This Is What Really Happened The First Time I Saw My Vulva Postpartum

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When you're a brand new mom, it's normal to have a lot of questions. You wonder if it's normal to lose so much hair (yes), if the stretch marks on your boobs will ever go away (kind of), and whether or not you're ever going to be able get yourself into that pre-baby little black dress again (maybe). But, there's one other part of our body we all have questions about. Some of us might be too embarrassed or even too scared to talk about it, but each of us secretly wonders what the hell our post-baby vulva and vagina are going to look like.

Before I had kids, I had what you might call a body-positive relationship with my lady bits. I thought my vulva was gorgeous and my vagina was a rockstar of orgasmic proportions. But, once I got pregnant, I worried about how things in my downstairs region might change. Veteran moms love nothing more than sharing their birthing horror stories with the newest members of the motherhood club. By the end of my first trimester, I'd heard frightening tales of stitches and staples, labia torn to shreds, and gigantic wounds that bridged the fleshy gap from the baby exit to, um, the other exit on our bodies. Needless to say, I was terrified of what might happen to my vulva in the delivery room.

Courtesy of Ashley Austrew
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In an effort to keep my vulva intact while I delivered a watermelon-sized human into the world, I tried every tip and trick I saw online. I kegeled like a champion to strengthen my pelvic floor. I slathered my Nether Lands in organic coconut oil to keep them lubricated and pliable. I even engaged in perineal massage, where you rub and stretch the skin around your vagina to hopefully get it ready to shoot out a newborn like a nimble, lubed-up baby cannon. By the time I delivered, I felt pretty confident that I'd make it through delivery without needing a facelift for my vulva. Still, you can never be 100 percent sure what to expect when it comes to birthing babies.

I felt like a seventh grader who'd just read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, and wanted to check out her vulva for the very first time. I cautiously angled the mirror between my legs, took a deep breath, said a tiny prayer to The Goddess Of Beautiful And Intact Vulvas, and then looked down to see what horrors might be reflected back at me.

My first experience seeing my post-pregnancy vulva actually came during delivery. Mid-push, the doctor asked if I wanted him to position a mirror so I could see my baby's head crowning. In a split second, a million thoughts went through my mind: What if this is awesome? What if I never feel sexy again? What if I watch my vulva split into 1,000 pieces? Will I regret it if I say no? Will I regret it if I say yes? I ended up saying yes, and I have to admit, I'm pretty glad I did. The birthing vulva doesn't even really look like a vulva anymore. It's stretched beyond recognition and has lost all signs of being a part of your anatomy. It's almost like a Transformer that's morphed from a pretty and delicate flower into a fierce, muscular birthing machine.

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Courtesy of Ashley Austrew

Despite my fears about suffering a vaginal blowout, my tearing during birth was so minimal I only needed one stitch. I felt fine immediately following the birth, but after a few hours, the reality of how hard my vagina just worked started to set in. I felt like my entire pelvic region was recovering from injuries sustained during a severe car accident. It was sore and tender, itchy from the stitch, and I was bleeding through the hospital-issued giant pads and mesh underwear like it was my full-time job. During my first postpartum shower, I tried to catch a glimpse of my vulva, but all I could see was swollen skin and lots of blood. It looked like the first recovery photo in a show about plastic surgery, and there was no way to tell what things would look like once I finally healed.

Three weeks after delivery, I finally stopped bleeding and decided to use a hand mirror to go all Inspector Gadget on my lady garden. My stitches were gone, and I didn't feel sore or swollen anymore, but I still wasn't sure what to expect. I took a nice, hot shower and contemplated the various outcomes in my head. I wondered if I'd be able to see where I tore, or if my vulva would look more puffy. I wondered if the stretching during birth was somehow permanent, and I'd end up with big, floppy labia and a saggy clitoral hood.

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When my shower was over, I toweled off carefully, grabbed my mirror, and assumed the position. I felt like a seventh grader who'd just read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, and wanted to check out her vulva for the very first time. I cautiously angled the mirror between my legs, took a deep breath, said a tiny prayer to The Goddess Of Beautiful And Intact Vulvas, and then looked down to see what horrors might be reflected back at me.

Surprisingly, it wasn't that bad. It was definitely more hairy, because let's be real: I wasn't about to take a razor or wax anywhere near that area during birth recovery. The skin looked slightly darker, like there was maybe more blood flow to the area, which makes sense since I was still healing. I couldn't see where I tore, even after I shuffled things around a bit. My labia was, surprisingly, not hanging low like vulva drapes. In fact, things felt pretty close to my experience of normal. And, in the coming weeks, I found out that sex felt normal for me too.

Giving birth is an intensely transformative experience. It doesn't just make you a mom; it changes the way you feel about yourself, your life, and your entire physical being.
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Courtesy of Ashley Austrew

I was lucky in that I only had minimal tearing and was able to heal pretty quickly. If that wasn't the case, I'm sure taking a peek at my basement would've been a different experience. But, no matter what happens in your labor and delivery, it's totally normal to be curious about how it will affect your vulva, vagina, sex life, and the way you feel about your body. Giving birth is an intensely transformative experience. It doesn't just make you a mom; it changes the way you feel about yourself, your life, and your entire physical being.

Most women worry at least a little bit about what the birthing experience will do to their bodies. Whether it's anxiety about vaginal tearing or a c-section incision, there are so many unknowns and things we can't prepare for until we're in the moment. The one thing we have to remember is that the human body is an amazing thing, and female anatomy was designed to help us get through this whole labor thing. Often, the fear of our body changes is way worse than the reality. And, even if things do look and feel a little bit different, we just created life. We're allowed to carry physical evidence of the badass thing our body just accomplished.

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