health

The words women never expect to yell during childbirth

Imagine you were required to take a poo in front of an audience.

You are naked from the waist down and are expected to assume various awkward and immodest positions, most of them with your bum poking out so that everyone can get a better view. Those in the room with you are not politely averting their eyes and humming to cover any unfortunate toilet sounds. Instead, your audience, some of them positioned less than a metre away from the action, keep their eyes fixed squarely on your nether regions, some of them positioned less than a metre away from the action. Hell, your partner might even be videotaping the whole thing.

If you don’t find the picture I’ve painted discomforting then congratulations, you may move straight to the birthing suite. But if, like most well-socialised human beings, this scenario fills you with horror, then you’ll empathise with how I felt when I discovered the horrible truth about labour.

As your baby enters the world, so too will your poo.

This little-discussed fact changed forever the way I felt about giving birth. My greatest fear was no longer of death, disablement or labias so distended that they forever flapped in the wind. My healthcare professionals had reassured me that I could be sewn up if I tore and given blood if I hemorrhaged. And, according to the nice lady on Extreme Makeover, labias can be cosmetically trimmed if one is so inclined. But when it came to the possibility that I might lose control of my bowels during labour there was no similar reassurance. Worse still, when I pressed my doctors and midwives, they admitted that there was indeed a very high likelihood that I would defecate as I gave birth.

Yet every midwife and obstetrician I spoke to dismissed my concerns as neurotic.

But if I am a neurotic then I’m in good company. I ended up befriending one of the midwives who later attended my labour and, once she was off duty, Greta readily admitted that two-thirds of the women she’s attended have expressed grave fears of shitting while pushing out the baby. It seems that after ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’, the words most often spoken in our nation’s birthing suites are: ‘Oh no, I’m doing a poo! I’m doing a poo!’ And these women soon discover that, no matter how much they protest, no one is willing to take their concern seriously much less do anything about it.

I first found out about all this when I was perusing a handy list of things I’d need during my labour. Among the obvious stuff—lollies to keep your blood sugar up, massage oil so your beloved can give you a relaxing shoulder rub—was a kitchen strainer. The list cryptically specified that this item would be required only for water births.

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Why in God’s name would I need a strainer at a birth, I wondered. Would I be expected to whip up a bowl of pasta for my visitors in between breastfeeding the new baby? Then it struck me. Water birth. Strainer. To be used for removing foreign matter from water. Floating matter …

As part of a generation who learned about life through TV, my ignorance about all this was not so unusual. The caca accompaniment to labour is one of the many aspects of birthing that you are unlikely to see depicted in film or television. Representations of labouring women on our screens are traditionally accompanied by calls for boiled water and towels, not air freshener and hypoallergenic toilet paper. A sweaty brow might be wiped, but never a pooey bottom.

You may get a hint of the truth if you attend the sort of natural birth classes where they show graphic, uncensored birth videos: no, the midwife didn’t accidentally drop her Chokito Bar into the birthing tub, and yes, it is time to get that strainer out.

Until I became aware of this complicating physiological indignity, I’d envisaged my first-born’s entry into the world as a glorious expulsion, beautiful and profound. His tiny body would gracefully leave my uterine nest, he would draw his first miraculous breath, then he’d be placed gently into my loving arms, all to the accompaniment of the ethereal Brian Eno ambient CD my partner had carefully chosen.

Little did I realise that Mr Hankey’s theme song would be a more appropriate soundtrack.

‘Don’t you think we’ve seen it all before?’ my midwife clucked when I raised the faecal matter with her. ‘We’ve been splattered with every possible bodily fluid in the line of duty, so a bit of poo doesn’t bother us.’ I explained that it wasn’t her I was worried about. After all, she wasn’t the one being asked to do a public crap. I was. But this midwife remained unmoved, in both senses of the word. When I pressed the point she just put on her Stepford Nurse face and wrote a note in my file, presumably under the Crazy Woman header.

And as she wrote she repeated her mantra: ‘We don’t care, we just wipe it away. And you won’t care either, once you’re there.’ But I did care. I cared a lot.

This post is an excerpt from the book Things I Didn't Expect (when I was expecting), written by Monica Dux and published by Melbourne University Press.  Purchase your copy here. Contact the author via Twitter at @monicadux.

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