I was not prepared for this

I thought I’d pissed the bed when my water broke, and let’s just say it was a fair assumption at that point in my pregnancy.

I was taking a nap, or the third trimester equivalent of a nap, which consists of rolling around in bed like a beached whale, gagging on whatever meal you last ate, with a ridiculously-named body pillow the size and weight of a human corpse wedged in your crotch as you stare at the walls and panic because you’re not sure if babies are supposed to wear shoes AND SHOULDN’T YOU KNOW THAT BY NOW?!

So, yeah, I was just having a peaceful nap when I pissed all over my snoogle. I’d finally found a position that didn’t make me want to projectile vomit, so I considered continuing to lie in my own waste, but eventually sighed and heaved myself out of bed. I continued to pee myself as I waddled to the bathroom, and peed myself even more as I tried to change my clothes, and that’s when it occurred to me that something else might be going on.

I texted my husband at work.

“I’ve either pissed the bed or we’re having a baby. Possibly both. Unclear.”

One phone call to the birthing unit, quick drive to the hospital, fluids test and vaginal exam later, we were indeed having a baby. He was a month early, we hadn’t assembled his bassinet or vacuumed the nursery, but I still felt somewhat ready.

See, I’d spent most of my pregnancy reading, some might say obsessively, about how to keep my baby alive and healthy. I was a self-taught expert on SIDS prevention methods, on sleep training (should I need it), and on breastfeeding. I’d read about labour, I knew about possible birth outcomes, and I’d weighed the pros and cons of epidurals.

I’d sat through several excruciatingly awkward prenatal classes, where I nodded with silent approval as I supervised my husband changing the diaper on a plastic doll and gritted my teeth as the nurse reminded me for the 30th time that we must never shake the baby no matter how hard he cries. We’d taken baby CPR courses and been to a car seat clinic. I’d even frolicked in a field of wildflowers for a maternity photo shoot.

I was prepared.

But still, the first time I stood up after delivering my son and pissed all over the floor, I screamed for my husband to call the nurse because I was sure that I was once again leaking mystery fluids. Nope, she assured me as she called janitorial services, I’d just pissed on the floor, and I could look forward to continuing to do so for weeks, maybe even months, to come. Then she helped me to the bathroom, where I discovered the “swelling” they’d warned me about felt like I’d sprouted a shark fin in my perineum, and the “few hemorrhoids” they’d mentioned resembled a bushel of grapes exploding out of a balloon knot.

I was not prepared for this.

“I’m ruined,” I sobbed in my hospital bed as the nurse mixed me a laxative and painkiller cocktail.Ā “My asshole looks like Hiroshima.”

How was it possible that after all my reading, all those classes, all those appointments with my OB, I still hadn’t known what exploding a person out of my hoo-ha could do to my own body?

Because no one tells you about it. Postnatal pain and recovery, I quickly discovered, was one of the final women’s health taboos. We’re still not talking openly about the carnage formerly known as “vag.”

When people come to see your newborn, they want to hold him and sniff his angelic head (which, by the way, smells like a period until his second or third bath), not hear about how you just screamed while taking a dump. When your family and friends tell you how beautiful you look holding your new baby, they don’t want to know that underneath your hand-knitted blankets you’re wearing an adult diaper and sitting on a meticulously placed ice-pack. And, when you tearfully complain to your doctor that your lady parts feel like someone doused them in gasoline and lit a match, chances are they’ll tell you it’s all normal.

I was not prepared for this.

After giving birth – one of the most traumatic things you can do to your vagina – most women are only seen by their OB-GYN one more time, at the magical six-week postnatal appointment (although of course this can vary). It’s magical because six weeks is how long you’re supposed to wait before having sex again (oh my god), once you get the all clear from your doctor.

Here’s how my appointment went.

OB-GYN: Your pain is consistent with the severity of your tear, but you’re healing well. Lower your antibiotics, increase your painkillers, halve your iron pills, double your laxative, keep using the hemorrhoid cream, start pelvic floor physiotherapy immediately, keep wearing pads for as long as you’re leaking urine, and if that extra fold of skin is still there in six weeks we can discuss a minor surgical procedure.

