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When You Tear Down There: How to Heal, Cope & Learn to Laugh About it Later

May05

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catherine%20connors.jpg
Pregnant Amalah listening to Her Bad Mother (cradling baby Jasper) at Blogher. Image by jdlasica.

Okay, guys. This week’s topic is probably not a fun one. Probably not a lunchtime one, either. We’re talking tears and episiotomies and stitches and the not-so-glorious aftereffects of vaginal childbirth. So…yeah. Put down the lo mein. Since this is another one of those topics that I do not have any personal experience with (my stitches are a little higher north, in a less-delicate area), I decided to interview the Internet’s very own Queen of the Frankenvulva, Catherine Conners of Her Bad Mother. I was pregnant when I first read her account of Speed Racer Childbirth, and yes, it scared the everloving crap out of me but I survived and so did she and so will you. So buck up, little campers. And for those of you with similar battle scars, I salute you, and (as always) encourage you to offer your own insights in the comments section.

Q. Well. So. This marks an important first for me, both as a writer and as a human being, as I don’t believe I’ve ever asked someone specifically about the state of her vagina. But, hey, tell me about what happened to your vagina.

Well, it actually happened to my vaginal tissue and perineal muscles and – ahem – anus. Which, no, I wouldn’t have known to make those distinction either, if it hadn’t been torn to shreds and someone had to say OH HAI WE NEED TO REPAIR YOUR PERINEUM AREA.

What happened, in the most basic and non-descriptive terms: my second child, my son Jasper, came really, really fast. Like, crowned while we were speeding down the highway to the hospital fast. They call it “precipitous labor” — labor that takes less than 3 hours. In my case, 3 hours would have been a luxury. First contraction to baby exploding out of my parts: 40 minutes. Yes, it’s terrifying. And yes, that exploding part: TRUE. When a baby comes really fast, there’s no time for the birth canal to adapt to his passage. Normally, the canal (down on through the ol’ tunnel we call the vagina) graaaaadually expands to accommodate the giant creature comin’ on out of your belly. So do your lady parts, such that although some tearing (or episiotomy, which is cutting, which: shudder) is pretty normal. But when baby makes a speedy exit, he basically just blasts his way out. Makes his own exit. TEARS YOU A NEW ASSHOLE. For reals.
Which they had to surgically repair right there, right after baby blasted out. Oh, don’t worry, they gave me a little topical freezing. And a Tylenol. And when one of the doctors accidentally stitched his finger to my vulva, I didn’t even notice, because I was already screaming.

Q. Oh. My. God. How do you recover from something like that, both physically and mentally? Because DUDE.

SLOWLY. Seriously. VERY SLOWLY. It was a borderline fourth degree tear, which means that although it could have been worse, it couldn’t have been *much* worse.

The doctors and nurses told me that I was likely going to experience some measure of post-traumatic shock, which I totally did. For the nethers: lots and lots and lots of ice. And painkillers: lots and lots of painkillers. And believe me when I say that I consumed my body weight in colace, because I was TERRIFIED of shitting. TERRIFIED.

I had to stay off my feet for about five weeks after the birth, so that it would heal. That kind of sucked, but when you`re terrified of moving your legs apart, long strolls aren’t really on the agenda.

Q. Again: God. Also: Oh. My. What kind of follow-up medical care did you need? What’s the “usual” recovery time?

As I said, I had to stay off my feet for about five weeks, but I had a pretty serious tear. Ordinary tears (of the sort that I had with my first pregnancy) heal pretty quickly, and you don’t have to go on bed rest or anything, but a blast site needs special care and tending.

But there was some added difficulty — the repair wasn’t perfectly done (which my doctor said was totally understandable, given that it was done in emergency circumstances. “There would have been lots of blood,” she said, unnecessarily. “It would have been difficult for them to see what they were doing.” Which is why Doogie Howser stitched his finger to my parts, I suppose) which meant that I was uncomfortable for longer than I might otherwise have been, because it didn’t heal properly.

AWESOME.

Q. I cannot even believe I’m going to ask this, but…sex? Yay? Nay?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

That took MONTHS. It was advised against, but seriously, like you’re going to be tempted when your nethers are held together by a sloppy cross-stitch. For a few weeks I told my husband that I was never having sex again. Thankfully, he didn’t believe me.

Q. I’m picturing some poor pregnant woman out there, shaking with absolute terror, wishing she could unread everything that’s she’s just read.. Any words of advice for her or tips to avoid this level of damage?

I know. I felt terribly after I posted the story at my blog, because a lot of the early comments were all OH MAH GAWD AM NEVER HAVING BABEEZ EVER. But seriously, third and fourth degree tears are rare — precipitous births are also rare, occurring in something like less than 2% of all births — and if your birth is otherwise straightforward, you probably won’t even notice. Especially if you get the drugs — which I couldn’t, because my nether-blaster baby came too fast — you won’t feel it, but even if you don’t, you probably won’t even be aware of the moment of tearing. I mean, I just remember that the whole thing hurt, not that there was a blast.
For me, it was the surgery-without-anesthesia afterward that was most traumatic (and the almost-giving-birth-on-the-highway); I don`t remember any specifics like oh hai there goes mah anus! And most regular tears heal pretty quickly. And seriously, if you’re worried about whether you’ll be up for sex and tennis within a week or two of having birth, you’re an alien and you’ll probably hatch your offspring and so none of this applies to you.

Some midwives and doulas recommend perineal massage to get the area ready for all the stretching that it’s going to have to do, but I don’t know that I would have been up for that even had I known how my labor was going to play out. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried. But seriously, there’s so much going in labor that’s uncomfortable that under ordinary circumstances you’re really not singling any one thing out to be bothered by. And end of the day, when they put your baby arms and he looks at you and your heart explodes, nothing else matters.


