As a first-time pregnant woman I was admittedly worried about how childbirth might damage my vagina. I wasn't concerned in a vain kind of way, but was concerned about the future of my sex life or how I would feel "down there." The idea of pushing a baby out of what was previously a small opening, and potentially tearing or having stitches on my labia or perineum, was, you know, unnerving.
So after I had my baby I decided to look at my post-baby vagina. I figured the reality of my postpartum situation had to have been better than anything I was envisioning. I was wrong. Believe me when I say it was much worse than I had imagined.
My first full frontal glimpse at my altered vulva was actually while my baby was crowning. It was amazing to watch my daughter be born, don't get me wrong, but that amazement was quickly followed by horror. Seeing a glimpse of my red, swollen labia in the mirror — which the nurse had left directed between my legs after her birth — was shocking, to say the least. I actually did a double take.
After I was cleaned up and resting more comfortably in my postpartum hospital room, I decided to take another look in the privacy of my bathroom. I kind of wish I hadn't, though. It was still swollen and red beyond recognition, and adorned with jagged black stitches that in the moment reminded me of the stiff black hairs on the back of a caterpillar. I was also covered in an amount of blood that’s usually reserved for crime scene photos. In other words, it was unnerving... to say the least.
When I asked my midwife about my ravaged vagina she said that the swelling and redness would likely go down in a few days, but that I should call if I noticed unusual pain or discharge. Of course I had never given birth before, so I had no idea what was considered "unusual" and what wasn't. The sight of my swollen vulva and the itching, burning, pain, and soreness I felt was decidedly not normal, at least to me, so I had no idea what to expect or when to become alarmed.
My midwife did, however, comfort me somewhat by saying that vaginas were amazing muscles, capable of stretching and returning to a "relatively" normal size. Contrary to popular, cultural belief I wasn't "ruined" and my vagina wasn't going to be a postpartum vagina forever. She did say, however, that my postpartum vagina might not ever be the same and, well, that would have been good information to have before I decided to have a vaginal birth.
I looked after my second child was born and, again, I was shocked to see that a part of my body I had previous been totally comfortable with was, once again, completely unrecognizable.
No one told me how much I would hurt after the excitement of childbirth died down, either, which perhaps was even more unnerving than how my vulva looked. While I knew pushing a 6 pound baby out of my body wasn't going to feel great, I was honestly surprised by just how painful it was... and two, three, four days after the fact, too. My sore vulva, perineum, and vagina made it difficult to do basic things that, as a new mom, I felt like I had to do.
In fact, unless I was sitting on an ice pack or wearing a diaper full of crushed ice, that my maternity nurse provided, it hurt to simply exist. It hurt to pee, poop, and get in and out of bed for well over a week. I made "pad-sicles" from a recipe I found on Pinterest, laid in bed with an ice pack between my legs, and sat in a sitz bath full of warm water to relieve the pain and itching. That was my "glorious" postpartum life... and it was the damn worst.
Eventually, of course, my vulva went back to relative normal and I was able to live my life as a new mom. And, eventually, I was able to enjoy my sex life again and become pregnant with my second child. And you would think that, after giving birth once before, I would've learned my lesson and just avoided any postpartum glances towards my nether regions. Nope. I looked after my second child was born and, again, I was shocked to see that a part of my body I had previous been totally comfortable with was, once again, completely unrecognizable.
Curiosity got the best of me when my third child was born, too, and I once again decided to check things out. And this time what I observed was a truly horrifying sight — what looked like black and red pulsating growths on my labia. I did what any rational person would do and pressed the nurse call button in a panic. I thought I was dying, or at the very least that something was drastically wrong with me.
Fortunately, I wasn't dying. Instead, I had varicose veins on my labia and vagina. My attending nurse said they were "normal," but it's difficult to feel "normal" when what appears to be giant beans growing on your private parts are present. Thankfully they went away within a few weeks after delivery, but those images certainly haven't left my mind all these years later.
Now I can safely say I've learned my lesson. I don't plan to have more babies, but if I did I would wait a while before examining the impact of vaginal childbirth on my downstairs garden, instead of letting my morbid curiosity get the best of me. Because it's not pretty, my friends. Trust me.