My husband says my body has changed shape since giving birth, but I don’t notice anything different when looking in the mirror. Apart from the bigger, saggy breasts, that is :P. I’m still hoping once I stop breastfeeding, that could change. My breasts were big enough before the pregnancy and I am not interested in an upgrade. Before the lockdown, I also fit very well in my pre-pregnancy clothes :))).
There are, however, small and less visible ways in which my body has changed with childbirth. My body will never feel or look the same. It took me a while to accept this. My body adjusted quickly, but the mind needed so much more attention and caring to learn to live with the new me.
Tears and stitches
That final push motivated by my absolute want to avoid an episiotomy ended in tears and lacerations all over the vulva and perineum. Our midwife spent more than forty-five minutes to stitch me in the midst of constant post-partum bleeding, in what felt like longer and more uncomfortable than labour itself. I don’t know how bad it was in medical terms, I don’t remember anyone telling me the degree of the tears and I did not know about it to ask. I assume it can’t have been that bad. I did not really experience pain or much discomfort because of the stitches. The first two days post-birth I was in intensive care with a catheter on, so that must have helped a lot. I had a slight sensation of burning the first time I weed on my own, but that was all in terms of immediate bodily sensations. What I did feel was a sensation of heaviness, like carrying a piece of lead between my legs. Nevertheless, I did take daily twenty minutes sitz baths with Epsom salts, as recommended, for the first weeks. It helped me relax and disconnect (that is, until my husband came in asking how much longer, cause the baby was fussing :P).
During the first weeks, the idea of the tears and stitches was mentally uncomfortable. I avoided looking down between my legs for weeks. Looking back, I must have been quite anxious. I attribute it to a feeling of having “damaged” my body, having rendered it different than before in a way I could not grasp, probably mixed with disappointment about having ended up tearing, against my hopes and efforts to avoid it. Given the situation of the baby and the way I pushed him out, tearing was probably unavoidable, and I am probably lucky it wasn’t worse.
I kept asking my husband whether all looked fine. I asked the midwife to check at each one of our post-partum appointments. It felt itchy sometimes and my gynae prescribed a cream. I only used it a couple of times and the itchiness went away. A couple of weeks in, it started to feel a bit stingy and even a tiny bit painful at contact. When I finally took the courage to take a look at it, it turned out it was because of small pimples that have appeared all over the vulva. They cleared away quickly and it all went back to normal. Pimples continued to appear here and there on the vulva and perineum for the first few months, sometimes making it uncomfortable to sit down properly. They went away on their own. I didn’t speak to a doctor about the pimples, but I assume hormones must have had something to do with that.
Every once in a while I can still feel a momentary tingling. I remember a gynae telling me she could only feel her episiotomies when the weather changed, kind of like my dad feeling discomfort in his knees because of his rheumatism. It’s something I can relate to now. Another thing, for at least a year after childbirth my vagina was very dry, so extra lubrication was needed during sex. It’s gotten better, but it still requires dedication to get things going :).
Abdominal surgery scar
From a physical point of view, the pain went away fairly quickly. The four days I was in the hospital, I got painkillers through the drip. I was sent home with a bag full of painkillers, but I took four or five at most, during the first two days. By that point, it wasn’t pain anymore. I probably could have gone without the pills, but I did not want to feel any discomfort related to the surgery or the scar.
For a very long time, the area around the scar felt numb. I could feel nothing around it. To a certain extent, it is still true, but it doesn’t feel foreign anymore.
Mentally and emotionally, it was very challenging and it took me a while to accept I had an abdominal scar. I hated it so much, I didn’t look at it for days. I felt deeply frustrated and angry that it should be there at all. I had done everything I could to have a natural birth and I had had it and still…. For the first two weeks, the staples around the stitch would prick in some positions. Taking the staples out was uncomfortable, but not painful. The nurse who did it was extra careful and empathetic; her husband had had stitches removed in a very rough way and she was aware of the emotional effects.
In time, the scar faded away. I used to look at it every once in a while, just to see how the fading was progressing. Looking at it still can bring up painful memories and feelings of helplessness and disappointment mostly, that this happened to me. When going to the beach and particularly when seeing mommies in bathing suits, I can’t stop but look below their tummy to see whether there’s a sign of a C-section scar. Whilst not visible, it is noticeable through a one piece swimming suit; it’s like a tiny ditch in the flesh and skin.