You can read more about Catherine’s Adventures in Torn-Up-Nethersland here and here and here, but she does occasionally talk about other things. Actually, she mostly talks about other things. Funny, thought-provoking, brilliant things. But oh, come on. Y’all don’t need ME to tell you how great she it. It’s CATHERINE.

If you landed here but are still pregnant, visit Amalah’s Pregnancy Calendar. You won’t regret it.

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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48 Responses to “When You Tear Down There: How to Heal, Cope & Learn to Laugh About it Later”

  1. Della May 05 at 11:23 am Reply Reply

    *Bows to the awesomeness that is Catherine*
    [moment of silence]
    As someone who had tearing requiring stitches, I remember hearing the doc say “second degree” but at the time I didn’t know whether it was an ascending or descending scale (in other words, is a high number more urgent, or a low number?) and stuff.
    So, I looked it up.
    ===========================
    Here is a bit of something off a medical site, just so you understand exactly what the levels are:
    First degree: Injury to perineal skin only
    Second degree: Injury to perineum involving perineal muscles but not involving the anal sphincter
    Third degree: Injury to perineum involving the anal sphincter complex:
    3a: Less than 50% of external anal sphincter (EAS) thickness torn
    3b: More than 50% of EAS thickness torn
    3c: Both EAS and internal anal sphincter (IAS) torn
    Fourth degree: Injury to perineum involving the anal sphincter complex (EAS and IAS) and anal epithelium.
    What Is the Prognosis Following Surgical Repair?
    A – Women should be advised that the prognosis following EAS repair is good, with 60–80% asymptomatic at 12 months. Most women who remain symptomatic describe incontinence of flatus (involuntary farting) or faecal urgency. [Faecal urgency is the inability to wait or 'hang on' to go to the toilet to use the bowels. A sufferer has to get to the toilet as soon as they feel an urge to go. Accidents may not happen but faecal urgency
    is disabling.]
    So, there, now you don’t have to google it.
    And for those who are now panicking about the possibility of your pooper no longer working, think about this quote from Professor Dirk Brockmann, someone who models epidemics (and thus has a very good grasp on statistics) as quoted in today’s New York Times:
    “People have a very weird perception of large numbers. If you have 2,000 cases of flu in a country of 300 million, most people think they’re going to be one of the 2,000, not one of the 299,998,000.”
    So when you figure there were 4.3 million births in the US in 2007, and that one study figured a rate of 1.2% for 3rd AND 4th degree tears combined, that means that about 4,263,220 births, statistically, would have 2nd degree or milder tearing (including a good possibility of no tearing at all).
    ===========================
    AND just to chime in, about my 2nd degree tearing – like Catherine said, you DON’T feel it when it’s happening. My stitches were itchy and a little tender for the first week or so (probably until they dissolved). I actually felt good enough two weeks after giving birth that I was interested in having sex, but the doctor had said the generic 6 weeks and I didn’t want to harm the stitches, so we avoided it. Probably good, because after the wait time was up, it took a healthy 2-3 more months before there was no pain or irritation during intercourse. I’d say I was completely fine by 6 months. It’s kind of like any part on your body – if you don’t exercise it (gently) after it’s injured, it will continue to be stiff or sore, until you start using it again regularly.
    ________________
    Editor: bow to your awesomeness Della!

  2. Molly Chase May 05 at 11:28 am Reply Reply

    I recently wrote a little about my episiotomy at my own blog. To sum it up: I didn’t mind it. I figure the baby’s coming out somehow, and I’d rather have a nice, neat, surgically-repaired cut than to tear from bellybutton to butthole. Given the size of my kid’s head, and the four pushes that it took him to go from safely ensconsed up by my cervix to crowning, one or the other was pretty much inevitable.
    I’m pregnant again now, and I totally choose the episiotomy, again. Mostly based on what I just read here. Yowza.

  3. Loukia May 05 at 11:32 am Reply Reply

    OH MY GOD is right. What a traumatic experience! I can’t imagine the pain… eek!

  4. alexa May 05 at 11:59 am Reply Reply

    wow that sounds horrible. So horribly horrible. I physically recoiled from the monitor many times.
    I had an episiotomy. As others mentioned, I didn’t feel getting it, but it hurt a lot when they were sewing it up. Most have that might have been my misconception that once the baby is out the pain goes away. That isn’t true.

  5. Karen May 05 at 12:25 pm Reply Reply

    Wow…and ouch. That brought back some very painful memories I had forced way out of my head. Just thinking about my 3rd degree Episiotomy confirms I am indeed crazy to want another baby!
    I agree with most of the comments in that I didn’t feel the cut. I had a 9 lb. 2 ounce HUGE bundle of love with linebacker shoulders. The doctor told me the tear was going to be worse that the cut and asked what I wanted to do…which at the time didn’t matter because, hello! I just wanted to get him out.
    So he did what he felt was best and I just wish I was prepared for the stiches because that was way worse than the procedure.
    They pumped drugs into me to stop my screaming and I passed out for a couple of hours. Thank goodness for those ice pack pads. When I had that and some good pain meds I forgot all about it. Recovery didn’t take too long…about 5 weeks.
    I also agree that once I was nursing my son I couldn’t care less about what was going on “down there”.

