and popped the speculum in.
Honestly, this was the bit I was most worried about. Speculums look, frankly, terrifying. Like a duck. I wasn’t to excited by the possibility that it would very soon be allowing access to a part of my body that I have never even seen myself. I shouldn’t have worried, because it was fine. I didn’t realise that they’re adjustable, so they go in flat and then there’s a twisty bit so that they open when they’re inside you. This is probably obvious to everyone other than me, but I’d never really thought about it until it was crunch time. Either way, it did a fine job of holding open the walls of the vagina so the nurse could prod the cervix with her little arrow-head.
When it was at, er, full-mast, it was a little bit uncomfortable – to me it felt like that weird heavy ache you get in your lower stomach just before you’re about to start your period. It was actually quite a familiar sensation – for me at least, obviously I can’t speak for everyone. The nurse used the spoolie thing to gently brush the walls of the cervix and collect some of the cells, then put the head of the brush into a pot to be sent off for testing. Now, at this point I feel it’s important for me to remind people that everyone will experience these things differently. Everyone’s body is different. Everyone’s pain threshold is different – but I want to be completely transparent with my experience, so I won’t hold anything back – and I’ll be honest and say that I did feel some pain during this part of the process. It wasn’t intense pain – given that I have fibromyalgia, I definitely experience worse on a daily basis – but because it was in an area of my body that has never experienced that sort of sensation before, it was a bit of a shock. The nurse also had to remind me to relax a couple of times, so perhaps it would have been easier if I wasn’t so tense. Again, it felt sort of like a period pain, but in one very specific spot, if that makes sense. It was unpleasant, but bearable – it lasted for less than thirty seconds and, unlike period pains, it stopped immediately when the nurse stopped scraping. It’s a difficult sensation to explain because it was over so quickly and I’ve never felt it before, but it wasn’t horrible – just surprising.
The whole test probably took less than five minutes from beginning to end. In fact, it literally took me longer to put my tights back on afterwards, because apparently I can’t perform under pressure. Plus now, providing that my results come back normal in 6 weeks time, I won’t have to do another one for three years. Yes, it was weird and a little uncomfortable but painful it was not – and to be honest, it wasn’t actually that embarrassing either.
The nurse warned me that I might experience some light bleeding or spotting for the next couple of days, but so far I haven’t had any problems. The only thing was that it made me really need to pee – although my theory is that I’ve conditioned myself to always pee after sex so I don’t end up with a water infection, so I think my body just kind of assumed that someone had stuck a penis in there and went “you should probably pee now!!” Not really relevant and also probably way too much information, but I just found it interesting.
In terms of the way it affected the Fibro – I did have more pain and stiffness than average in my legs afterwards as I walked to my favourite cafe (Hoxton Bakehouse) to treat myself to coffee and a pastry (turns out they don’t give out stickers for smear tests), but it faded to normal levels within a few hours. The tiredness that came from getting up early for an 8.30am appointment was probably worse, if I’m being wholly honest.
So what have we learnt? I survived, it wasn’t embarrassing or painful and, even though I won’t get my results for 6-8 weeks, it was definitely worth it – plus now I don’t have to worry about it until I’m almost 29!!
If you have any questions or queries about my experience with either my smear test, fibromyalgia or both, feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks very much for reading,