Vaginal Stitches After Birth Are As Harrowing As You Might Have Imagined
For every woman, there are a handful of words that make her vagina slam shut faster than the gates of Westeros during a White Walker stampede. For me, those words are: Speculum. Fantasy Football stats. And Mitch McConnell. But I dare say the universal word for women everywhere, is — deep breath, ladies — episiotomy. Guys. We need to talk about vaginal stitches after birth.
Wait. Before you continue reading this, there's something I need to tell you: vaginal stitches sound like a horror show, but you will forget all about them the moment your sweet baby is born. When you think about their first moments of life years from now, you (hopefully) won't be thinking about the way your vagina felt. You're amazing, you can do hard things, and not everybody even needs stitches! So, you know, take a deep breath and keep that in mind as you read on.
Now, if you perchance don't know what I am referring to because you prefer to live in a castle made of cotton candy and rainbows and think having a baby is mainly about which aden + anais swaddle pairs best with your pastel glider, well, allow me to change your world with the standard definition of an episiotomy. (Helpful hint: I find it makes it easier to take in if sung to the tune of “Uptown Funk.”) As per the Mayo clinic, an episiotomy is "an incision made in the perineum — the tissue between the vaginal opening and the anus — during childbirth.”
Don't believe me just watch! Duh nuh nuh nuh Duh nuh nuh nuh...
That’s right. The doctor slices to make more room, and then stitches you up with dissolvable stitches. Which is exactly as delightful as it sounds! (Remember, the baby is worth it.) While it was once widely believed that episiotomies helped women to heal better and faster than if they’d just "torn naturally" during childbirth, docs now think this is a load of bull. (And as USA Today recently reported, it's now thought that episiotomies can sometimes cause more harm than good.)
However, the procedure is still preformed pretty regularly. I know, because I was one of the lucky lasses who had one done. And to this day, when reminiscing about our child’s birth, while I get misty-eyed thinking about the life-altering moment I first heard my son’s cry, my husband never fails to stare off into the distance like he’s seeing demons rise from the earth. Then he'll mumble something about “the sound of the doctor cutting you…”
I swear he found the procedure more traumatizing than I did. And he probably did. He was hyper aware of every sight and sound of the delivery room, while I was epidural-ed to the gills and pretty focused on the fact that I was about to push a human being out of my body. So I actually remember very little of this business. I mean, if that doesn't prove that women are goddess warriors, what does?
But I can be honest with you and say I do remember the stitches. Yesiree I do. And I remember all too clearly the nurse bringing me a pair of mesh underwear with a bag of ice attached to the crotch with a maxi pad — like some jacked up lingerie designed by Queen Elsa. I can honestly say this was hands-down the greatest undergarment I’d ever slipped on in my life. I know ice placed directly onto the labia doesn’t sound like a treat, but oh, believe me, it was. I would have sat directly onto a sno-cone had one been available.
I do think I may have requested the ice diaper past what I guess was the normal ice diaper request range of time. I guess after a couple of ice diapers the nurses expect you to just get on with things. Because I remember when I asked for a third, the nurse raised her eyebrows at me. But I just stared back at her with an expression that I hoped conveyed, “I have stitches in my vagina, and if I ask you to bring in a small monkey that plays Morrissey on the pipe organ because it might make me feel better, do not question, simply get on the phone with the f-ing zoo, ‘kay?”
So yeah, for those first couple of weeks, sitting down, or attempting to use the bathroom — it was all a delicate little ballet in which I tried in vain to forget that my hoo-ha had stitches in it. (I generally strongly disapprove of the term hoo-ha, but if you channel Al Pacino saying it in Scent of a Woman, it brings a bit of levity to this rather grim subject matter, no?)
It eventually healed up without issue, I am happy to report. Though things did feel a little... different. And at first that difference made me feel weird and conjured images of a Franken-vag. How could it not? It's literally the most delicate part of a woman's entire body, and it had been "stitched". But I quickly got over these feelings. Partly because I had a tiny human who needed constant care, and I had little time to sit and pen sorrowful sonnets about my changed perineum. But mainly, I was able to move past those feelings because, to be honest? When I think about what my body did the day I gave birth, what I mainly feel is powerful. Wonder Woman, kick *ss, Linda-Hamilton-with-a-bazooka-powerful. And yes, my body was changed by it. So was everything about my entire being.
So if anyone out there is reading this right now, and you are sitting woefully on a bag of ice, feeling banged up and vulnerable and sore — well my lady, I bow down to you. Because you're amazing, and so is every inch of your body. And those stitches will be gone before you can say, "Honey can you please go buy four hundred boxes of Motrin?"
On a final note — any man who makes a joke about the “daddy stitch”(the “extra stitch” to “tighten things up” for Dad) — please offer to give this person a “Mommy stitch”, wherein the tip of their penis is stapled closed.
This post has been updated.