Gynecologists and Dignity: My Stewart’s Story


Let’s step back in time.

About two years after my periods started, I began experiencing bad cramps. My mom never had trouble with her periods, so she was unsure of what this meant. Was it normal?

One day after school, we were driving to Stewart’s, a Baltimore department store, in search of spring clothes for me.

“I asked Dr. Hawes about your cramps today,” Mom said. “He told me they aren’t real. Girls get them from talking to other girls.”

I was fifteen. I didn’t know a lot about the inner workings of the female body. But I knew Dr. Hawes was wrong. And I hated his implications.

I don’t remember what I said, but I blasted my mother.

“Barbs,” Mom replied, her hands gripping the steering wheel. “Do you want to go to Stewart’s or not?”

I’ve always loved clothes. I must have mumbled something, and we were back on track for the shopping trip.


But the gall of that man. He was a creep or very poorly trained or maybe this was simply the thinking of the day. Still makes me angry forty-plus years later.

Ten years after the Stewart’s incident, I had two more negative experiences with condescending and cold gynecologists, one a man and the other a woman. This time the encounters were in person. I’ll save their stories for another post.

Luckily the medical world has changed. I now have a male gynecologist whom I thank for diagnosing my cancer and treating me with compassion. And the surgeon who did the intricate work of saving my life is a woman. Neither was condescending or presumed to know what I was feeling. They let my body and spirit be mine. And I was delighted to meet smart, energetic young women and one fine young man who were training  in gynecology at UNC Hospital. Hope abounds that the tides have turned for the dignity of women in medical situations.

What about you? Any doctor stories from your youth to share?

Oh, and I have one more. This one involves breasts and no robe and our family doctor. But that one, too, can wait for another day.

Photos: When I registered for wedding presents at Stewart’s in 1977, the bridal department gave me this booklet. I found the second photo online. Stewart’s, like so many old department stores, is now gone.

14 thoughts on “Gynecologists and Dignity: My Stewart’s Story”

  1. I’ve had both very good and very bad experiences. Bring home a living baby has been a really long journey for me. My first GYN dismissed so many of my concerns and sure enough there was a major underlying issue that needed treatment. I lost 5 babies before I found a a set of a doctors GYN surgeon and OBGYN who listened to me, treated me, searched for causes and got to the root of why this journey has been so incredibly hard. They are wonderful, I cannot express how thankful I am to them for their care – my baby girl is almost 1 and I’m 100% positive that without their knowledge and kindness Margs wouldn’t be here today.


  2. Oh My and to think your Mother listened to him because she was of that generation that did and he knew it!
    A friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer after her second child was born 38 years ago. The oncologist giving the diagnosis, told her husband because she was 1. a woman, 2. had a new baby and a toddler, 3. she was an excitable Italian. Can you imagine!
    Thank God times have changed!!


  3. I too had awful experiences with gyns. I was in my twenties and was misdiagnosed for over three years before I found a doctor who LISTENED and THOUGHT!!! Before I found him, I suffered at the hands of idiots who were doctors. I suffered needlessly bc they wouldn’t listen. And the condition just got worse as well. The doctor I finally found was so awesome and I will always be grateful for his integrity, professionalism and caring. Sadly I don’t think we’ve made as much progress as we need. I’ve had more than one bad experience with a gyn since then. Although not as bad as the others. They’re not all good, ladies. I moved on to someone with more compassion…….do the same if you encounter a crass and/or uncaring physician.


    1. Yes! We need to all stand up for kindness and integrity as well as skill in the doctors we encounter.

      I actually had a younger friend who got off the table, got dressed, and walked out of the office.


  4. I like a GP or specialist who has the attitude of working with you, not asserting their superiority in any way, and who listens to how to feel about the problem. We must stand up to those doctors who are arrogant, judgemental and unfeeling – and yes, I have had these kind of experiences in my youth – and no, I won’t tolerate it these days


  5. Gosh it’s good to read and learn. My mom took me to a general practitioner when I was approaching fifteen and still had not begun menstruating. I was so embarrassed but the kindly man let me just sit and chat with him and told my mom that all girls are different, and that in good time I would begin. It took another year, and happened while I was away for the summer two weeks from turning sixteen, but how grateful I still am to this day (at age 62) that he was not quick to form a judgment nor have me shed my clothing for something that would not have changed the outcome. He treated me with dignity.I relaxed. Mom relaxed. And isn’t that what should happen? Dear Barb I’d love to have shared my doctor with you. . .he would have listened.


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