Me: K.

OB-GYN: And I’m sorry but you are not ready to resume sexual activity.

Then I laughed and pissed my pants.

Pelvic floor physiotherapy should be mandatory for anyone who has ever been pregnant (and in some countries, it is). But here it consists of paying $110 to spend 45 minutes being violated by a stranger. Which I guess some people pay a lot more to experience, but their sessions probably don’t involve rubber gloves and medicinal lube.

Still, it was a chance to leave the house, lie down in a sunny room, and have an adult conversation, so it was basically the highlight of my week. I’d even treat myself to a Starbucks coffee after each session, like I was just a gal getting a pedi instead of coughing while the therapist tested my sphincter control. Once, when no one could watch him, I even brought my son with me to a session, which I will tell him about if I ever want to ruin his life.

A common goal of pelvic floor physiotherapy is pain-free intercourse and better bladder control. When I started physio three months after giving birth, my goal was to wear pants without feeling like my genitalia was going to spontaneously combust.

Six months later,Ā I celebrated my son’s nine-month birthday by having minor surgery to clean up the repair I’d had from tearing during childbirth. As I waited to be called in, I posted a message in my mommy Facebook group asking if anyone else was still dealing with a cunt-struction zone. By the time I was on my way back home, 30 other women had commented that they were still dealing with searing pain, incontinence, tender c-section scars, holes in their labia from botched stitches, and vaginas so tight that they could snap an intruder in two.

We were not prepared for this.

If men had to give birth, the medical profession would have figured out how to extract babies with lasers by now. If not, there would be marches in every major city in the western world, with men waving signs that said “DID YOU KNOW THAT CHILDBIRTH HURTS?!!” and “PAIN IS NOT PROGRESS” and “MY PENIS DESERVES BETTER!”

There would be ribbon campaigns and childbirth survival support groups. Postnatal care would continue indefinitely, or until men’s bodies looked and functioned as well – if not better – than they did pre-pregnancy. Each man would be issued a medal for his bravery upon leaving the hospital with his newborn.

Meanwhile, I’m just sitting here in my leggings and granny panties, sipping a laxative water and looking up whether an only child is more likely to bite his peers.

I was not prepared for this.

 

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26 thoughts on “I was not prepared for this

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  1. Jesus. Suddenly am rethinking my excruciating disappointment over never having had children. I always kind of assumed everything just sort of magically zipped itself back together. I didn’t click on the link but I remember reading an article a while ago about an American woman’s post-partum experience in France, where they sent her as a matter of course to pelvic floor physio and there seemed to be more support for — and awareness of — the cunt-carnage childbirth wreaks. I remain puzzled that that kind of care for the undercarriage is not more widespread. At least you have a enough righteous material to guilt-trip Sammy for a lifetime. That’s something. – Kim Covert

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  2. I laughed (anxiously) several times out loud while reading this. Your honesty is refreshing, but holy hell, this childbirth shit is no joke. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to resume my curled-up fetal position underneath the covers and enjoy these last few weeks with a (hopefully) intact vagina.

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  3. God. I’ve had 2 – one by C section since she was breach, the second a planned section that ended up being a natural birth cos my waters went pop 15 days early.

    I remember my concern at how I shed pints of blood after the natural birth. I remember speed bumps being tear inducing mounds of torture. I remember a physical exhaustion like i’ve never felt but having to see to the crying child lying beside me. Once the midwife woke me to alert me this crying since in my exhaustion i’d slept through it. Probably only possible on that very first night.

    Reading your blog I feel I got off light. Yes there were aches and pains, staples and stitches and a year of constipation after my section that only resolved after a series of colonics.

    At 12 weeks after my natural delivery I still didn’t want to be intimate with my husband but it came back before it bacame an issue.

    However, bladder and bowel function only suffered minor disruption and there was no vagmageddon. I’m glad you’re raising awareness but sorry it was so much more horrific for you and so many other women.

