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How Come Nobody Warned Me About Mammograms?

Why on Earth didn’t anybody tell me about the boob-flattening?

A mid adult woman getting a mammogram. She is being helped by an African-American nurse.
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I have compiled a long list over the past 38 years of things my mother (or other women before me) should have warned me about. Period clots, pregnancy hemorrhoids, vaginal varicose veins, sporadic chin hair, and uterine prolapse just to name a few. And I get it, these aren’t cute, ladylike topics. But, newsflash — preparation is the key to success — and when it comes to the dirty, uncomfortable, painful, weird womanly stuff I have always felt massively unprepared. So it should have come as no surprise when I walked in to get my first mammogram, expecting a quick, painless, non-invasive simple x-ray, that my experience was wildly different.

I should have known I was ill-prepared upon check in when the nurse asked if I had remembered to forgo my deodorant that morning. Uhhhh.... it’s an 85 degree day and I am nervous as hell. Of course I am wearing deodorant! What kind of sorcery are you about to perform on me that deodorant would prohibit, and how on earth would I have known this was a deodorant-free experience?!

Once handed my magical antiperspirant removing towelette, a pair of double-doors opened, revealing a much less elegant and much more medical version of a spa locker room. Much to my surprise, there is a whole pre-mammogram changing ritual. And I am sorry, but does anyone else feel like the multi-stringed, quazi-salon gowns should come with an instruction manual? Thank God I figured it out.

Once in my new mamo ‘fit, I was ushered into a little waiting room reminiscent of some archaic, pre-feminist creepy horror movie. Nine of the fourteen chairs filled with other pre-mamo patients, each in a matching ill-fitting, strategically tied top identical to mine, all sitting in silence. Some of them were covered in warm blankets provided by nurses, most hunched over deeply engaged in a book or scrolling on their phones — no smiles, no eye contact. I instantly felt tense, mostly because the vibe now felt massively high stakes, but also because I suddenly felt like this was my initiation into some well-hidden, scary medical procedure.

Now for the mammogram itself. And lest you forget, at this point, no one has ever talked to me at all about this process. So I’m envisioning the same kind of x-ray I had done on my broken wrist, but on my boobs. Here I am thinking I am going to lie down, get draped in some weighted lead vest, and then a machine will hover a foot above me taking pictures from a few different angles. Because with no medical degree and a few trips to the ER for broken bones as my only reference point, why on earth would I think any different?!

Why, I ask, would no one feel it necessary to tell me that I would be standing in a cold room, topless, while an overly chatty tech pulls, squeezes, and shoves my flabby size A postpartum pancakes into a freezing cold compressor device in order to get the perfect shot? And why did no one help me perfect the breathing techniques necessary for these shots — as I was required to hold my breath for pretty long stretches of time mid painful boob-flatten. Like, on what planet does it make sense that I can airdrop complex files between smart devices from my home but we can’t get an accurate picture of my little boobies without (wo)man handling me into a tit-smashing device while depriving myself of oxygen? Seems archaic, really.

Luckily, 17 re-positions and three awkward conversations later, my first mammogram experience ended with positive findings. And now I am prepared. Next time, I will be full of wisdom and accurate expectations. And I sure as hell plan to warn my daughters about the reality of the experience. I will arm them with real, unfiltered information to ensure that they are prepared. Heck, maybe we will even go together — post-mammogram shopping optional, deodorant required.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.