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Confession: I became a midwife because I hate pelvic exams.

I mean, yes—I am in awe of pregnancy. And I can vividly remember the New York City cab ride I took home after witnessing my first birth, where I sat teary-eyed and beaming and said, "This is it. This is my life now."

But really, it all began with pelvic exams. Because let's be honest: They are awful.

As a patient, it took me years before I was able to get through the entire exam; I had to schedule multiple appointments to make it happen the first time. At my first appointment, knowing how terrified I was, my extremely caring nurse practitioner just had me put the gown on and practice lying on the table. The next time, I put my feet in the foot-rests. I don't remember exactly what number visit I had my first actual speculum exam, but it was a lot.

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Through it all, I kept thinking about how I couldn't be the only one out there that hated this—even though no one talked about it. I decided that I wanted to be part of the movement that was going to make pelvic care respectful.

Despite my difficulties as a young adult, I am lucky. Because the upsetting truth is that our medical system is not set up to support the sensitive type of care that I received. Most people with vaginas are rushed through the process of a pelvic exam without consideration of the profound impact they can have.

The pelvis is complex, beautiful and powerful. It is also the home of some of our deepest vulnerabilities. And for people that have experienced sexual assault or traumatic birth, or for people who have vaginas but do not identify as female—well, the experience of a pelvic exam can be downright awful.

Plus, our society has ingrained a very negative emotional connection to the pelvis: It is dirty, gross, lewd…and wrong.

A huge part of the problem is the speculum—that metal or plastic device that brings a sense of dread to probably all of us.


Enter Yona.

Yona is made of a team of designers who have set out to redesign the speculum, and thus significantly improve the pelvic exam experience.



Freethink made an excellent video explaining this amazing new speculum concept. (Highly worth the less-than-six minute watch. But please note, they share some quotes of people who have had traumatic pelvic exams, which may be triggering for some.)

Freethink's video shares the very upsetting history of the speculum we all know and… hate:

They were designed by a man and tested on enslaved women. As Yona team member, Hailey Stewart, an Industrial Designer and Design Researcher, says, "putting the comfort of the patient first was certainly not on the top of his list."

Using a method called "radical empathy" (we love them already), the team at Yona has set out to change it all. They are also addressing the fact that "not all people with a vagina identify as female;" every person with a vagina deserves to have appropriate medical care to prevent life-threatening diseases, such as cervical cancer.

The new speculum design offers the following innovative features:

  • Improved view-field (so your provider does not have to expand the speculum as wide to see what they need to see)
  • Relaxed handle angle (so you don't have to move your bottom as close to the edge of the table as you currently do)
  • Single-handed operation (so your provider only needs to use hand to operate the speculum)
  • Concealed locking (so you don't have to hear of feel all that clicking)
  • Silicone coating (so you can say good-bye to the discomfort of metal or plastic)

So much YES, I can't even handle it.

Yona is not available in providers' offices yet. But you can check out their page for ideas on how to make this vision a reality (for example, share this information with your provider, and ask them to bring Yona in the office).

In the meantime, here's what you need to know about pelvic exams:

1. In the absence of symptoms or concerns, experts are not sure how often you need one.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG):

"A limited number of studies have evaluated the benefits and harms of a screening pelvic examination for detection of ovarian cancer, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes. Data from these studies are inadequate to support a recommendation for or against performing a routine screening pelvic examination among asymptomatic, nonpregnant [person] who are not at increased risk of any specific gynecologic condition. Data on its effectiveness for screening for other gynecologic conditions are lacking."

In other words, we don't know enough yet. Ultimately their recommendation is this: "Pelvic examinations should be performed when indicated by medical history or symptoms… [or] if a [person] expresses a preference for the examination."

2. You should still see your pelvic health provider every year

Even if they don't do a pelvic exam, it's important to meet with your provider yearly to discuss your health and make sure you are up to date on screenings, vaccines, etc.