  6. Jo May 05 at 2:07 pm Reply Reply

    My favorite bloggers in one space, this is too exciting– even if it is a horrific subject. Huge respect to Catherine for getting through that and being able to talk about it so honestly and candidly. She is my hero.
    I’ve always wanted to talk about my vajayjay on the internet, so I figure now is my chance! Hooray!
    I had an emergency episiotomy with a ventouse delivery that was expertly stitched up after my 10 pounder blasted into the world (to be honest, I didn’t even notice the stitching up part after such a painful delivery). Then we had a rather traumatic week in the hospital afterwards due to some strange things going on with my baby. I didn’t look after myself properly because I was too worried about her, and long story short, my stitches ripped out, I got an awful infection and it was almost as painful as the actual giving birth part.
    The episiotomy itself wasn’t painful at all (the 10 pound baby blasting through my lady parts was a little more distracting), but getting an infection the week later made it impossible to re-do the stitches, so I basically had a big, gaping hole where there isn’t supposed to be one. The nurse actually told me not to look at it because I would be traumatized. Nice (I ignored her and of course had a good old look with the mirror as soon as I got home). If I hadn’t caught the infection when I finally did, it could have moved into my uterus and caused some major problems. So watch out for excessive pain, strange colored blood and interesting… smells… lovely.
    It was very painful for a quite a while (5 weeks was the worst of it, as Catherine said), but the happy ending is that I healed really well and you wouldn’t even know what happened 8 months later. I cried and cried (maybe slightly postnatal, possibly?) about my gaping frankenvulva to my husband and how it would NEVER be the same, SOB. But now it is, ha. And sex is finally getting good again (but it took a while!) and the possibility of another child isn’t making me recoil in horror anymore.
    Point is, it’s a good idea to take care of yourself, but I guess it doesn’t take a genius. I was so unprepared for the healing part of childbirth and so many books don’t prepare you. I wish someone had sat me down and explained that childbirth actually REALLY hurts and it takes a major toll on your body and that for the 4-6 weeks after, you need to treat your body as if it had gone through a major surgery.
    That said, I still remember the day I gave birth incredulously with awe and amazement and only a teensy weensy bit of horror. It wasn’t at all the glowy TLC Birth Story I prepared myself for, but it was better in it’s own way.

  7. Jess May 05 at 2:49 pm Reply Reply

    Sweet christ on bicycle this is enough to keep me from ever having kids…maybe I should stop reading this section of Amalah blogging….
    **shudder**

  8. She Likes Purple May 05 at 4:05 pm Reply Reply

    I want to buy Catherine a stiff, stiff drink. I just had my first baby three months ago (to the day!) and my actual labor experience (post-epidural, which is probably the KEY here, right?) was so minor compared to this, I’m almost embarrassed to share, but I guess it’s important to show that every mother’s experience is different.
    I pushed for all of 15 minutes before my son came out, easily and smoothly. He was 7 lbs, 2 oz. There was a slight tear that she stitched up quickly and painlessly. I felt physically fine the very next day, although I stayed on Motrin a few days after that.
    Now, emotionally? I was metaphorically shredded apart myself. Man oh man. I think I was handed a very easy labor and delivery because someone knew the next six weeks would practically kill me.

  9. Joy May 05 at 4:46 pm Reply Reply

    I had a fourth degree tear with my first child, thanks to his stuck shoulders, and needing a vacuum assist to get him out, STAT. I would have ended up with a section, but I heard the one doctor reply to the other that it was too late for a section. So, out came baby. Fast, messy, and with all the force I could muster. I felt it, but the repair after was worse. I think, because, my baby was out safe and sound and I was actually concentrating on myself again. (Maybe I should have concentrated on my husband, and watched him turn seventy three shades of green and grey instead of the stitching!)
    As for the healing… staying off my feet forever was helpful, and ice packs. Lots of ice!! Too, I kept a bottle of witch hazel in the fridge, and poured some on a pantyliner, inside of the big maxi pad once or twice a day. It helped, totally. And also, KEGELS. Do not ever neglect your Kegels, ladies. Exercise, exercise, exercise!!
    Sex was undertaken with extreme caution much later, but it eventually all felt great again! And the scar seems to be slowly dissolving, seven years later…

  10. sasspizzazz May 05 at 5:04 pm Reply Reply

    I haven’t had kids, but I’m not going to let this completely scare me away, so don’t worry too much about frightening people, Amy and Catherine.
    Mostly I’m grateful that someone has alerted me to this possibility. I mean, I knew about episiotomies and stuff, but HulkSmash Babies were not something I was familiar with. I know Catherine said that some people recommend ‘perineal massage,’ but do you think it’s enough if I just try to learn how to do a split and work on that every day for the next 10 years, until I have a baby?

  11. just can't say May 05 at 6:24 pm Reply Reply

    Okay, this is all making me really grateful for the minor tears I had with #1 and #2. My problem is that I have, um, a big lump of scar tissue. I asked my OB about it and she merrily said “Well, maybe you won’t get the cover of Vagina Magazine!” Ha ha ha hahahahaha….until I realized how many magazines actually contain such shots. Anyway, my husband has never mentioned this giant lump of scar tissue but I can hardly stand to feel it, it give me the creeps so bad. Would I, could I, ever get that repaired?

