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A Fourth-Degree Tear Is Real, Horrifying, & Here’s How To Survive It

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Motherhood can be a pretty painful experience. There’s the pains that come with pregnancy, like sciatica and swollen feet. There’s the pains that come postpartum, like sleep deprivation and breastfeeding. And then there’s the pains of childbirth, with the uncontrollable contractions and the tearing. For me, tearing was by far the worst part of labor and delivery, and as someone who has experienced this unique form of torture, there are some things I’d like all pregnant women to know about fourth-degree tearing.

I never expected to endure severe lacerations to my vaginal tissue, perineal skin, and perineal muscles in order to bring my son into the world. I was sure that all the perineal massage and having a midwife and doula would ensure I would experience, well, zero tearing. Instead, I had to be rushed to the hospital when my son got unexpectedly “stuck” during labor, and was then put on my back while a doctor I didn’t know practically pulled my child out from inside me.

The entire ordeal was grueling and horrific, all at once. My husband still tells me he’s never seen that much blood in his life. And my recovery was certainly among the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. That said, I survived it, and these days it’s (mostly) a distant memory. So what do others need to know about fourth-degree tearing, exactly? Well, the following is a start:

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It's Painful

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This shouldn't be a shocking revelation, but fourth-degree tearing hurts like the worst hellfire on earth. It’s much worse than all the active labor contractions combined. It's worse than when I fractured my leg in three places. It's worse than fracturing one of my vertebrae. It's by far the worst. Pain. Ever.

You'll Be Sedated When They Stitch You Up

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When you suffer from vaginal tearing this severe, your OB-GYN will do their best to stitch you up. That means administering a local anesthetic and, in many cases, morphine.

I kept asking for more narcotics because I could still basically feel everything that was happening post-birth. In the end, the doctors ended up putting me under completely, with a general anesthetic, because the pain was unbearable.

Wait To Look At Yourself Until You’re Close To Healed

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Honestly, I think the choice to avoid looking at your vagina postpartum is par for the postpartum, post-tearing, post-stitches course. But in case you end up curious on some random afternoon: no. Do not. Back away from the hand mirror. Seriously, stop yourself. You don’t need to see this, especially not when you’ve been stitched in your most delicate of areas.

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Buy A Donut To Sit On

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I know it’s kind of embarrassing to walk around with a donut seat. I understands it's basically the equivalent of renting a giant billboard on the side of the highway that says "something's wrong with my ass and my vagina." But when you're in that much pain, I promise you won't care. Buy the damn donut. Trust me, it helps.

Dermoplast Is Your Absolute Best Friend

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I did a ton of sitz baths postpartum, which helped sooth the pain. But my favorite product was dermoplast. This pain relieving spray would always numb me in the very best way. Trust me when I say it's worth the investment to buy, um, all of it.

Long-Term Issues Can Be A Thing

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Sadly, there are occasional long-term issues that come along with fourth-degree tearing. The biggest one? You might have issues with incontinence. Talk to your doctor if you're experiencing any long-term problems, because that's what they're there for.

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Another Vaginal Delivery Will Be Stressful

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While many women who've experienced fourth-degree tearing go on to delivery vaginally again without a hitch, you'll still want to discuss your previous tearing with your next doctor. Scar tissue shouldn’t actually be an issue, but everyone’s body is different. I recall one doctor telling me I’d probably want to have a C-section next time, to avoid probable incontinence. So, you know, keep that in mind.

Your Recovery Will Be Longer Than Most

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I’m pretty sure I carried my donut seat around for at least four or five months postpartum. Even well after I was able to ditch the donut, I would still experience pain if I sat i one place for too long.

You'll Want To Wait To Have Sex

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One year. One full year. That’s how long it took for me to feel physically ready to have sex with my partner. And even after 12 months, the first few times were tricky and almost scary because I was so tense and terrified I'd be in unbearable pain. Eventually, though, it got better.

Years later, though, and I'm still more sensitive than I ever used to be. So my advice? Take your time, don't push yourself, and communicate with your partner.

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You Will Heal

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Tearing this part of your body this severely is, well, terrifying. Still, it’s entirely possible to experience a fourth-degree tear and live to tell the tale. So yes, you will have a normal life again. Yes, it may take some time and patience. Yes, you are resilient, and capable of so much more than you know.

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