3. One of the most important aspects of a pelvic exam is the pap smear (a swab of the cervix that checks for cancerous or precancerous cells)

When a pap smear detects abnormal cells, there are several treatment modalities available to prevent it from progressing. And, if it is cancer, treatment is available and often effective.

Here are the current Pap smear guidelines for people without a history of abnormal results, according to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force:

  • People age 21 to 65 years: Pap smear every three years
  • People age 30 to 65 who would like to lengthen the screening interval: Pap smear with human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every five years

If you have a history of abnormal results, your provider will guide you towards your specific recommendations.

4. Doctors (obstetricians and gynecologists) are awesome, but they are not your only option

Many people are surprised to learn that they have more options than they knew for pelvic health providers. Midwives and nurse practitioners provide comprehensive health care even when you are not pregnant and might be a great fit for your pelvic health needs.

5. Free and low-cost healthcare options are available

Clinics such as Planned Parenthood offer free and low-cost pelvic exams, as well as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and the prescription of birth control.

6. Until Yona arrives, here's how to make your next pelvic exam better:

  • Talk you your provider and tell them you're worried, uncomfortable or scared. If you don't feel like you are being respected, leave (but promise me you'll find someone else and try again).
  • Bring your bottom all the way to the end of the table. OR, make two fists with your hands, and stack them under your bottom to help lift your bottom off the table.
  • Use the footrests (aka stirrups) if you want to, or feel free to ask your provider if you can keep your feet on the table if it feels better.
  • Fan your knees out to the side like a frog. SO MUCH EASIER SAID THAN DONE, BUT, the more relaxed your muscles are, the less uncomfortable it will be, so take deep breaths and visualize a beach, a lake, or anything that makes you feel calm.
  • Wiggle your toes and relax your jaw.
  • Ask your provider to touch the outside of your leg with the back of their hand first. Then the inside of your thigh. When you say, "I'm ready," they can start the pelvic exam. Not before.
  • Ray Rachlin, midwife, and owner of Refuge Midwifery in Philadelphia, recommends telling your provider that you'd like to insert the speculum. They can guide it to the right place, but you are in charge of the speed at which it goes in.

Your body, your rules. It is not rude, wrong or unacceptable to tell your provider how you would like your pelvis to be examined.

Back when my husband and I were creating our wedding registry, it was a fun, low-pressure opportunity to select some new dishes and linens. After all, I knew a thing or two about stocking my home and making the "wrong decision" with thread count was the only thing that posed any risk to my sleep at night.

Fast-forward a few years to when I created a baby registry before the birth of my first child—and I found the experience to have a much steeper learning curve. Unlike those sheets, it felt like a bad swaddle or bassinet selection would be catastrophic. Unsure of what to expect from motherhood or my baby, I leaned heavily on advice from friends who already ventured into parenthood. (Starting with their reminders to take deep breaths!)

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Now a mom of three little ones under the age of four, I'm happy to be in a position to pass along some baby registry wisdom.

Go shopping with a veteran parent

As first-time parents, my husband and I barely knew the difference between a bouncer and a swing, let alone what specific features we would want. So when a mom friend recommended we head to Walmart to build my registry together—because she found them to carry the trendy brands she loved AND make registering a breeze during her pregnancy—I leapt at the chance.

By walking through the aisles together and actually getting to see the products, I was much more confident in my registry selections. Thanks to that quick, in-store tutorial from my friend, I understood exactly how to match a perfect infant car seat with an extra base and stroller—which is something I would have been clueless about on my own.

Include items at a variety of price points

When it comes down to it, a registry is really a wish list. So, while I had a personal budget for a stroller if it had to come out of my own pocket, this was an opportunity for me to ask for the stroller of my dreams. And, wouldn't you know it? A few family members went in on it together, which made a bigger price tag much more manageable.

At the same time, it's nice to include some of the smaller ticket items that are absolutely essential. I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I was to skip buying my own diapers for those first few weeks. (With super cute patterns, these are also surprisingly fun to give, too!)

