Getting A Smear Test After a Bad Experience

smear tests after a bad experience - cervical screening leaflet cover

Well, it was that time again. It’s been (nearly) three years since my last smear test. It was time for another one. And I was terrified. Let’s recap, after my initial smear test/ cervical screening, I wrote what turned out to be one of the most engaged with posts I’ve ever written about how unpleasant my experience was. So, when the reminder letter dropped a month or so ago, I was filled with nothing but dread about the concept of booking another. This month, let’s talk about having a smear test after a bad experience.  

Just to clarify, I mean I smear test after a bad experience having a smear test. I know smear fear can come after assault, a traumatic birth or a whole range of other issues involving the gynaecologist’s office. If that’s how you found yourself here, I’m terribly sorry about your bad experience, but this one probably isn’t the post you’re looking for.   

My First Smear Test 

I wrote the post after my first smear with a lot of internal conflict. No part of me wanted to put anyone off getting their screening. It’s important and definitely shouldn’t be ignored. But, as with many experiences to do with female health, it’s always referred to as uncomfortable and never anything more. I wanted to be the one to say sometimes it’s a lot more than uncomfortable, and you’re not the only one who feels that way.  

I’d had multiple exams/ swabs etc prior to my first smear test, so I wasn’t necessarily afraid of the process or unfamiliar with the stirrups, but I was nervous for some (still) unkown reason and it was far more painful that I’d anticipated.  

In that post three years ago, I was trying to be delicate with how I was describing the pain because I didn’t want to put anyone off. And I still said it felt like I was being ripped open while trying to downplay the pain.  

Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to the repeat. And I had some underlying anxiety about being in a doctor’s office in general with covid still around. To make things worse, it was going to be the same nurse.  

Reader, yes, I was borderline hyperventilating in the waiting room.  

Prior to something you’re supposed to be nice and relaxed for – peachy.  

My Second Screening 

Upon going in, I was trying as hard as possible to stay relaxed. Easier said than done, but I was quite proud of how the nervous wreck in the waiting room managed to pull herself together on the walk down to the exam room.  

I avoided letting the nurse know that I was feeling slightly traumatised from my first one, but asked for the smaller speculum to make things easier. She needed to leave the room to get another one, and I think that minute to myself to compose myself in position, with her gone, was really helpful.  

cervical screening leaflet

Getting A Smear Test After A Bad Experience 

The point of this post?  

I was the same young woman I was three years prior with an even worse fear of what was about to happen. She was the same nurse who took the previous swabs. It was the same doctor’s surgery. And I’m pretty sure it was even the same exam room.  

But my experience could not have been more different.  

Overall, it was fine. Things were slightly uncomfortable as she was inserting the speculum, but we’re talking a 2 or 3 out of 10 on the pain scale, nothing unmanageable.  

Then, just as I was pleased we were over the worst of it, my cervix was hiding again. And, being as transparent as possible, I would be lying if I didn’t say that was still extremely difficult. I went from a 2/10 to a solid 7 in about 3 seconds as she tried to gain access to my cervix, but that part was over in less than a minute. As with my first time, I felt nothing as she took the sample and everything was fine as she was removing everything. One minute of pain for a 15 minute appointment was not the end of the world.  

After the screening 

I had my screening done late afternoon. I went home for wine and chocolate, on a Monday, experienced some slight discomfort and tenderness for the rest of the evening and felt absolutely fine on Tuesday. I also didn’t experience any spotting or bleeding after this one, for the first time ever.  

Yes, these things aren’t always pleasant, and for some of us they can be more unpleasant than they are for others. But I just wanted to say that it doesn’t always have to be bad. One experience does not necessarily predetermine the next, no matter what your fears and/ or anxiety is trying to tell you.  

And, finally, book your cervical screening. I can’t stress enough how much I had to force myself to pick up the phone after my first one, but if you’re due or overdue, please don’t put it off any longer. This time could be better.  

Some tips 

If you’re anything like me, being told to relax only makes you more stressed about the fact you’re not relaxed, so I thought I’d share a few tips on how to get yourself through it: 

  • Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling – Take a minute to hyperventilate, give yourself a pep talk, do whatever you need to do, but try to do it before you enter the room and psych yourself up before you go in. Entering the room in better spirits helps. 
  • Ask for the smaller speculum if you want/ need it – A lot of women aren’t aware they come in different sizes. They do! And they have them, don’t be afraid to ask for one if you think it will help.  
  • Take a moment – As I said, her leaving the room for a minute really helped me get my head ready. If you need a minute at any stage, ask for patience. Say you’d like a moment to get comfortable before they begin. The actual exam shouldn’t take long, you have time to take a few extra moments if you need it.  
  • Articulate what you need or how you’re feeling – I chose not to tell my nurse about my sense of impending doom, but I did tell her (in the post polite way possible) I’ll likely tense up if she asked me to relax, so please don’t and mentioned when things were getting more uncomfortable. Communication is helpful.  

I’m going to say it once more, please book your test if it’s due. And I hope your next experience in the doctor’s office is as pleasant as possible.  

Until next time, 

Sophie 

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