  12. Kathleen May 05 at 11:14 pm Reply Reply

    I’ll second the thought than the epidural has to make this so much better, although I now know that I had it lucky (4th degree?? eek.).
    My son was born three months ago, and the belief in our hospital is that “natural” (hah) tears are now better, so no episiotomy for me. And I never heard a degree applied to mine — because it went the OTHER direction. Um, yeah. The stitching didn’t hurt (yay epidural!), but I was broken from my baby-on-my-belly bliss to hear the doctor mutter something about “a real 3D issue down here”. Didn’t know what that meant until all the swelling went down and I realized that I now had the ability to wear an earring in one of my, um, labia. Not an earring, really, an ear plug – we’re talking a large loop o’ skin. My doctor deemed this a hygiene issue at my 6 week, and we decided to clip it. Getting a local for this HURT. Like “honey come hold my hand so I don’t writhe off of the table” hurt (yes, my amazing husband was there for this). The clip took a second (should have turned down the local, it was worse), a day or so of return to post-pregnancy peeing/sitting pain, and all was good.
    My doctor did offer plastic surgery to return things to their, um, original shape (she was very upset that her handiwork failed), but no thank you! So, just can’t say – you probably can get it repaired, but… ow.
    And for those about to give birth – the tearing was my BIGGEST fear. Like irrational pregnant crying in doctor’s office fear. With the epidural, all of it was so nothing (especially compared to days of false back labor and the whole GET IT OUT ALREADY). It did hurt afterward, but, well, the handsome bundle of joy and hormones do wonders for that (and the motrin and Dermoplast (I have Zero to Forty to thank for the Dermoplast, directly or via links, so THANK YOU Amalah!))! So.. ask for Dermoplast (they didn’t offer it to me, but gave it to me right away when I asked). Take it home. It is your friend.

  13. Katherine Williamson May 06 at 10:08 am Reply Reply

    After reading the post and the comments my lady bits hurt. I guess I was just a lucky one who had a little tiny tear with my first and no tear with my second. After reading this there is not a chance in hell of having a 3rd.

  14. Jaelithe May 06 at 10:16 am Reply Reply

    I also had a labial tear. 2nd degree. I did not feel it happening, either; I wasn’t on any medication but the tearing really doesn’t feel any different then the rest of the oh my God a human being is coming out of my lady bits situation. The stitching hurt, but not that much. I was annoyed more than anything that they wouldn’t let me hold the baby during the stitching. I hadn’t seen him yet – not even a glimpse of his face – and the whole time I was saying, “Hi, my baby? Where is my baby? Can I have the baby I just pushed out, please?” while being totally ignored by the doctors who were stitching me, who never even looked me in the face.
    There was no clipping necessary in my case, though, thanks be to my rude doctors.
    For everyone thinking they should get an episiotomy to prevent this sort of thing, please be aware that there are scientific studies that show that episiotomies actually make you MORE likely to tear in many cases– as in, a tear ON TOP of the cut. Not cool. There are certain circumstances under which it’s best for the mother or the baby to get one, but there is a good reason why doctors don’t do them automatically anymore.

  15. Goldfish May 06 at 10:54 am Reply Reply

    My labors took 30+ hours. They sucked. But the benefit? In the words of my midwife: “You could drive a semi-truck through there.” Classy, I know. But it beats a 3rd-degree tear. Sympathies.

  16. britt May 06 at 10:55 am Reply Reply

    hey so my ten pound baby got stuck halfway out of my vagina, and was too smushed up in that piece to breathe and so the doc grabbed her by the arm and yanked her out of my body to save her life. unfortunately my vagina was collateral damage, which was okay because at that point i was willing to remove her myself with a dull butter knife and a spatula if it meant GETTING THE BEAST OUT OF MY BODY FOR THE LOVE OF GAWD!!!!!!!
    my next child (11 pounds) was a c/s and i would choose that anyday.

  17. Liz@thisfullhouse May 06 at 11:31 am Reply Reply

    I don’t believe that I have blogged about it, EVER, but…yeah…tearing “down there” is not fun. Especially, having it happen to you, 4 times. Like it did, me. But, I survived and am delurking in the hopes that I can help moms-to-be realize that there is life “after tearing” and that it is not the worst that has ever happened to me. A very close second, but certainly not as bad as having a hemorrhoid burst inside me. But, that’s ANOTHER story that I’m not quite ready to elaborate on, publicly. You’re welcome!

  18. wn May 06 at 11:37 am Reply Reply

    WOW, I am incredibly glad to find this link…I’ve never written about my experience on my own blog…because, well, um, it’s difficult to write about a broken vajajay. I had an experience similar to Kathleen’s except I didn’t opt for the “clipping” afterwards. I now have a little flap that I like to call “flappy”…and have officially ruled out a career in porn (although I’m sure I could find a fetishist somewhere).
    The only point in which I differ from others significantly is that the Doctors MISSED my tear…which was 3 inches, BTW. I went home after a week in the hospital…and the pain kept getting WORSE…and WORSE….so finaly after a few days home, and after passing out in the bathroom, I took a trip back to the hospital and found out about “flappy” in the ER. “Flappy” had become infected (naturally) and was very angry…as was I.
    It was a LONG and painful recovery…but now, 15 months later, “activity” has resumed, albeit Flappy sometimes still does get in the way. And I am finally “starting” to think about a 2nd kid. However a scheduled C-Section will be DE RIGUEUR.
    Thanks Amalah for posting about this…I can say that for me, this was helpful.

  19. AK May 06 at 1:09 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve read Jasper’s entry into the world story before and it always reminds me how glad I am to have had the epidural! (Catherine you are a super hero!)
    I will never forget the midwife saying, “Oops.” Which is EXACTLY what you want to hear just as your child’s head is showing up. No one ever really explained how bad it was, they downplayed it when I asked, but I realized later that my labia was shredded. I think that would need more than the 6 little stitches they claimed I had. By the time my 6 week appointment rolled around I was in panic mode. Um, I’m pretty sure that my labia didn’t have a fork in it before all this mess. No clipping for me! They think its cosmetic, but they don’t have to feel like their lady bits are falling apart after getting frisky. I’m not sure if plastic surgeons fix that kind of thing, but I may look into it when I’m done having kiddos. No porn for me, either! :)
    P.S. My son was totally worth it and obviously I’m considering having another baby so its not really a horror story. :)

  20. Danielle May 06 at 3:18 pm Reply Reply

    My only baby (so far) turned 5 mos. this week and I did have an episiotomy. I was at a “Yay! Natural childbirth!!” hospital, but had a more traditional doctor, so I did have an episiotomy. She told me right before she was going to do it and I still couldn’t distinguish it from the more generalized vaginal childbirth pain. The stitches did hurt going in, but I was more concerned with the fact that they’d just called in the neonatal nurse practitioner because they were saying my son had a grunt and three spots on his head where the skin hadn’t grown in properly. This all turned out to be fine — mostly just an over-zealous L&D nurse about to take her midwife exam rather than serious problems, and we were glad they were so thorough — but it did distract me from the pain pretty effectively. I was interested in sex after a couple weeks and finding ways to cheat the doctor’s 6 weeks rule (she just said “no intercourse, right??”) by 3 or 4 weeks out.

