While I have no problem being specific and technical — vagina, labia, urethra, pubic hair, perineum, mons pubis — about "down there," it's a great term to use when discussing the whole general area and what happens to it pre- and post-birth. My midwife referred to this area as my "bottom" and would ask me "how my bottom was doing" regularly. It was weird having someone check on the state of my "bottom" on a consistent basis, but, if we're being honest, there's plenty about "down there" that moms wish they could talk about. In the end, I guess it was kind of nice that someone cared.
Many of the things we'd probably like to vent about are pregnancy- and birth-related, because that's when our "bottom" is really the star of the show. It's also when our "down there" is doing, well... some stuff. Normally it just sort of plods along like a fancy and fun member of Team Your Body, but maternity can do some weird stuff to "down there." And that stuff can be confusing or downright upsetting, but far too often we're too embarrassed to discuss it so we're stuck feeling confused and upset all by our lonesome. That innate sense of embarrassment is no doubt connected to and the result of the general sense of shame women are made to feel about their bodies in general, and their so-called "sexual" body parts in particular. But, I mean, what happens "down there" is also private and, sometimes and for lack of a better word, kinda gross. No one wants to hear about your mucus plug, Karen.
But there should be some balance, or at least some outlet, right? So let's make a personal and public pledge to talk about everything we wish we could talk about more openly, starting with our pregnancy and postpartum vaginas. You're welcome, world.
If you are or have been pregnant, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Things just get a bit... swampy down there. And, like an actual swamp, it's perfectly natural and healthy. It's just, you know, a bit uncomfortable.
It's a weird combination of sweat, discharge, hormones, and general discomfort. It's not that you're not dirty or stinky or anything like that. You're just... moist. So very, very moist. I know people hate that word but it's the only one that works in this situation.
Caused by the pressure of your developing fetus pressing against your cervix and pelvic nerves, lightning crotch is as deeply unpleasant as it sounds. If you've experienced nerve pain (and I hope you haven't) it's like that, but, like, in and around your vagina. If you haven't experienced nerve pain, it's a sharp, electric-feeling jolt that at best makes you wince and at worst can freeze you in your tracks.
And when it does and your co-worker is like, "Is everything OK? What's wrong?" it's indelicate to be like, "MY BABY'S STUPID HEAD IS ELECTROCUTING MY COOCH!" Still, that's what you'll want to say.
Some people say pregnancy makes your vagina smell bad. I don't think that's true, but I do think it makes one's vagina smell different. According to Miriam Greene, M.D., clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Langone Medical Center, who spoke to Fit Pregnancy, this can be the result of an altered pH balance and is perfectly normal unless you see signs of a yeast infection. It can also just be a result of that other famous pregnancy symptom: heightened sensitivity to smells. So it's less that you smell different and more that you're smelling differently!
All The Discharge
Increased discharge during pregnancy is super normal (blame the hormones) and, honestly, it can be downright distracting at times. Would it be cathartic to speak openly about such things? Probably? Is it polite lunch table conversation? Not so much. No one wants to hear about vaginal secretions and, frankly, I don't blame them.
(If, however, your discharge has a fishy odor, is green or yellow, or causes itching, be sure to talk about it with your doctor.)
For the innocent among us, a queef is simply air getting trapped and then released from the vagina. Yes, it makes a sound. Yes, it sounds just like a fart. This is why a queef is also indelicately referred to as a "vagina fart." They're not really farts because they're not caused by gas, so there's no bad smell, but they sound pretty identical. Queefs happen when you're not pregnant, too, but you might be more prone to them while you're gestating what with all the body changes and internal (and external) shifting about.
Look, are queefs polite? Not strictly speaking. Are they just a little bit hilarious? They certainly are. Even the word is funny: queef. I feel like pregnant women could release a lot of pressure and anxiety if we could all just openly laugh about queefing.
According to Healthline.com (and droves of pregnant and formerly pregnant people), a swollen vulva is a common pregnancy symptom and has to do with both increased blood volume and your big ol' uterus blocking optimal blood flow to the region. Generally this isn't going to be or cause a big issue, but it can certainly be annoying. (A cold compress might help.)
Some people plan on an epidural before they even get pregnant. Other people will choose one once labor kicks in. Regardless, if you choose to get an epidural to help you manage labor pains you're going to get a catheter. For me, the idea of a catheter was absolutely horrifying and it was probably the number one source of anxiety regarding childbirth. "I'M SORRY YOU WANT TO DO WHAT TO MY PEE HOLE?!"
But like so much of "down there," urethra talk is just a tad taboo, so I suffered in silence. Well, except for in the presence of my husband, who got to hear all about my very specific catheter fears.
(Incidentally, this turned out to be no big deal at all since nurses place catheters all day every day and they know WTF they're doing.)
Just stares into the void and screams internally from the time it happens until the hour of my death because there was a baby head poking out of my vagina how do you ever expect me not to stop thinking about that?!?!?!?!
Speaking from personal experience, I can safely say that for the first few weeks after birth, your postpartum vagina is always on your mind. This is true even if you had a C-section (that pad is the size of a phone book, which is super distracting) but if you had a vaginal delivery it's even more on your mind. You're swollen and, possibly, torn AF down there and it hurts constantly and they really don't give you much more than some Motrin to deal with it so, yeah, you're going to be thinking about "your bottom" on a semi-regular basis. You just can't help it.
So when people come to visit you and the baby and people ask how you're doing and you give some cookie-cutter response we all know you really want to say something along the lines of, "It feels like I got punched in my fancy bits and it stings when I pee."
This can be the case before birth as well, but afterwards, between birth injuries, hormones potentially making things drier down there (especially if you're breastfeeding), and just general "shifting," it can take some time and effort to get back into the swing of enjoyable sex. Of course under normal circumstances, sex (especially when it comes to female pleasure) can be a taboo subject and difficult to broach, even with a partner or healthcare provider. But postpartum sex (OMG moms have sex?!) can be dicier because of all the hangups we have about motherhood and sexuality.
(Don't fall for it, though! Talk to your partner, talk to your healthcare provider, and have fun out there, kid.)
Again, this is one that can rear its damp head before you give birth, but after birth there's a decent chance that you're going to pee just a little when you do things like sneeze, or cough, or laugh, or jump.
It's not a forgone conclusion, but I'll level with you: your pelvic floor takes a hit, friend. As such, the ol' clenching muscles that served as floodgates might be just a little less stalwart than they one were.
This isn't really something you can discuss in mixed company, but get a group of moms together and the subject will come up at some point, so just go ahead and wait for your moment.
So Many Feelings
Your body has changed, so it's normal to have some feels about those changes and how they have impacted you in the short- and potentially long-term. And even if it didn't change all that much, it's normal for you to feel differently about yourself, including your most intimate bits.
And while we may not be able to sing our concerns from the highest mountaintops, know that you're not alone in your feelings and that you can talk about them with your partner, a friend, and/or your doctor or midwife. That's what they're there for.