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.