  21. elle May 06 at 3:21 pm Reply Reply

    Hi Ladies,
    as a med student rotating through OBGYN for 8 weeks, I came to a number of personal conclusions re:vaginal tearing. Obviously this is all my own opinion, but I went along picking up tidbits for myself for the (hopefully) eventual birth of my own children.
    They are-
    1)strength in pelvic floor muscles may lead to less plasticity during labor, which leads to more tearing, but in the end it’s better for recovery overall.
    2) (Please don’t hate me here, just my limited observations) Doctors are way better at suturing up the tears than midwives. I think it is from their surgical training. Good surgical skills is top priority for me when seeking an OB. Often, midwives would seek out the MDs for particularly bad or confusing tears (in my hospital).
    3)The epidural is a godsend, and the primary reason I would want one is not for the actual delivery, but the repair afterwards. Local anesthetic is a joke, and hurts like hell to administer anyway. Much better repair when you can just lay still and give the doctor a stationary field and calm environment in which to work. A good anesthesiologist is priceless.
    Okay, I know I’m totally not politically correct here, but I’m just sharing my thoughts.

    • Mindy Jan 07 at 9:59 am Reply Reply

      For the ladies out there that they say letting you “naturally tear” is a good thing….I had a 3rd degree natural tear after 26 hours of labor with my daughter (1st child) who was 8 lbs 13 oz and 22 inches long. I did not feel the tear, however I recall 4 people watching the dr stitch me up while I cried and cried and screamed (all of which I did not do during labor at any time, labor was cake compared to the stitching), and 45 min later they were still not sure. It was ok. I had an epidural that was wearing off on my left side every 3 hours so I felt the first few stitches, told them they better numb me, which they gave me a few locals but didn’t give them time to kick in. 6 weeks after childbirth I went for my checkup and got…”oh this doesn’t look good you need to go to the ER” nice right!  So it was infected slightly and 12 weeks it was still painful, I got well…we can wait and see and maybe do surgery to repair! Yeah right! So I am now 9 months postpartum and still have some pain and tenderness during intercourse but my new theory is with baby #2 I will REQUEST the episiotomy and hopefully they can stitch it much easier!  Just wanted to throw my story in and say I completely agree with taking the nice straight cut over whatever the heck happened to me. I also loved this story and all the responses. I felt like I was alone since no one I knew had a 3rd degree or worse. Guess I am in the 1.2%, lucky me!

  22. Catherine May 06 at 8:41 pm Reply Reply

    This a great topic Amy!! I had a CS also and haven’t experienced the vag tearing like most of you lucky ladies. As much fun as it sounds, I am kinda feeling a little better about the whole midsection being cut open thing. Hoping for a vaginal birth next time though and this is definitely some food for thought.
    Liz, the bursting hemorrhoid sounds like hell on earth.

  23. Amelia May 07 at 9:56 pm Reply Reply

    I had precipitous labor with my 9 lb 3 oz baby boy – 45 minutes from water breaking to baby in arms – and I had an episiotomy to keep from tearing in what the doctor said “looked like 3 places.” Then, he wouldn’t tell me how many stiches, but it felt like a lot. I didn’t have time for drugs, and the doctor didn’t even notify me about the episiotomy, just pulled out the scissors and did it. The scar runs to within a millimeter of my anus.
    I will say, I didn’t notice the pain from the cut or even the repair, but the pain over the next several weeks was horrendous, and sex is still iffy, six months later. Dermaplast and Vicodin and a whole lot of Ibuprofen. I’d do it all over again in an instant for my beautiful son.

  24. Tracy May 08 at 9:52 am Reply Reply

    I, too, had an episiotomy. Didn’t plan on it, but considering how much the very small tears hurt in comparison – I’m so glad my Dr. made that choice rather than have a serious tear.
    I had a 3rd degree laceration. It hurt. No lie. But I was up and walking around almost immediately. The smaller tears were really what got me. I was able to go into the Dr.’s office and she used a little chemical cotterizing wand to help them heal up (seriously NOT fun, plan on going immediatly home and sitting in a nice warm bath) but they healed up within days after instead of weeks. She also gave me estrogen cream to help the healing. 6 months recovery. Now, our sex life hasn’t been better!
    All that to say: I FOUND THE BEST THING EVER:
    *** AN ICE DIAPER ***
    Ok, you’ll probably have to instruct a nurse on how to make this at the hospital, but once you do, you’ll thank me. And her. And everyone – you’ll just feel that much better.
    1. Steal a newborn diaper from the nursery. (It’s the least they owe you…)
    2. Use your nurse’s scissors to cut a slit across the mesh of the diaper on the front inside (just below where the baby’s belly button would be)
    3. Fill with crushed ice (not over-full, you want it still mushy so you’re not sitting on an ice-brick). Use bandage tape (again, from your nurse) to fold the diaper (again, belly button flap) over onto itself to seal.
    4) Place in underpants like a sanitary pad.
    Say AHHHHHHHH… and take a nap.
    As the ice melts, the diaper absorbs the water and warms so you don’t actually freeze your parts off. It also absorbs your discharge!
    Viola! Ice diaper!

