Warning: This articles includes graphic details of the effects of childbirth.
When a woman asked mums to share their stories of damage from a “natural” vaginal birth, she got them. The woman, calling herself Lilonetwo, posted on Mumsnet because she’d had her first child by caesarean and she was tossing up between a vaginal birth and a second caesarean.
“I feel like damage after birth isn’t very often discussed,” she wrote. “People often think, ‘Oh, straightforward birth, no lasting complications, woman goes back to normal life,’ which I’m aware probably isn’t always the case. What damage (long- or short-term) did a vaginal birth do to you?”
One woman said she was back to having sex again four days after giving birth to her first child, and it was only “a bit tender”. Others reported no incontinence or other issues, even when they’d had tearing and stitches.
But then there were the horror stories. Some women had gone through complicated births, which had led to months of agony.
We deep dive on everything that goes on in the birthing suite, from the beautiful to the downright terrifying. Post continues after audio.
“Twenty-six stitches, a three-day very painful labour,” wrote one woman.
“My labia is healed as it is torn, so my vagina looks deformed (though I don’t care). I was in constant agony for two months and I couldn’t walk hardly and had to pee in the bath which was still agony. Also I had a horrible, horrible pulled muscle clitoris thing which I got from doing a pelvic floor exercise. Also I ripped my bum from pushing so hard.”
“Induced, traumatic birth,” added another. “Baby literally ripped out with forceps. Extensive, rapid episiotomy because of severe bleed. Stress and urge incontinence. Fenton’s procedure after 18 months. Sex not possible in all that time as vagina partly sewn shut.”
“I had a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean), ended up with foetal distress again, so had ventouse and was cut which was horrible,” added a third. “Outside stitches fell out soon after and got infection. It was the worst experience of my life. Pelvic floor felt f***ed. Plus I bled for months afterwards.”
Then there were the women who developed problems despite having uncomplicated deliveries.
“Straightforward vaginal birth, short labour, no intervention, no tears, smallish baby,” wrote one.
“I was fit, healthy, not overweight, did my pelvic floor exercises. Seventeen months on and I am not recovered. I used to lift weights and loved running and exercise. I now have prolapsed womb, bladder and bowel. I have seen a specialist physio and gynae and their advice is not to lift any weight or run or jump again if I want to improve my prolapse, which is devastating to me. Sex is sometimes awkward and painful. I have trouble pooing and have to support my perineum in order to poo properly.”
“Two very fast, straightforward labours,” added another. “Amazingly, no tears (due to being water births?). But definite stress incontinence, worse after the second birth. And I’m not sure if I have some sort of minor prolapse too – things don’t feel the same down there and I’m too embarrassed to go to the GP about it.”
Melbourne obstetrician Dr Philippa Costley says vaginal birth isn’t without risk.
“Sometimes people don’t fully comprehend the full risks of vaginal delivery,” she tells Mamamia. “It is important to have a look at that when you are pregnant and deciding what mode of delivery you want.”
We asked Midwife Cath to debunk some of the most common birth myths. Post continues after video.
Dr Costley says it’s common to have some damage from a vaginal birth, but it’s not common to have major damage. She says about a third of women will suffer a prolapse, but only a third of those will need treatment.
“Some women feel a dragging sensation, and when that becomes extreme, there are procedures you can have.”
Dr Costley says women can suffer faecal or flatal incontinence – not being able to stop themselves passing gas – but most commonly, she sees women with urinary incontinence following childbirth.
“A huge proportion of those women can actually have resolution of their symptoms just from physiotherapy,” she says.
There are also surgical procedures available, including what’s called a “tension-free tape”.
“Eighty-five to 90 per cent of women find that an effective operation,” she adds.
Dr Costley believes a lot of women who develop problems from childbirth don’t seek help for them.
“I think people are scared to show someone,” she says. “I also think it’s just the pressures of life. You’ve got a child and you’ve got a hundred other things on your mind, so often women don’t see their own health care as their priority.”
But she says no matter what the problem is, there is almost always something that can be done to fix it.
“It would be extremely rare to have no treatment options at all.”
If this post brings up any issues for you, you are urged to speak with your doctor.
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