I knew childbirth would hurt. I mean, I think just about everyone has received that particular memo. I didn't know, however, that giving birth might actually hurt me, as in actually injure my body. Over a year after my last delivery, I still have pain and incontinence due to childbirth. I'm not alone, either. When I've asked other moms, they described their childbirth injuries that were either similar, or worse, than mine. (Warning: their stories are graphic, awful, and infuriating.)
While the pain of childbirth is well-known, not a lot of soon-to-be moms are aware that they can experience long-lasting, and even life-changing, injuries during labor and delivery. I knew vaginal childbirth — pushing a watermelon-sized human being out of a small hole — would be less than pleasant. I knew it could potentially cause tearing of your perineum, which, according to Parents, happens to 95 percent of first-time moms. But I had no idea that childbirth injuries can also cause conditions and injuries like urinary and fecal incontinence, back pain, sexual dysfunction, pelvic pain, dislocated joints, infections, and broken bones.
According to a 2015 study of 1,574 new moms, 77 percent still had back pain, 49 percent had urinary incontinence, and 40 percent had both of those symptoms 12 months after childbirth. Not surprisingly, the same study reports that the injuries sustained during childbirth can negatively impact women's lives.
So, why aren't we talking about it? I think part of the problem is that these conditions can be more than a little embarrassing. I don't really want to talk about vaginal tearing, pain during sex, or peeing when I sneeze, with anyone, including a medical provider. At the same time, I sort of feel like if perineal tearing or urinary incontinence happened to new dads, there would be an awareness campaign or a cure by now. So I say it's time we start listening to women's stories about childbirth injuries, and not dismissing these things as a "normal" part of motherhood that we should just get over or deal with. Read on for a few stories from brave and fed-up women to help get this discussion started.
"During my third delivery, I tore twice. One was inside on the wall and the other was right next to my clitoris. It was over four years ago. I had no epidural or medications, and it was a pretty fast labor and delivery. My midwife stood between my legs staring at the tear and talking to herself for 20 minutes before explaining she wasn't exactly sure how to repair it. I asked her if I needed to be concerned. She then excused herself and said she would be right back, while I was still in stirrups wondering what the hell was going on. She came back with two doctors and a few nurses and discussed the repair for another 10 minutes before she finally started. They explained that the tear was in a difficult spot to repair, and they were concerned with nerve damage. I was, too, because I really enjoy having feeling in my clitoris. I still have some lasting affects. Sometimes, I notice a don't have the sensation I used to have in my clitoris and sometimes penetration can be painful from the inner tear. I also really struggle with not being able to control my bladder, which I didn't even know was a thing that was that common.
In my appointments leading up to delivery we touched on possible tearing, but never really went in depth with what actually could go wrong in labor and delivery. I don't feel like childbirth injuries are taken seriously. We aren't taught about them and when they do happen, whether minor or major, it's treated like it's just a normal thing and no big deal, just deal with it the pain or peeing your pants, because you now have this child and that should make the long-term effects OK."
"I had an emergency C-section, resulting in a large hemorrhage. I was 21 at the time. My midwife kind of bailed on my delivery when she knew I needed a C-section and passed me to a doctor. She let me labor too long, and my son’s heart kept stopping. I had to have a blood transfusion and a bit more hospital time. My midwife actually acknowledged that she knew five hours in I would need a C-section, but let me labor for 27 hours.
I was severely anemic for about six months and had to stop breastfeeding because I couldn’t get my iron up enough, and she made me feel as though I had failed as a mother. The doctor who performed the surgery was amazing. She reassured me that I did the best I could have with the circumstances and gave me a lot of advice on formula feeding and anemia recovery. I think in our culture expects you to know what you’re getting yourself into.'"
"I tore so badly that it took over two hours to stitch me up, and they couldn't even get all the tears. I think all that scar tissue is why I couldn't get pregnant again, because those tears they couldn't get were all uterine tears. I had vaginal packing for almost 24 hours, was on Pitocin, and was monitored every two hours because I lost so much blood."
"I had an anal sphincter injury 27 years ago during childbirth, resulting in progressive fecal incontinence. I've had pelvic floor physical therapy, but I'm holding off on surgery for now, because the outcomes aren't that reliable. We take this nowhere seriously enough. If I could go back I'd as for a C-section."
"I had vaginal tears, an epiostomy, and cervical lacerations during birth 10 months ago. One of the CNAs didn't understand why I needed a wheelchair, because 'everyone has all the injuries you have.' The nurses were definitely sympathetic, though, and told me that it wasn't typical of all vaginal deliveries and that the OB had told them that I needed a lot of repairs. My OB talked to me about all the injuries at my postpartum appointment, because she felt that I didn't get how bad it was. Most people I knew just thought that my husband was making a big deal about the injuries because it's just part of childbirth, and he was overreacting. I don't like narcotics, they don't agree with me, so I stopped taking them within 12 hours of my delivery. Some people thought that automatically meant that I had an easy delivery, because why else would I decline pain meds? The only women who got it were those went through birth trauma, too. Others are dismissive, and I don't even share what happened because of that.
I haven't had a chance to get treatment for my pelvic muscle issues and bladder issues. The incontinence is really stressful. It's a lot harder when I cough or sneeze or throw up, because I have no bladder control. I wear and carry spare adult diapers to work when I'm having especially bad days and always use maxipads just in case. It's really humiliating when one has to use adult diapers. I don't think I would be as OK with it if I didn't have the kind of fierce support I have from my husband."
"My son was born 'sunny side up' in May 2016, so his face was upward facing instead of down. Childbirth fractured my tailbone. I was in pain for months. Sitting, walking, and even laying down aggravated it. I asked my regular doctor and was shrugged off. It wasn’t until well after the six-week checkup I finally had an answer for what it was. We are expected to keep moving, and complaining means we aren’t strong enough."
"About 24 hours after my C-section for my twins, I developed a hematoma in the incision. That meant they had to take the stitches out and could not re-stitch me. I had to have the incision packed and then huge bandage put over it twice daily for the next two weeks. It’s a relatively rare complication, and I have zero regrets about my C-section, though. It’s why I’m alive, and my babies are alive."
"I had internal tears that went undiagnosed for three months after birth. I also had a pelvic/hip injury that wasn’t found until I was in the second trimester with my second child, because I was told it was 'normal.' My midwife refused to even humor me and give me a second look, and would not prescribe me anything more than ibuprofen.
This was my first baby, so I thought waking up screaming in pain, and not being able to sit for months, was normal. It was a fractured coccyx (tailbone). Thinking about this now makes me so angry. It totally ruined my postpartum time with my husband and baby."
"I have incontinence now, and I sometimes get debilitating cramps where my C-section scar is. I went to the urologist, because I'm tired of peeing myself due to a weak pelvic floor. She told me she thinks I'm just waiting too long to use the bathroom, as if I am 5 and don't want to stop playing. What do they think I am doing? Just loving doing dishes so much I decide to pee myself instead of stopping? I think there is an issue in my urethra, because I can pee and then stand up and pee again."
"I had third degree tearing giving birth to my older child. His head was massive (15.5 inches around), and I pushed without a contraction. 0/5 would not recommend. The CNM who delivered my son refused to tell me how many stitches it took to put me back together. She said, 'You tore around your anus, you're lucky. That's all that counts right now.'
I still couldn't walk up the stairs six weeks later when I went back to work, but hey, that was the leave I was lucky to get. I also dislocated my hip pushing that child out. The emergency C-section I had four years later was practically magical by comparison."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.