  25. Jennifer May 08 at 6:11 pm Reply Reply

    I too had a similar situation. Only mine was a true 4th degree laceration with 54 stiches afterwards to sew it up. I did not have an epidural and can remember VIVIDLY the exact moment that I tore. Afterwards, my husband said that he had never witnessed something that looked as painful as that.
    It took me about 6 weeks before I could sit down probably and about 6 – 8 months before I was “back to normal”.
    Unfortunately, I think the pain of the entire situation made it some-what difficult for me to bond right away with the baby (although she was my first). That too took some extra time for both of us to work at.
    In the end, though, it is true what they say about time healing everything–eventually I went on to have 2 more children. It is totally worth it!

  26. Kate May 09 at 6:19 am Reply Reply

    All I can say is: thank God for the epidural. They had to vacuum out my little 9 pounder because his heart rate kept dropping, but I never felt any pain because I had a REALLLLLY NIIIICE epidural. I had wanted to try natural childbirth, but I am SO glad I chickened out because I ended up with a 3rd degree tear. It took the doctor longer to stitch me up than it did to pop out the kiddo. I didn’t feel any of it, though (until later…ouch!). So, next baby, oh yeah, bring on the epidural. You know, just in case.

  27. Kathleen May 10 at 11:23 pm Reply Reply

    Yes, Tracy, VIVA LA ICE DIAPER.
    But forget about the nurses – teach/have someone teach your **partner** how to make these… because then you can have them on going home. (Note – you can also just fill the diaper (or a nursing pad, for other sore items) with water and freeze. Not as clean, but easier if you’re low on ice.)
    Although, when you start moving around – hard to keep in your drawers (especially if you didn’t steal enough mesh underpants).. so still, don’t forget the Dermoplast.

  28. Della May 11 at 12:51 pm Reply Reply

    Re: ice diapers….
    Save yourself some time!
    If you are giving birth at a hospital, ask for ICE PACK SANITARY PADS. It’s like the biggest, fattest pad ever (you “crack” it to start the chemical reaction before you put it in the panties), and it is absorbant enough to accomodate the lochia (postpartum bleeding), and it gets VERY cold, enough to make things feel better and help swelling go down, but the cold part is contained safely within the pad (as opposed to ice in a diaper sitting directly on your skin).
    Since it’s also a pad specifically made for soothing the perineal area during postpartum bleeding, I suspect it is also a bit more sanitary.
    I was so happy about these, that I asked the nurse for some extras to take home with me, which she HAPPILY supplied. I still have 1-2 left.
    If you are having a home birth or even if you are going to a birthing center and they don’t happen to keep these on hand, you can buy them $4 each or $84 for a case of 24 at http://www.coldstarinternational.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=9

  29. Sarah May 11 at 4:01 pm Reply Reply

    I had a second-degree tear, but it went to the FRONT. All the way to the front, right into the most sensitive bits. I didn’t even know you could tear in that direction. The pain started to fade at around 6 weeks, but up until then sitting was excruciating.
    I did not have an episiotomy, but I hear they can help prevent anterior tears like mine. Which means I’ll be asking about one if I ever work up the nerve to have another baby.

  30. Nicole R. May 12 at 3:49 pm Reply Reply

    I enjoyed this story — I mean, not “enjoyed,” but found it valuable and well-told. My sympathies to everyone who has suffered a tear.
    There’s a belief that epidurals actually lead to tearing because they deaden the natural instinct to push, so the woman giving birth isn’t sure how hard to push and, most importantly, when to slow down or even stop pushing. Also being on your back with your legs up in the air is supposed to be a tear-prone position, and this position is usually required for epidural use.
    Even though I had two unmedicated births, in my experience it was “directed pushing” that caused my second-degree tear with my first child. The OB put me on my back, and then yelled at me to push hard and push long, so I wasn’t allowed to listen to my own instincts. I got to pushing so hard and so fast that I couldn’t slow down in time for her to gently deliver the head. Out shot baby — head, shoulders, and all!
    My second child was a precipitous birth, two and a half hours long, like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Thankfully the midwife got me in a side-lying position for the delivery, which slowed the baby’s progress down. The midwife also never told me to push — the contractions of my uterus did all the work for me. It was so difficult to resist the urge to bear down and just “breathe” the baby out, but the birth was so gentle that I didn’t tear, and had hardly any swelling.
    The difference in recovery between the two births was remarkable. After the first birth I felt damaged for weeks afterward, and that was just a second-degree tear. After the second birth I felt great.

  31. Nicki May 26 at 4:45 pm Reply Reply

    This is great! I was so freaked out by my experience that I totally posted it on my blog. I needed to just get it out of my system!
    I have no idea why more women don’t detail their experiences, so much of pregnancy and childbirth are sugar-coated and romanticized. I love my son, don’t get me wrong, and I would not change any of it for the world, but so many things remain unsaid! And for who’s benefit I wonder??
    I had my son a month ago, he was 7 pounds, 10oz. I found pregnancy itself to be a very physically trying experience, spending all of my first trimester sick and then my third feeling like I was 80 years old, lol.
    Then I realized when my contractions started that it wasn’t going to get any better. I was doubled over in pain and thank goodness for the epidural (which they had to administer twice b/c the first doctor screwed up, ouch!). I stopped dilated after, so was then given pitocin, so I could dilate fully. Pushing was physically draining (mind you, I was told to spread my anus like cauliflower by the nurse!), I pushed hard for about an hour & a half and then i tore. I was cut and he was removed gently, but I had excessive bleeding and had to have the stitches done twice. Thank goodness I didn’t feel a thing! Once I saw him though, I couldn’t think of anything else.
    Until of course after. You feel like a truck hit you and forget about walking, sitting and standing. I could barely hold my son to feed him, but they don’t talk about that! I barely ate, b/c I didn’t want to shit! I thought life was over as I knew it. But my cut wasn’t nearly as bad as some of you!!! HOLY SHIT! And I thought I had it bad!! I wanted to cry from all the trauma. But now I know that I had it relatively easy and that ain’t saying much! Not to mention breast feeding woes! I had sore, bruised, cracked and bleeding nipples and I cried every time he was hungry, but that is another story!
    YES, ICE DIAPERS ARE AWESOME! They relieved a lot of pain and I practically overdosed on Motrin to forget about the stitches I felt every time I moved. I freakin love the pain relieving spray and tucks pads, which also help and the frequent sitz baths really are soothing.
    Time does heal all, that is all I can say. I am still recovering but it is infinitely better than when I first came home!

