So of course, as was my biggest anxiety, I was paired with someone who was incredibly horribly anxious about doing the pelvic exams. I was, in turn, incredibly horribly anxious about hurting her, missing some crutial cue, overstepping some bound, you know...causing permanent psychological damage on top of the history she already had.
This is of course a hugely difficult place to be in.
And, to clarify, they have told us TIME AND AGAIN that we did not have to do this. We need, for our own education, to DO the examining, but we do not need to be examined ourselves. It is, of course, far easier for everyone involved if everyone consents to be examined. And the program is set up to make that pretty much the default. But there is more than enough room for someone, especially someone like my partner who had blanched and been unable to even TALK about being the subject of this exercise, to decline altogether.
Knowing that she decided to go forth anyway, after I had made it clear in a way that I think she really believed that I would not in any way even think of holding it against her or think badly of her for declining and would go about my merry way being examined twice to keep the balance, really really really really (can I say that enough times) helped my nerves. At that point I felt like I had 'cleaned house' and gotten off my chest the idea that *I* was somehow responsible for bringing her into this situation. I was not. The situation was there and she made it clear to me and to our instructor (these sessions take place in groups of three students and one instructor) that she wanted to go forward.
I do not know whether the experience was healing for her. It isn't like birth that way, where you can have healing from a former violence to the genitals simply by having someone be gentle. But I was excrutiatingly careful to get explicit consent for every single action, down to movements and motions, and to by eye contact make as sure as I possibly could that she was doing OK with everything.
She did not, as another student did, DANCE (literally) into the review room afterwards so happy about her experience. But she did tell me that she felt like she was so much closer to her own personal recovery and comfortability in her own body than she had been the day before. Which is, I think, monumental. I don't think that I had much of a part to play in that at all. I was simply the person that was there, accessory to the psychological battle she'd fought and won over the course of this week.
This is, I think, an important lesson for me to learn. I have been worried, awfully worried, about the statistics of abuse and the probability of dealing with women who are, to varying degrees, fragile because of this. The position of midwife is one of immense responsibility in this regard. It is right up there in my top worries about my future as a practicing midwife. And seeing that all it took was my INTENT not to hurt her and my care in checking in with her to achieve the end-result of her not feeling hurt is simply earth-shattering in importance to me.
There are a lot of things to process from this week but this is the one that I have taken with me in the hour and a half of drive-time each way on my commute each day this week.