    You’re absolutely right. A better way must be found! Perhaps if we make men listen to these gruesome details that we’re expected just to deal with they’ll get so grossed they’ll figure something out!

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  4. Oh yeah, I try to test the waters before I mention details of my recovery for my first birth [I feel my doc might have been a bit handwavey about my ‘barely’ third degree tear.] Highlight: healing too tight from the stitches and getting what I like to call my re-pesiotomy. My second birth was so uncomplicated my actual first though in the first moments of my baby’s life was “it’s just like on tv!”, it was such a stark contrast to the first one. And I still needed stitches [doc exclaimed, you tore in exactly the same spot! in the same tone of voice you’d use for snagging a parking spot right outside the supermarket doors on a Saturday morning]. Equally as unromantic, my actual first thoughts upon birthing my third (and final) baby was genuinely “thank fuck that’s over” and my second thought was ‘hello baby!” and then I started to haemorrhage. On the other hand, how great are dissolving stitches? So great. Also, hi! It’s Marianne from high school. šŸ™‚

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  5. I was prepared. Read all about it. And after all day labour pushed out a 4100 gram baby. After a month of not sitting and pissing when caughing ,crying while shiting things are getting better. But l’m affraid of having sex. Like terrified. it’s been 2 months now.

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  6. I’m 8 weeks postpartum & I’m over here reading like yep that’s my life!

    I’m attending a family baby shower next week & I have depends & colossal pads to gift the mama to be privately. Not openly talked about but such a lifesaver!

    I was not prepared to never want to wear real underwear again!

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    1. You cannot put a price on that gift. A friend gave me the same thing at my shower and I was horrified as she explained what the squirt bottles were for. But bless her, I needed them.

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  7. Yes, yes, and yes. My baby is going to be an only child as can now make a truly informed decision about the whole thing. I was wary to begin with, also did a ton of reading like I was studying for an exam (and had childbirth and postpartum been an exam I would have done really well on it), but as you say, was still not prepared and left a shell-shocked wreck between colic, multiple other issues, and my broken body.

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  8. I am reading this as I sit in my hospital bed with my second baby only 15 hours old. Although my labor was nothing compared to what you endured, I feel the panic setting in that I am about to be sent home to a 14 month old with a newborn. I am nowhere near prepared for this, but so thankful to not the be only overwhelmed momma out there! Thanks for this!

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  9. I was not prepared for the anesthesiologist to be busy in the OR and with back to back emergency c-sections. I was not prepared to labour for 24 hours, have the baby crown and then be told that the shoulders were too big to pass. I was not prepared for the doctor to say that after trying suction and forceps that the baby was in distress and we only had one more contraction to get her out. So, with no epidural and the baby’s head crowning and burning like the ridge of hell, that the doctor would press the panic button on the wall, an entire team from the NICU would charge in, putting the total number of people in the room at about 100, put her arms in me up to her elbows, break my baby’s collar bone, tear me to shreds and then hand her off to be resuscitated. I was not prepared for the crime scene that was the room after, with blood splatter on the wall behind the doctor with a faint doctor shaped outline where she took the worst of the carnage. I didn’t know that the first time we attempted intimacy after that I would squeeze my eyes closed right, take a deep breath and utter the most romantic words: “Ok, go, just get it over with”.

    I had another baby 3 years later. I was more prepared.

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  10. Holy hell yes – I wasn’t prepared at all and on top of that ended up with the worst back labor imaginable. Ended up with an epidural which was the right move. She was almost 10 lbs. I would have stopped there except I got pregnant two more times on the pill. Now I have an implant bv and we’re talking hysterectomy or tubes tied this fall. I swear I have arthritis from it all, have to wear a liner every time I go out because I leak so much and my vag is unrecognizable. Told my husband if he really wants more kids we can adopt. I’m NOT doing that again.

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  11. Oh my goodness. Thank you for writing this. I have had a terrible first few weeks post-child birth. It is morbidly reassuring to know I am not alone in my sufferings or the thought of “I was not prepared for this”.

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