As a little kid, when I first asked where babies came from, I got a straightforward and accurate answer and didn't give it much thought after that (for several years). Then, as I got old enough to be aware of what exactly having a baby could mean for my body at some distant time in the future, I started to pay attention to how people (and movies and TV shows) described childbirth, and what happens to vaginas during and afterward. In hindsight, I kinda wish I hadn't. Society holds way too many offensive and ridiculous double standards about vaginal births, which took me years to unlearn in time to give birth to my own child.
When it comes to erasing double standards about vaginal births — and myths about women's bodies more generally — it's hard to even know where to begin, but we need to start somewhere. As young girls, we're often taught loads of dangerous and disrespectful things about our bodies. People ignore our capacity for pleasure completely, but talk a lot about things like how our first time having vaginal intercourse will definitely hurt a lot (as opposed to teaching young women that they don't have to have sex until they're ready — in every sense of the word — and fully aroused, or teaching their prospective partners to be patient, gentle, and respectful to our bodies). Vaginal birth is often treated the same way; with tons of cultural information about how bad, painful, and scary birth is, and relatively little about how strong, resilient, and capable we are.
That's a huge problem. By assuming that suffering and pain is just an unavoidable part of the deal for people born with a vagina, everyone who comes into contact with us is led to assume that any pain or trauma we experience is "normal", as opposed to something they can and should actively try to help us avoid as much as possible.
The following double standards about vaginal births (and vaginas more generally) flat out should not exist. Sure, some problems can't be avoided, but a lot of them can. Our bodies exist for more than pain. Women don't just exist to sacrifice for our children or to be used for other people's pleasure. We deserve to get the best of ourselves. Let's expect better, and demand better, during birth and every other area of our lives. At the very least, let's give all the side-eye we can muster to anyone who says any of this kind of stuff to women, because it's just not helping anyone or anything.
A Vaginal Birth Is How Things Should Happen…
Vaginal births are held up as the goal for birthing moms, partly for good reasons; a vaginal birth, without complications, has benefits ranging from a shorter recovery time for mom, to giving babies a chance to establish healthy microbiome that may even help them avoid certain health problems down the line.
But people have moved far beyond health considerations when upholding a vaginal birth as the norm, with some people even shaming moms who have Caesarean births whether by choice or necessity. Ugh.
...But If You Have One, Your Vagina Will Be Ruined
Yet despite the fact that a vaginal birth is the generally expected conclusion of a pregnancy — and even though some people will trash you if that's not how your birth goes — if you actually do have a vaginal birth, many people will subsequently assume that your vagina is "ruined" as a result. How it is possible that so many people believe a body part that is supposed to do something will inevitably be ruined after doing its job, completely escapes me.
Muscles Are Strong, Flexible, And Resilient…
Muscles that aren't associated with sex and childbirth are assumed to be perfectly functional unless someone has experienced a specific injury. People make sure to warm up before rigorous exercise or activity, they take as many precautions as possible to prevent injuries, and give themselves time and care to recover afterwards, especially if they do get hurt.
...Except For Vaginas
Can you imagine if we talked about runners the way some people talk about moms who've given birth? "Oh, man! They ran a marathon? Oof, their legs must be destroyed! That sucks. Well, it's not like they were ever going to have time to use their legs again anyway, haha!" Every other muscle in the body is presumed to be able to return to its normal state after being used (and isn't horribly judged for doing any of its jobs). Every muscle but the vagina, that is.
And unless you have a very special OB (or see a midwife or doula), you probably won't hear much about how you can prevent some injuries during a vaginal birth, or be told what your care provider plans to do to help you avoid getting hurt. Something tells me that if men gave birth, there wouldn't be so much secrecy around how to avoid injury (or so much social acceptance of so many of them being seriously hurt during routine life events).
A Vagina Is A Delicate Flower
Despite its central role in perpetuating the species, people act as though the vagina is inherently weak. Look no further than the fact that one of the more offensive terms for it (you know, the one a major presidential candidate tosses around for fun, and now we can't even let our kids watch the news 'cause they'll hear it) is used as an insult to suggest that someone is cowardly.
...Until It Becomes A “Birth Canal”
Once it's time to push and give birth, though, people (including too many care providers) seem to forget that the "birth canal" is still a vagina; the same one that mom will be using for all its other purposes for the rest of her life.
It's a strong but sensitive body part that is very capable of stretching and pushing, but still needs to be treated with patience and care. Unfortunately, some providers in a rush don't always give birthing moms that patience or care, which can result in avoidable injuries and traumatic birth experiences.
Be Particular About Who Sees And Touches You There…
Society is all about policing women's bodies in general, and our reproductive organs in particular. From girlhood onward; parents, educators, and anyone else feels completely OK telling us the right way to cross our legs, how long our shorts and skirts are allowed to be, and the importance of "keeping our knees together" so nobody can see or touch us inappropriately (none of which is a deterrent to people who don't respect us, but whatever). And if you don't follow these rules, particularly in situations where you might actually get to have some fun? Quickest way to be labeled a "bad girl."
...Unless You're In A Hospital. Then Everybody Should Get To Examine You.
But once you're in the hospital to give birth — or for any gynecological issue, for that matter — everybody and their intern all of a sudden "needs" information they can only get by performing invasive internal exams. Never mind that many pelvic exams during pregnancy and even early labor (as well as routine pelvic exams at most doctors' visits) have been found to be unnecessary. If you decide to question whether another painful (and/or potentially triggering) internal exam is necessary, or even to decline it altogether, saying so out loud suddenly makes you a "bad patient."