It's surprising how taboo stories about birth are, especially since we're all alive because someone gave birth to us. So, to say I didn't know what I was getting myself into is an understatement. You're taught about when your cervix dilates, you know what to expect when your water breaks, you're advised on how to breathe through the contractions, and voilà — your baby is born.
Most women are also prepared for a cesarean section if the vaginal birth doesn't go to plan, or they might elect to have a C-section. But midway through a vaginal birth with my first son, I found myself having an episiotomy — being cut from my vagina to my anus — because my baby's head was so large. This was something I'd never really given a thought to before.
It had been a grueling labor, to say the least — a whopping 36 hours. When he was finally delivered, I didn't think anything of being cut open or stitched back up again, for that matter. I was shocked and completely in love with the beautiful baby boy in my arms. We got home the next day, and my husband actually joked about my stitches and said, "I wonder if they threw in an extra stitch."
The infamous "husband stitch." I thought it was an urban legend. It was so ludicrous that people would want their vagina to be sewn up tighter that I laughed along with him. But we don't joke about it anymore.
Anyone who's given birth (with or without getting stitches) knows how sore you feel afterwards. Just going to the bathroom can be complete agony. The pain from my cut was something else. I was wearing pads to absorb any bleeding, but they kept getting stuck to the wound. I was told the stitches would dissolve by themselves. I had eight on the outside and four on the inside.
I went for my six-week checkup and the doctors said everything was fine. No medical professional checked the scar tissue, but I was told everything was in order and I could have intercourse again. But, I couldn't. My husband and I attempted to have sex, but he couldn't insert his penis. We're each other's "firsts," and he actually said to me: "It wasn't this tight the first time around."
As a first-time mom at just 22 years old, I thought it must be normal. We tried for an agonizing two weeks, which included using lube and trying to stretch my vagina open. It was incredibly painful, so I decided to go to my doctor to ask her what was going on. She examined me and immediately looked horrified. "Honey, you're the size of a 10-year-old down there," she said. It turned out I'd been stitched up too tightly.
Mortified, I had to go back to the hospital to be cut back open and stitched up again. This time, I healed properly and my vagina was back to normal. I wrote a letter to the hospital in the hopes that no other woman would go through the same experience. I know this sounds awfully sexist, but I do wonder if a female doctor had administered the stitches, whether I would have been stitched up too tightly. It was as if he was programmed to give me a tighter vagina.
Maybe Women Have to Look After Themselves
I count myself lucky, though. Because I went to my doctor and realized there was a problem, it was pretty easy to fix. Some women don't realize there's a problem for years and suffer excruciating pain during sex or have problems during childbirth. The fact this has been dubbed a "husband stitch" is inherently problematic to society. The very notion a man benefits from a tighter vagina, or "an extra stitch for daddy," makes me want to hurl.
My own husband was horrified when I had to be cut back open; nobody who loves you would want that. The process made me question yet another ridiculous and unattainable ideal for women.
Unfortunately, it wasn't the last time a birth made me question my own femininity. After the birth of my second child two years later, I had the opposite problem when I had a vaginal prolapse. The pressure of my baby sitting on my organs caused my pelvic floor to cave in, so I found myself having to strengthen up down there. I used a treatment called the wave chair, which sends shockwaves through your vagina to your pelvic floor.
Luckily, it worked for me, but some of my "friends" made some very cruel jokes about the prolapse, something along the lines of how loose and disgusting my vagina must be. It was absolutely ridiculous. I feel like birthing stories need to be shouted from the rooftops. I had no idea what to expect from an episiotomy or a prolapse. I encourage women to look after yourself "down there," and keep these conversations going for the sake of the sisterhood — it's your vagina, not society's.
This post was written by Katie Skelly. For more, check out our sister site Now to Love.