Her First Visit to the Gynecologist
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you schedule your daughter for her first visit to a gynecologist when she is between thirteen and fifteen years of age. Other experts recommend a much earlier visit. The exact age depends on the individual girl, but you should make this an exciting time for your daughter because this visit shows that she has successfully completed puberty and is now — biologically speaking — a young woman.
As a result, your girl is now ready for an appropriate physical examination, one that only young women get to have. Point out to her how lucky she is to be one. “It's the men who are discriminated against. They cannot bear children. And no one's likely to do anything about that,” according to Golda Meir. Still, some girls freak out when they find out they are scheduled for their first gynecological exam, which does not have to include a pelvic exam but often does. That is the reason you want to mention the topic ahead of time and discuss with your girl how important all aspects of her health are.
The prefix gyno- means “woman” or “female,” as in gynecocracy, the government by women. The rest of the word -cology means the medical science of health issues. Therefore, a gynecologist is a doctor specializing in working with female health concerns, including menstruation and the various choices of contraception.
Preparing for the Exam
Tell your daughter that getting ready for a GYN exam is like getting ready for any other medical checkup, except she should not be having her period at that time. Even better, let her choose with whom she wants to have her first one. She has the following choices:
Her pediatrician, with whom she is familiar. Many pediatricians perform pelvic and breast exams for teenage girls.
A gynecologist, either her mother's, a new one, or the one her girlfriends like.
A nurse practitioner. This medical professional has advanced training in women's reproductive health.
Your daughter can discuss the gynecologist options with her girlfriends who can put her at ease and most likely tell her that there is nothing to it. Some girls even ask their best friend along to wait in the waiting room — as a support system, the more the merrier.
Reasons for an Exam
No one likes to see a doctor for no reason, so it is best to inform your girl that her GYN exam has four main purposes:
A routine examination, to make sure she is developing normally.
A preventive measure before she has sex, and to discuss birth control and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) long before the fact, not afterward.
A fix-it doctor visit, in case she should have problems with her periods, pain, or an infection.
A discussion about giving your daughter an STD (sexually transmitted disease) vaccine, unless you have already dealt with this issue.
Once your daughter realizes what a great opportunity this is to ask a medical expert whatever questions about all sorts of diseases or her development may have been on her mind, she may have lots of queries. Teach her to write them down before the visit, so she will not forget them. If she doesn't want you in the examination room, by all means comply with her wishes. You want your girl to feel as comfortable as possible and to speak as freely as she wants to. Therefore, go over the names of her reproductive body parts with her at home before the checkup, so she will not stumble over the words or have to ask the doctor what exactly they mean. Lack of familiarity with the various terms can make her feel embarrassed, but familiarity with them will empower her.
The CDC (the Centers for Disease Control) now advises all parents to have their daughters in middle school vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV). This is a common sexually transmitted disease, and is — according to scientists — connected to 70 percent of all cervical cancers.
Some states now want to require all girls entering middle school get the HPV vaccine, but some parents do not trust the immunizations. Yet whether you feel like they do, or not, your daughter's first visit to a gynecologist is a perfect time for him/her to talk about the topic of sexually transmitted diseases.
Talk to your daughter in depth about the anatomy and function of her body. If you want to, pick up an illustrated pamphlet from the doctor's office, give it to her in advance to read, and ask if she has any questions. Some daughters are very curious. They want to know all the details: the location and description of every body facet that makes them so special. Others just want to have their checkup over with and get on to other things. You know your daughter best, so you know how to handle the situation.
Fast GYN Exam Facts
Your daughter's first GYN exam will start with a breast exam, during which the doctor will press lightly on the various parts of your daughter's breasts and show her how to examine her own breasts. As a result, she will know which lumps are normal for her in the future. After that comes the pelvic exam during which the doctor makes sure everything looks okay outside the vagina. Then with the help of a speculum — a thin piece of plastic or metal — the doctor will investigate to make sure everything inside is okay as well. Sometimes the doctor will do a pap smear, which includes picking up some cells from the cervix, the opening of the uterus. Other times, this will come at a later visit. None of these procedures takes very long, so you and your daughter will have plenty of time left to schedule a special outing afterward.
After the GYN Exam
Your daughter will feel glad to get her first pelvic checkup behind her. She might tell you about some of the questions she remembered to ask, or not. But having her first female medical exam over with will make her feel more grown-up, and the next one will be a piece of cake. You, the parent, will be happy that you can mark this important event off your to-do list. Getting your girl over any awkwardness in dealing with the health of her female parts and making her smarter about every inch of her wonderful body and its upkeep is a great step. Rejoice with her. Should she be quiet or lost in thought; that is all right, too. As mentioned previously, every girl reacts differently to this female checkup. Maybe up to now she had not given the intricacies of her physical being much thought. Suddenly it is dawning on her just how miraculous the workings of her body are. But if your daughter's apparent down mood seems to linger, be sure you find out why.