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. “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.
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, 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.