pregnancy

"The sight of your vulva after birth is harrowing": 6 things I didn’t expect about childbirth.

I gave birth to my first child, a gorgeous healthy boy, at the end of May. 

Since then, I've reflected on some of the most surprising and enlightening lessons learned from childbirth and associated experiences one might encounter. 

Hopefully, my sharing will shine a light on important things often brushed over or even shrouded in secrecy.

Watch the trailer for The Delivery Room, Mamamia's new podcast all about birth stories. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

Here’s what I want you to know.

Going on your back is comfortable and relaxing.

This is not a good thing! 

My birth plan involved being on all fours, sitting or standing to deliver, and avoiding a supine position. However, after coming out of the freezing birth suite bath and going on my back on the bed to be dried off and warm up, I ended up staying there. 

I knew from my research that it’s not the best position to deliver, but was told that ‘sometimes it just works’. 

In fact, it closes off the pelvis making things much harder. It’s kinda only good for medical people to have a good point of view and access to intervene. I was so comfortable, and I didn’t have the energy to argue. My partner knew my birth plan, but we just wanted our baby out safely, and well, you know, the midwives are the professionals… My mind wasn’t right. 

After an hour of pushing, the OB was called in. And my birth plan was screwed.

You don’t necessarily tear - even with forceps assistance.

Despite wanting an all-natural birth, I had my baby pulled out with forceps as I pushed. Yet my only wounds were the many unavoidable but superficial internal cuts from the instruments. 

While my experience of interventions was horrendous (the stitching afterwards was beyond), I managed to push back and refuse an episiotomy in good faith that our work would pay off. And it did. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I believe the fact I did not tear externally or structurally was thanks to the magic of Perineal Massage. 

This involves using your hands to stretch out tissue in the lead up to your due date, which not only saved my pelvic floor but allowed for a speedy recovery. 

Have a Google about it; you won’t regret it! 

The vagina and perineum are muscular and, like stretching before exercise, tenderising the area can help you avoid injury.

Listen to The Delivery Room, Mamamia's new podcast all about birth stories. Post continues below.

After coming across the massage technique on Instagram halfway through my pregnancy, I enlisted my baby daddy’s help (awkward at first - but in hindsight, the very BEST decision). 

After my six-week physical check and sign off with Jess, aka the.mama.physio, I was able to resume life as normal, including sex.

Placenta encapsulation pills come with a host of keepsakes.

It’s WILD, honestly. 

I enlisted a company called Opening to Life – an independent Melbourne-based premium service – to encapsulate my placenta so I could consume it after birth in the form of pills. 

This is said to help with recovery, postnatal depression and breastmilk production while boasting a host of other health benefits for mum and baby.

Through this process, I wanted to give my baby the best start in life and, in particular, my best chance of a smooth and seamless matrescense (transition to motherhood). 

The hospital asked me if I wanted to keep my placenta, then put it in a bucket for me to take home and put in the fridge.

A day or two after, a courier came to collect it and take it to the company for processing.

They sent it back a few days later in the form of 135 raw placenta pills (expected) and a lot of other stuff (most definitely not expected but delightfully surprising). 

The extras included a placenta print artwork of the bloody organ and umbilical cord on paper, which I’ll be framing, the dried cord tied in a heart shape, the dried placenta sac, plus a letter and photo. Total cost $350. 

Would highly recommend.

The sight of your vulva after birth is harrowing ...but it goes back.

People say ‘don’t look’, ‘why would you look?!’ and ‘oh no’, when I tell them this story. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I knew things were VERY different down there straight after birth and for the next couple of days in hospital. 

So, when I got home and had a moment alone in my bathroom after a shower, I got a mirror to have a good look. 

And I took a deep breath in preparation…  Yet, I truly did not expect the hand-over-mouth floods of tears and overwhelming, crushing self pity I’d feel afterwards. 

I couldn’t stop crying and collapsing to the floor dramatically for the rest of the day, feeling horribly sorry for myself. In a word, it was a monstrous sight. 

Massive bruising, swelling, and a vision of trauma I didn’t recognise as anything close to what I’d seen between my legs before. 

I looked for the first time three days after birth. I looked again at days five and seven… and let me tell you, it really does just go back. 

Amazingly, miraculously, it went down in just a few days. It still stung to pee and hurt to sit, but by about three-to-four weeks after birth, she looked pretty normal, with no sign of childbirth except for some persistent piles. Wow. 

Note to self: we are made to give birth and not permanently fall apart afterwards.

Contractions can feel amazing.

‘What does labour feel like?’ was my most curious question in the lead-up to childbirth. I really wanted to know, and all YouTube could tell me was ‘period pains’ and ‘like you’re being sliced across the tummy from the inside’. Jesus. 

People kept seriously catastrophising the feeling – yet I’d heard of orgasmic births. Where lay the truth? And how could I influence my experience?

Image: Supplied. For me, amazingly, contractions felt incredible.

ADVERTISEMENT

Yes, painful – but also natural, powerful, majestic… all-consuming. I felt like a warrior, like a superhuman doing a superhuman thing. Nothing could distract me from my groove as each one came. 

I had no idea they’d tell me I was 10cm dilated during my first internal exam, just three-to-four hours after I went into spontaneous labour. My baby’s head was engaged and ready to descend. What a joy to hear.

Contributing factors to this lush experience of labour, I imagine, included – going into it willingly and flowing with it, being informed thanks to childbirth education classes with Jo Terry (a Melbourne-based Midwife), 10-plus years of yoga practice and the associated breathing techniques I implemented, plus some chats I’d had with a vocal coach. 

I made low, humming sounds with each contraction, opening up the throat (in theory, opening up the other throat below, and relaxing her too). 

I relaxed my hands, mouth and shoulders, labouring on all fours while my partner implemented doula bodywork techniques we learned from Jo.

Breastfeeding involves a ‘breaking in’ process.

That’s why they say to stick with it… because eventually the bleeding, raw nipples change. Your boobs transform. At least, mine did. 

From the moment my baby was born to now, three months on, my boobs have grown and developed a slight, feminine droop. 

Image: Supplied. They’re laced in thin purple stretch marks on the bottom while thick green-blue veins cover the top. 

ADVERTISEMENT

My nipples have gone from fairly flat, little and brown, to large, pink and quite a bit thicker and more protruding from the areola out. 

A better fit for baby’s mouth. I actually love how they look, as weird as that might sound to some. They’re doing an amazing thing.

In particular, the time it took for them to change was the time that breastfeeding was incredibly painful, sore, exhausting and upsetting… about three or four weeks from birth. 

Now, I feel like my baby sucking on my boobs and the hormones and bodily processes associated ‘broke them in’, changing them from regular boobies to magical baby feeding machines. 

For more from Deni, follow her on Instagram or check out her website.

Feature Image: Supplied.

Want to have your voice heard? Plus go in the running to win 1 of 3 $100 vouchers? Take our survey now.
MMSurvey