  32. geek anachronism Jun 17 at 3:10 am Reply Reply

    I’m a week out from my first birth – 37 weeks 4 days and the ‘little’ girl was 7 pounds 5 ounces…I had a second degree tear and a first degree as well as some grazing.
    During the pregnancy I was so terrified of tearing. So terrified. But I read Catherine’s story and strangely, it made me feel better! She coped, I can too. I talked to my mother as well and she’d had an episiotomy, so I felt far less scared than I had previously.
    My labour, even though I was induced early, was quick (5 and a half hours) and brutal – following the tradition of my mother and grandmother I had no ‘ramping up’ of contractions and short labour (I beat my mother, but Nan still holds out at 5 hours WITH shoulder dystocia birthing her first). It wasn’t helped by the midwives deciding both my ob. and I don’t know what we’re talking about and that I couldn’t possibly be in labour yet (I was induced for high blood pressure but my ob. specifically spoke to all the staff to say that I may buck the trend and go into labour and to call him early on) so they gave me codeine (thanks for constipating me before I give birth, that was awesome!) AND tamazepam about 2 and a half hours before I gave birth. Luckily I nixed the pethidine they tried to give me an hour later. So I was off my face already, in a lot of pain anyway and totally unable to be coherent. Until my partner got there they didn’t believe me that the gas wasn’t working at all…then they didn’t realise that I was well into second stage until they did the internal about 45 minutes before I actually gave birth (good thing my ob. is so close to the hospital). So for most of the labour I had midwives shouting at me for pushing so I expended way too much energy clenching my muscles and trying not to push. So when they finally realised and told me I could push, my body was six sorts of confused and didn’t cope well (her head popped out and then back in) and I tore.
    I didn’t feel the tear at all and I’m lucky enough that I don’t actually ever feel the injections/pain of local anaesthetic, so when they numbed me I was fine. Then I startled my ob. even more when I looked down over my baby and the sheet to tell him that the part he was stitching didn’t have any anaesthetic – my partner stuck the gas nozzle in my mouth at that point, I think the concept that I could feel the stitching really bothered him. It hurt but I was so relieved it didn’t bother me. I’m a bit sore now and the first degree/grazing actually hurts more than the second degree (my mother said the same thing). i’m glad my ob. made it to the birth though – what else the midwives would have screwed up if they’d been stitching me doesn’t bear thinking about…

  33. Tara Aug 01 at 1:52 am Reply Reply

    Like many on here, I never shared my most personal details on my own blog, but do have advice for others:
    1. Before the birth, I was HUGELY anti-episiotomy. But after so much work trying unsuccessfully to finish pushing the baby out, that one little slice made all the difference and she came shooting forward. I wound up being grateful for the assist.
    2. I didn’t exactly have labial tears, but had a couple of tears in the area. A bit closer to a VERY sensitive spot, ifyouknowwhatImean. The doctors and nurses never mentioned it, and eventually I had to hunt down information on Google after wondering why I was in extreme pain and had a couple of bloody holes many inches north of the “usual” (perineal) area. In all the books and blogs I read beforehand, no one ever mentioned that that could happen!
    3. Most of what I consider my “childbirth injuries” healed after 2 weeks. Only … not quite. Sex is excruciating for hours afterward. (I should say “was” — doesn’t exactly put a girl in the mood.) And sometimes the areas hurt even when I’m just sitting around. All this time (4 months out), I assumed all this pain was normal and other mothers just don’t talk about it. But my doctor noticed my inflammation during a recent visit and told me it’s NOT normal. I’ve developed a painful condition called vulvodynia.
    So, my hard-won advice: If you’re still in pain after a few weeks, don’t just suffer in silence. Talk to your doctor. It may be something abnormal, and your doctor may be able to help.

  34. Anna Sep 13 at 2:03 am Reply Reply

    I had a homebirth, a 6lb 8oz baby, and a 4th degree tear. I had a 12 hour labor and in the end he exited so quickly that he broke his nose. They put me under for my repair. The surgeon told me she had never seen a tear so bad, and that she could fit her fist in the cavity.
    It took over 4 months to heal.
    I would take it over an episiotomy any day.

