Vaginal examinations- something every woman or birthing person has to have when they give birth, right?
Well, no, you don’t have to have any if you don’t want them.
But why wouldn’t you want one? Surely, you’d want to know how close your baby is to being born? Surely, you need to know how dilated your cervix is?
We live in a society where vaginal examinations in birth have become the norm. We expect to turn up at the hospital or for the midwife to arrive at our house and to have an examination. It’s just part of the normal care we expect to be given.
The thing is- it’s not that simple.
Unfortunately, vaginal examinations aren’t the holy grail they are reported to be and in some cases they can actually be harmful- physically, emotionally and psychologically. So, here’s a few little myths busted for you…
1) If I have a vaginal examination, then I’ll know how close my baby is to being born.
No. Believe me, it would be great if this were true but unfortunately a midwife’s fingers do not have the ability to predict the future from the inside or the outside of your body. In my experience the best person to know when the baby is coming is YOU. A vaginal examination may find your cervix to be 1cm dilated, this doesn’t mean your baby isn’t coming soon and the same applies if your cervix is 8, 9, or 10 cm dilated, too. In fact, you may find a crystal ball to be more accurate on some occasions… try it and see.
2) There’s no harm in having a vaginal examination.
Actually, this is far from true. When a midwife inserts her fingers, she will be pushing bacteria from the outside, to the inside. Moving bacteria from its natural place, to somewhere it shouldn’t be. A large study carried out back in 1997, showed that once your waters have broken, the more examinations you have, the higher your risk of developing an infection. There’s also the potential to cause bleeding, to break your waters accidentally, too.
3) It must be proven to benefit women or birthing people, if it’s so commonly used.
No. The only scientific evidence found in a review from 2013 was of ‘unclear quality’- ie not very reliable. There were only two studies they were able to include- one compared rectal and vaginal examinations and one compared 2 hourly examinations with 4 hourly examinations. Neither shone light on anything useful- but you will be pleased to know that the authors concluded that due to maternal discomfort, vaginal examinations were probably more preferable than rectal examinations. Yup, that’s the science we have on the topic.
4) I don’t have a choice, I have to have one.
No. Just as in day to day life, you get to decide if anyone is allowed to put their fingers into your vagina. It doesn’t matter if it’s a midwife, a doctor or your local florist. If you don’t want their fingers in your vagina, then they don’t get to put their fingers in your vagina. Period.
5) They won’t let me into the Labour Ward without an examination first.
See my point above. If any care is being withheld due to the fact you have declined an examination- simply ask if you can speak to the Manger-on-Call and you’ll soon find yourself being listened to. You should never be in a situation where you feel coerced into accepting an examination, please don’t ever feel like you have to conform. Your vagina, your choice.
And that’s that. Vaginal examinations are not all they are cracked up to be, if you don’t want one, don’t have one. If you do want one, make sure you fully understand what it involves and its limitations and always take the results with a pinch of salt. It’s your birth, your body and your choice.
If you feel you need any support in this matter- you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like support during the birth itself, then I am also available to work in the capacity as your doula and will gladly support you towards a birth that’s right for you.