Hip and lower back pain
I felt signs of discomfort in my hip and lower back (or maybe lower back irradiating down into my hip) around three months after birth. I was sitting down on the bed, resting my back on a pillow and had just finished breastfeeding. I didn’t know whether it was the pre-pregnancy hip pain that was coming back or whether maybe I had not paid enough attention to protecting my back during breastfeeding. At some point, I had my lower back checked by an orthopedist and a physiotherapist. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but I did ten sessions of physiotherapy and kinetotherapy anyway and for some weeks, it went away. Then the pain came back.
I assumed my sleeping conditions bore the responsibility. We co-slept throughout the night with baby until he was 14-15 months. That meant sleeping on one side only for half the night or so and then switch sides and breast. There was also definite pain on the hip at the contact points with the bed. Yoga helped keep discomfort away, as long as I could keep up a regular practice. Ten minutes of gentle sun salutations in the morning at least three days a week did the trick. That, together with ensuring adequate support for my back whilst breastfeeding during the day. As soon as I let a few days pass without exercise, the pain came back. It is still the case today. Baby sleeping in his bed half of the night has helped over the past months, but I still spend at least half the night on one side, with my spine twisted.
On a few occasions over the past two years plus we managed to indulge in a massage treatment. It always felt so good afterwards. I felt like new for a short while, with all the tension in the back gone. Breastfeeding however makes back massages deeply uncomfortable. Lying on my tummy quickly became painful. I used to breastfeed immediately before having the massage and would constantly reposition my breasts when facing down. It was stressful, I kept waiting for the moment my breasts would start aching. And they always started with me face up, which gave enough time to the breasts to start filling up again. It got better with time, as the pace of breastfeeding slowed down and milk production decreased.
Upper back pain
This one triggered in later, from holding and carrying baby around, once he became a bit heavier. An orthopedist told us upper back pain was absolutely common in new parents. He should know; he had an eight months old baby. It just occurred to me that now that baby is two and a bit and he asks only occasionally to be picked up and he can understand if I only hold him for short spans of time, this particular sensation has toned down. I can still feel it during yoga practice, oh those moments in extended child’s pose, but generally, this one is pretty much gone. Yeei!!! 🙂
My buddies have stayed with me. I lost all hope that they would retreat on their own. I used all tricks and home remedies I heard of, but nothing worked. They are still alive, so I have to be very mindful about my transit and constipation. When I don’t, they grow a bit and then go back to their normal size.
I have always had a lazy transit, but it is only since developing the piles that I have become much more aware of all the factors enabling a good transit and avoiding constipation. I have to pay attention that I eat properly and have a good fiber intake, drink enough water and exercise during the day. It is not always forthcoming and it takes a conscious effort still. I don’t always get it right, and for those times, I have at hand extra fiber to drink. Back during the first weeks post-partum it was more challenging. I was on iron supplements because of all the blood loss and that can cause constipation. I took a natural laxative to counter the effect of the supplements.
My GP advised to live with my buddies as long as they didn’t create discomfort. Should I really want to get rid of them, he advised to only consider surgery once I was done having kids.
It took me a long time to accept my very close buddies were here to stay. The first few days, when the stitches on the perineum were fresh and I could feel something with my touch, I was convinced somehow one of the piles had been stitched in. I was very anxious about it and asked the midwife to check every time. She calmly looked at them and told me everything was fine, that also the doctor had revised her stitching and all was in order. I was still hoping then they would go away and didn’t want anything to prevent that.
My husband has been checking them regularly, their colour, number and size. According to him, they look healthy. And they haven’t multiplied :)). He keeps telling me it is not a big deal, not to think about them. It just feels foreign, to have bits of skin just hanging outside the anus.
For months and months after giving birth I felt pressure on my rectum, particularly when sitting down for long stretches (at the office or just home). I don’t know whether this was a consequence of constipation or piles or something else, my GP didn’t offer any real explanation, other than being something related to giving birth that should go away in time. I also did not keep a journal about it in relation to my transit and bowel movements, to observe a possible link. It certainly became unbearable on flights, especially when the baby was also sleeping in my arms. On more than one flight between South Africa and Europe my husband ended up walking up and down the airplane aisle with the baby in his arms most of the night. That was a dreadful experience. I still experience it occasionally, but it is much less rare and painful. And now I know better to stand up frequently and stretch when bound to a seat for longer periods of time.