In this motherhood journey, there are different experiences; some good, some bad and some are downright scary. Like I mentioned in some previous articles, I heard so many myths regarding pregnancy, labour, breast feeding, the first time I got pregnant. However, I found out for myself those that were real, and which were exaggerated.
However, one of those myths that came true for me was “You will have a tear the first time.” I had a tear that required stitches, which led to me having to sit as though on hot coals for weeks afterwards. I actually favoured a part of bum whenever I sat down. And all the experienced moms around me, including my Mom, insisted that I sit properly, to give the tear an opportunity to heal as naturally as possible. Easy to say, after all, they didn’t have stitches in that most intimate part of their body.
And then, I was still bleeding, which meant I had to use a recommended sanitary pad, which had this dressing bandage covering it…meaning the edges of my stitches sometimes got caught in it, causing slight discomfort during changing time.
Lastly, my tear was not natural, as it was the labour nurse who took a blade to my lady bits and cut me; basically an episiotomy. Her reason for doing that was to make it easier for my babies, who were premature, to come out easily. She felt there was no reason to make them do any work coming out, when thy were likely to have challenges coping with life outside the womb. She did not want to compound their condition, so I had to endure a cut, to open up my perineum for their birth.
Ironically, it was the same mom who enjoyed sharing all these myths with me, who eventually confessed to having a tear whilst she birthed her sixth child. Whenever she describes it, she usually says, “When that boy came, he tore me to pieces. Everything was just scattered down there.” and she meant that literally. She said she had never had such a severe tear that needed several layers of stitches, from muscles to flesh. It was not a nice experience for her, but would she trade having that experience, or having her son, for anything in the whole world? The answer is no.
I hope that by now, you are not in any way scared, and maybe involuntarily doing kegel exercises. Experiences differ, but what should you expect? From my investigations, I found that I might have fallen into the 70 percent of women who were most likely to have a vaginal tear during their first time of giving birth.
According to a study that was carried out on over 10, 000 women who had just given birth, approximately 70% of those who had a vaginal birth experienced some degree of damage to the perineum, due to a tear or cut (episiotomy), and needed to be stitched back to normal. Sometimes too, pregnant moms, who went through a lengthy labor before delivering via cesarean section, can expect to have some perineal postpartum pain.
And it’s common, especially because of the pressure from the baby’s head pushing through, for the mother to experience tears and lacerations in the perineum (the area between your vagina and your anus) and sometimes your cervix as well. As many as half of all women will have at least a small tear after childbirth, and anyone delivering vaginally is at risk.
Vaginal tears during child birth are in four different degrees. As you can imagine, the First degree tear involves only a tear in the flesh and that can be easily stitched together but the Second degree tear involves both flesh and muscle, and it is the most common type of tear.
The Third degree tear goes into the deeper layers of the vagina and the muscles that make up the anal sphincter, says Dr Sherry Ross, an ob-gyn and women’s health expert. She added that the attending doctor at the labour would need to need to sew each layer separately, with special attention to closing the muscle layer supporting the sphincter.
As for the Fourth-degree tear, it encompasses all of the tears in the other degrees of tears and extends right through to the rectal lining. “This is a very delicate and thorough repair that involves closing multiple layers,” says Dr. Ross. “Thankfully, this is the least common tear experienced. Generally, third- and fourth-degree tears are more common when the baby’s shoulder gets stuck, or when a vacuum or forceps are used.”
The good news is that when a tear happens during a first time child birth, subsequently, the muscles of the vagina have more elasticity, and thus are able to expand without breaking.
Now we know we can tear while giving birth, so what do we do next? Well, for me, that meant that whenever I had my morning bath, (which I termed torture, because, it involved a lot of hot water and massaging of my new mom body), I had to practically hold still as my Mom placed the warm towel down there, close to the stitches. We did this for weeks, until the stitches disappeared.
Other things you can do as advised by medical practitioners include:
– Cleaning the stitches, by spraying warm water over it, especially when you urinate
– Using a fresh pad, at least every four to six hours.
– Letting yourself heal, i.e, hands off! (I could have used this advice years ago). If you’re constantly “testing” how the site is healing by touching it, it’s going to take longer to get better. And you might even infect the wound.
– Staying healthy. The sooner you can get your bowels moving, the better all around, although, it might take a few days. It’s natural to be scared about breaking the stitches during your first postpartum bowel movement. But the doctors say not to worry, it will not. To help things along, eat more whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, drink plenty of liquids, and, as soon as you’re ready, try to get on your feet for short strolls.
Finally, I just hope I have not scared some of you moms to-be into rethinking the whole child birth experience. A phrase usually bandied around a new mom by the Yorubas, especially, when she is recounting her birthing experience literally means, “God will soon remove the memory from your mind.”
So, here’s hoping you all indeed forget about the pain of the experience.
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