Returning from after having given birth sometimes feels like coming back from battle. And if you run with me on this analogy, people often want to hear your "war stories." A new mom is expected (nay, encouraged) to lay it all out for her audience: the blood, the gore, the agony, the limb that emerged from her vagina and, you know, all of it. Part of all of this delightful sharing entails having to endure some very personal questions people ask you after you give birth.
With the exception of one sketchy sort-of-but-not-related-by-blood male relative, I didn't actually mind the personal questions people asked me after both of my babies were born, but that is because I truly relish oversharing. The more TMI the better, if you ask me, and particularly if my far-too-easy-to-shock mother is anywhere nearby because she hates any time I write about vaginas and doesn't understand why I can't just write about "nice" things. Sorry, mom?
But allow me to attempt to channel the feelings of "Every Mom" here, when I say that for most of us (OK, and sometimes for me too) we get a little miffed when people who are not our super close BFFs ask us super personal questions about our birth stories. Questions, for example, like:
"How Many Centimeters Did You Dilate?"
I can't help but wonder what the other person is picturing when they ask this question. I can only imagine that, in their head, there is an image of a tiny, tightly closed circle (i.e. my vaginal walls). Then, depending on my answer, it opens up, like the mouth of a fish, accommodating whatever metric size my answer happens to be.
Just for fun, one day, I hope someone answers this question with "40 centimeters" just to mess with someone's brain and give them one hell of a crazy visual.
"Was It A Vaginal Birth Or A C-Section?"
I have yet to meet a mom that hasn't, within the first 20 seconds of telling me something about the birth of her baby, come clean with this rather large detail about her birth story. Literally no one I know keeps this one under wraps for that long that I have to specifically ask. Could it be just me? I don't know. Maybe I know a lot of forthcoming people.
You didn't have to even ask me if I had a c-section, because all you had to do was glance at me doubled over as I clutched my belly and moaned about the searing pain. Moments later, most likely, I would cry out loud, "What a world! What a world!" like the Wicked Witch of the West, cursing my c-section to the heavens. All it takes is two minutes of patience (at most) and the majority of moms will reveal what kind of birth they experienced without you even having to ask.
"How Long Did You Have To Push?"
Let it be known: if you didn't have to work hard to get that baby out, you will be judged. Did you sneeze and the baby came out? Hush now. Table that story and replace it with something a little meatier.
When people ask you this question, they are expecting an answer involving a lengthy amount of time, preferably one that elicits pained facial expressions. Extra points if you start crying as you retell this story of your epic pushing saga.
"Are You Breastfeeding?"
Expect this one to be tinged with an unmistakeable tone of judgement until you answer it in a way that matches the values of the person asking the question.
If you want to have some fun (come on, you deserve it after all you've been through) why don't you ask this person if he or she had a bowel movement that morning? You're welcome.
"Did Your Baby Latch Immediately?"
People are very curious to know if your baby was a "natural" when it came to finding the nipple and knowing what to do with it, or whether there was a struggle. As per usual, an audience loves a good struggle story. This question is of particular interest, I find, to mothers-in-law as I believe it is a way to feel out how strong the genetic code has taken hold. If, for example, the baby is having difficulty with the latch, then clearly, he takes after your side of the family. It is kind of a trick question, in that case.
More Questions About Your Genitals
Worst offender: creepy male relative who shows up to the bris. Always! Without fail! A group will have gathered round to hear tales of your birth story (maybe during a bris, or a christening, or a visit to meet the baby), and then your third cousin Whatshisface pauses between bites of a lox bagel to chime in with the question about whether you had to get stitched up "down there", and then throws a casual look at your vagina. And everyone looks at him and is like, "No asshole, she had a c-section, remember?"
"Did Your Partner Watch The Whole Thing?"
Why do people have such a morbid curiosity about what my partner saw or did not see? And what is the follow-up to this question? "What did it look like, down there, to see her stomach gaping open and her insides placed on a surgical tray? Did it make you never want to try tripe?"
Note: dudes find this question particularly riveting. I encourage partners to share what they saw, however, so that we can have more strong and confident male partners at the sides of our warrior women doing this amazing thing called childbirth. People are more afraid of what they don't know. You know?
"Was There A Lot Of Blood?"
It is birth and the beginning of life and, well, life begins with a lot of blood. Please tell me you knew that. Yes, there is blood. A lot of blood. Everyone knows the answer to this question, but they like to ask it anyway, usually with an expression that shows that they are already anticipating the gory answer.
"Did You Ask For A Mirror?"
I didn't get to use a mirror because I had a c-section (and I would have thrown up if I saw any of that), but I have been around friends who had vaginal births who have been asked this question and died inside a little bit just by sheer proximity. I mean, fine, when your good girlfriends ask you a question like this, I am all about the sharing. Bring on the sharing of information.
We need more of it to demystify birth and take away the stigma of the Scary Vagina and all that. But not that close of a friend's husband at the dinner table at an Upper East Side restaurant? Yeah. You don't need to answer that.