What We Falsely Assume Women Know: Transvaginal Ultrasounds

Addressing the lack of awareness that even the most well-educated women have of their reproductive healthcare options is a primary reason for Feminae Vero’s existence. We see this lack of education in women’s understanding of their own cycles, in the methods that women use (often at the recommendation of their own doctors) to address period-related symptoms, and in the way that women experience pregnancy and childbirth for the very first time.


Recently, a young and expecting mom who’s working with one of our on-staff birthing doulas shared a story that’s alarmingly common for women who are newly pregnant and maneuvering their healthcare options. Her story sheds light on the very basic educational needs surrounding women’s reproductive healthcare that are often unmet by medical professionals – likely unintentionally, but rather as a result of our culture’s assumptions about women, their needs, and their experiences within the women’s healthcare industry.


Our client (we’ll call her Sarah) shared that she showed up at her OBGYN’s office for her very first ultrasound since learning she was pregnant. With her husband at her side, she was taken into the ultrasound room by a nurse, who promptly told her to remove her pants and underwear. She was then directed to put on a robe, sit down, and place her legs in stirrups.


Many women reading this who’ve experienced the very early stages of pregnancy will recognize the direction that Sarah was receiving as the steps leading up to a transvaginal ultrasound. However, for Sarah – who’s never been pregnant and has only seen ultrasounds the way they’re portrayed in the movies – the confusing directions from the nurse were alarming.


“The whole time, I felt really nervous, obviously – because I’ve never done any of this and I was hoping everything was good with the baby… When she held up the big wand, I was like, wait. What are you doing?! It was just embarrassing, and I naturally kept closing my legs and getting tense… Praise God, I had my husband with me, but it was just overall difficult.”


Contrary to the standard ultrasounds that use a transducer over the woman’s abdomen to provide 2D images of the baby in utero, transvaginal ultrasounds are substantially more invasive and require that the doctor place a transducer *inside* of the vagina for the purpose of generating images. Transvaginal scans are used in the very early stages of pregnancy.


It is not an uncommon experience for women to be taken by surprise by transvaginal ultrasounds. While medical professionals are advised to give women a thorough briefing of what’s about to happen prior to administering these scans, false assumptions about women’s prior knowledge of procedural processes create confusion and – in some instances – trauma.


Why does this matter? Studies over many decades have shown that women’s attitudes toward pregnancy and childbirth are heavily impacted by their initial memories and experiences. Memories in which women recall feeling confused, afraid, and - in general, unsatisfied - contributed heavily to whether women desired to be pregnant again in the future.


These realities are a primary reason that we have prioritized providing doula care to our pregnant clients at Feminae Vero. The same studies mentioned above have additionally revealed that women who are supported by a doula throughout pregnancy and childbirth have significantly better health and satisfaction outcomes than those who maneuver alone.


To learn more about Feminae Vero’s birthing doula services, reach out to us here.