Think about the gifts you would like to give

The first time I bought a mom-to-be a gift after my own child was born, I knew immediately what to look for on her registry: a diaper bag backpack, which I had come to have very strong opinions about after battling falling straps with my first diaper bag. This allowed me to feel like I had a personal touch in my gift, even if I brought one pre-selected by her.

I also appreciate it when my friends clearly incorporate their style into their registry choices, like with adorable baby outfits or nursery decor—and there's no sweeter "thank you" than a picture from a friend showing your gift in use.

Ask for things to grow with your child

Even though it's called a baby registry, there's no need to limit yourself to gifts to use before their first birthday. (To this day, I still have people who attended my baby shower to thank for the convertible bed that my oldest child sleeps in!) Knowing that, I would have included more options with long lifespans into my registry—namely, a baby carrier that can be used during the newborn months, baby months and well into the toddler years. A well-designed baby carrier would have saved my back from serious pain because it would have allowed me to comfortably and ergonomically carry my toddler as she made her way into the 25lb+ club. One brand that's designed to grow with your baby and accommodates 7-45 pounds (up to about four years old) and offers both inward and forward-facing positions is Ergobaby. With several different design and style options, you can easily find one that caters to your parenting needs. From an all-in-one carrier, like the Omni 360, that grows with baby from the newborn stages into the toddler years or a newborn-specific carrier, like the Embrace (and don't worry you can later upgrade to a carrier for an older baby, I recommend the 360 Carrier). The best part? All ergonomic designs are supportive and comfortable for both baby and parent, offering extra lumbar support with breathable, lightweight mesh styles. Everyone (even grandparents!) can get a kick out of babywearing, which is a nice and welcomed break for parents. Having one of these on my registry would have certainly made those first few years so much easier.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

This article was sponsored by Ergobaby. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Motherhood is a practice in learning, growing and loving more than you ever thought possible. Even as a "veteran" mama of four young sons and one newly adopted teenager, Jalyssa Richardson enthusiastically adapts to whatever any given day has in store—a skill she says she's refined through the years.

Here's what just one day in her life looks like:


Jalyssa says she learned to embrace agility throughout her motherhood journey. Here's more from this incredible mama of five boys.

What is the most challenging part of your day as a mom of five?

Time management! I want to meet each of the boys' individual needs—plus show up for myself—but I often feel like someone gets overlooked.

What's the best part of being a mom of five?

The little moments of love. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles, the smiles... they all serve as little reminders that I am blessed and I'm doing okay.

Are there misconceptions about raising boys?

There are so many misconceptions about raising boys. I think the biggest one is that boys don't have many emotions and they're just so active all the time. My boys display many emotions and they also love to be sweet and cuddly a lot of the time.

What do you think would surprise people the most about being a mom of five?

How much I enjoy it. I never knew I wanted to be a mom until I was pregnant with my first. My desire only grew and the numbers did! I am surprised with every single baby as my capacity to love and nurture grows. It's incredible.

How do you create balance and make time for yourself?

Balance for me looks like intentional planning and scheduling because I never want my boys to feel like they aren't my first priority, but it is extremely difficult. What I try to do is not fit it all into one day. I have work days because motherhood is my first priority. I fit in segments of self-care after the kids' bedtime so I don't grow weary.

What's the biggest lesson you have learned from motherhood?

I have learned that sacrifice is actually beautiful. I was terrified of the selflessness motherhood would require, but I've grown so much through the sacrifice. There is nothing better than living for something bigger than myself.

When did you first feel like a mom? How has your motherhood evolved?

I first felt like a mom when I was pregnant with my first son and I intentionally chose to change my eating habits so my body could be strong and healthy for him. I didn't have to think twice—I just did what I thought would be best for him. That decision being so effortless made me realize I was made for motherhood.

My perspective has changed with each baby as I've realized motherhood doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all. With my first son, I was a by-the-book mama and it was so stressful. With each baby, I have felt more freedom and it has made motherhood so much more beautiful. I have evolved into the mother that they need, I am perfect for these boys.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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