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Some of the things we're advised to do in preparation for childbirth can seem ridiculous with a bit of distance.
"Did I really massage my perineum with evening primrose oil?"
Whether this unpleasant contortionist practice had any effect on the outcome of my deliveries – I tore but not terribly – vaginal births are not always the empowering, orgasmic affairs they're sometimes adverstised to be.
Some women emerge from vaginal birth as if from battle.
In a harrowing essay for the N.Y. Times' Motherlode blog, writer Ashley Nelson opens up about the fourth-degree vaginal tears she sustained while giving birth to baby number two.
Her story is not pretty, but it's still worth hearing about. If "knowledge is power" was applicable anywhere, it's applicable here.
Nelson describes feeling as if her body had been ripped apart by childbirth. As it turns out, it had:
"Moments after the birth of my second child, a sense of panic took over the room. “If you have any more children, you’ll have to have a Caesarean,” the attending obstetrician announced. As she spoke, an assistant worked frantically to prepare me for surgery, having just found a fourth-degree tear, the worst tear you can get in childbirth, one that stretches past the anal sphincter onto the bowel.
While Nelson's experience is considered rare, some reports say only 3 to 5 percent of women experience third or fourth-degree tearing, it's maybe more prevalent than some believe.
"When mothers were later given endoanal ultrasounds, it was revealed that 35 to 41 percent had suffered injury to the sphincter, which can cause fecal incontinence, painful fissures and discomfort for years. Twenty-two percent of new mothers report perineal pain two months after birth; 10 percent still report them at 12 to 18 months. Fecal incontinence in elderly women has also been linked to previously undetected tears."
Nelson detects an unspoken gag order on serious talk about the negative aftermath of vaginal birth. Case in point, last spring Kristina Sauerwein posted about women who claim childbirth ruined their vaginas. While some talked about urinary incontinence, most of the comments focused more on cosmetics, or sexual pleasure, than plumbing.
There are plenty of reasons not to talk about the uglier side of vaginal birth: Talking about vaginas and rectums and pain during intercourse is embarrassing. And we don't want to scare our friends right out of their birth plan.
But another reason this topic is taboo, Nelson reckons, has more to do with politics. The current trend of idealizing "natural childbirth" and labeling women who choose C-sections "too posh to push," is not all that conducive to honest conversation. And not just with each other: Some of us are too embarrassed to talk with our doctors as well. Especially if said doctor doesn't is the dismissive type.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.