Will My Vagina Be Ruined When I Give Birth? A Doula Explains
It's no wonder we are all so petrified of giving birth—as a culture we are totally removed from it, save from the "crazy woman in labor" images we see on TV, and the 72-hour labor horror stories we are told by our friends and family, and the person standing behind us in the grocery store (thanks, guys).
We know you probably have a lot of questions, some of which you just don't know who or how to ask to get the real scoop, or to get an answer not limited by that one person's experience. Here's a roundup of some of the common concerns we hear about as birth doulas.
Will my vagina be ruined?
The long and short of it is, no! It may feel different for a bit, and there is certainly healing that needs to happen (mentally and physically!), but you will have full use of your vagina again and it won't always feel like an elephant can fit inside!
There are two parts to the recovery—the vulva and vagina, and the pelvic floor. Generally speaking when you hear of "tears" or needing a "repair" it is referring to some place on the vagina and/or vulva or perineal area. We know these words are terrifying. But most commonly, tears that do happen are pretty shallow and with some stitches (which fall out on their own) heal quite nicely. For the infrequent deeper tears, while the recovery may take some more time, it's nice to remember the tissues are resilient and get better over time. Plus, it is possible not to tear at all! No matter what, we recommend you take care of that area leading up to and post birth. Perineal massages can be great in the weeks leading up to your EDD and we tell all of our clients to see a pelvic floor specialist at least once after the baby is born to get a personalized assessment of some exercises you can do to help with your recovery!
Will I poop myself?
Not everyone does, but some people do. Fun, we know. The good news is that if you do, it's actually a sign that you are pushing like a champ and activating the right muscles to finally meet your baby. So, if there's poo, we get pumped. But don't worry, the poo gets cleared so fast by the nurse, doctor, or midwife that you won't even know it happened. We also recommend that you go to the bathroom often throughout labor to clear your system (more space for baby!) and to bring an oil with a nice scent (eucalyptus tends to be nice for this!) to help freshen the air, because...you know.
Will it hurt like nothing else I've ever experienced?
It may. But here's a few things to keep in mind. It's actually not a pain response that is happening in the body! Now we aren't saying the sensation isn't intense, but the physicality of contractions don't initiate an inflammation-based or fight-or-flight response. Instead, they are part of a very intricately designed orchestra of hormones that allow you and baby to work together to meet each other (including the initiation of endorphins that act like your morphine au naturel and relaxin, which helps your pelvis be super flexible for baby to fit through).
What you feel during a contraction is a mix of three sensations: tightening, pressure, and stretching. And calling the sensations as such can be very helpful in reminding you that you are not in danger, that your body was built to handle the sensations, and that the contractions are not happening to you; they are happening for you so you can meet your baby.
Is it weird to have sex with the baby in the room?
Chances are, at first, it may be the only way! At what point you feel ready to start having sex again is very personal, but for many people, there is a good chance baby will still be snoozing nearby. Newborns do not have the ability to understand what you are doing, so it is totally cool to do your thang so long as the baby isn't actually in the bed. Be prepared to come into it, especially the first few times, with a good sense of humor. If you are breastfeeding, things can get, well, a new kind of wet. Oh, and be prepared: You may have to stop thanks to your wailing little one just when things were starting to get good #parentlife.
Wait, a new kind of wet?
While your nipples get used to breastfeeding they might feel a little sore so nipple play may not be as comfortable for a while. But if your nipples feel good and you're feeling ready to explore, the reality is that breasts can switch from being functional (the way you feed your baby) to erotic very quickly. We know this can feel taboo or a bit weird, so communication is key. Sometimes doing a feeding before you start playing with your partner can help minimize leakage.
Even though they are the same breasts, they can play multiple roles (they really are that talented!) and sometimes thinking about them in these "roles" can help break some of the initial discomfort.
Women's bodies are truly incredible! Trusting that they were created to play multiple roles is part of the process, from pregnancy, through birth, and beyond. Even if you never intend to give birth, aren't there yet, or are just curious about what your friends are going through, it's fun to understand how it expands and contracts to make space for new life. It never ceases to amaze us!
Ashley Spivak is a Brooklyn-based certified doula. She is the co-creator of allbodies, a digital platform for modern health education, and the co-author of Why Did No One Tell Me This?. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Newsweek, and Teen Vogue.