  35. Tara Oct 12 at 5:02 pm Reply Reply

    I had natural childbirth, with my second son. It was what it was, and I think I did a really good job during labor–I toughed it out, but after Luke was put up onto my chest, I noticed they were doing their stich work…yay. I expected in my mind for it to take about 10 minutes give or take a few. My friend had labor about 6 months before I did, and I remember her stiching taking about that long…well, I wish I never had any expectations with the whole sewing time thing!! I had two 2nd degree tears, one LOONGG one shooting up towards the peeing area (urethra), and one short but very deep one at the bottom of the vaginal entrance. Ouch!! Well, I guess the short/deep one required 4 layers of stiches…fine–do whatcha gotta do! Well, my midwife had her (very sweet and competiant) midwife in training do the sewing. Well,,,,,45 minutes later!!!!! F*CK!! I was balling at this point. My poor vagina was exposed (spread eagle people), and tramatized, and looked torturous! I had held it together the whole labor, but now I couldn’t stand it. My area was soooooo sensitive after just having pushed out a human child, and everytime the midwife would touch/rest her hand down it was too much stimulation for my tramatized/ultra sensitive area. There definatly was a mental componant there too. I was worried what my poor husband was thinking!!, my mom and my mother-in-law were there trying to not stare, but DAMN, 45 minutes!! At that point I was hopeless that my poor vagina was to never to return to normal. Well, lots of numbing spray, peri-bottle sessions, and tucks pads later, I was feeling better. My husband and I had decent (gentle) sex within about a month. Of course, he is very sensitive and amazing…there is something amazingly attractive about when your man helps with the dishes/laundry/feedings, ya know. It doesn’t hurt for relations in the bedroom. All in all, I think that next time I will opt for the episotomy. And remember that hormone rushes right after the delivery of a child play a huge part in the emotions…

  36. sarasmiles Nov 03 at 4:39 pm Reply Reply

    Difficult delivery of a 1st baby. 4th degree epi, and vacuum extrac. Baby had the meconium and also shoulder was stuck. Baby born 6.5 Lb not big at all, I had too many stitches. Never healed. Need Surgery now to repair. And to think, I had told OB I wanted a planned C section. She said too many risks. it is a serious surgery. Imagine..I delivered vag, to AVOID a surgery!!!

  37. Mary Jan 18 at 10:06 pm Reply Reply

    I had an unmedicated birth with an hour and a half of pushing on my hands and knees. As far as preventing tears, I think that’s a pretty good position – better than on your back. I had a small tear (took 4 stiches to repair), but like other people said, I had no idea I tore. An eight pound baby coming out of your hoo-ha is going to hurt whether you tear or not, so I really had no clue I tore until the midwife told me. She also told me I had a scrape. Basically, the skin of my labia stretched, but not to the point of tearing and needing a stitch. Doesn’t sound that bad, but it SUCKED – really, really sucked. After two weeks, I went back to the midwife because the pain was so bad that I thought the stiches must be infected. Nope. They were healing great; it was just the scrape which the midwife showed me with a mirror. It looked completely raw and bright red. They gave me lidocaine gel to put on it. That did a whole lot of nothing. The pain became increasingly worse until I couldn’t pee unless I was in the shower spraying myself with the handheld shower head and even then, I cried nearly every time. I stopped leaving the house because of the peeing issue. I went back to the midwife again at 5 weeks desperate for relief. I asked if cauterizing it would help and was told no, but in the end, that’s what we did. Talk about pain! The midwife also told me to hold the labia to one side while I peed. Pretty low-tech solution, but I hadn’t thought of that. Within 5 days (after almost 6 weeks of suffering) I could pee like a normal person – woohoo! Moral of the story: your nether regions will hurt post-birth, but if the pain gets worse, get it seen about until it gets better.

  38. regina Mar 22 at 8:18 pm Reply Reply

    I was in similar situation, though ended up with only a 2ND degree tear. My little one showed up about 1 hour after the “oh shit I’m in labor” moment. My midwife literally got here in time to catch a head! I’m currently 6 days PP and looking forward to being able to get out of bed … Eventually

  39. Megsie Apr 16 at 9:46 pm Reply Reply

    Stumbled across this site by accident. I had a 26hr labour, two episiotomies, four failed ventouse and finally forceps to get my 10 pounder out. the doctor turned my epidural off 2 hours before the birth so i could feel the pushes,
     I had fourth degree tears which were stitched without any pain relief. (When they put the baby on me I said GET IT AWAY)
    It took me years to recover and I’ll always have uneven, bumpy “bits” and there’s a part of me that’s still angry. The doctor was a butcher. I had a ceasar for no 2 (11 pounds)
    All I can say now ladies, is talk to your doctor about various scenarios, what you expect, at what point during the delivery is it better to have an emergency cesarian. Also ASK what their policy is regarding pain relief & stitches, and post-partum care for your “bits”. To have your self esteem ruined by a butcher, should not happen to any woman.

  40. Ashley Manning May 30 at 7:34 pm Reply Reply

    Hey! How’s it going? I was reading and thought I’d leave a little comment. About 4 weeks ago I gave birth to a BEAUTIFUL baby girl, who was two weeks early. I was in labor for 14 hours, yes that’s right, 14 hours. She weighed 6 lbs 8 oz. I got 4th degree tears. I must say that I gave birth without the Epidural. The birth itself was not painful, but the contractions were horrible. I was lucky not to feel the contractions until I was 9 cm dilated. My Dr calls me a super woman… Ha. My daughter was stuck in the birth canal because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. My Dr had to cut me and suction her out, it took two different suctions because the first time the suction broke loose. My room was filled without at least 15 people because they thought she was going to come out stunned due to having lack of oxygen and her heartbeat dropping, but she came out perfectly fine an absolutely gorgeous little girl.

  41. summer Jun 03 at 10:29 am Reply Reply

    i had a quick labour with my last baby #3 3hrs and cause she was so quick she shot out like a bullet i had a 3rd degree tear. im 20 wks atm so im freaking out!!! will i be more likely to go quicker and tear worse? oh and i forgot to mention that i am prone to having big babies!

  42. Erin Jun 20 at 3:37 pm Reply Reply

    Maggie I’m really sorry this happened to you! I had a second degree episiotomy and a really bad stitch job that took two months to heal. It absolutely affected me and I believe the pain/healing time contributed to my postpartum depression. I had a precipitous labor, too and a complete ass of an on-call doctor, so every time I felt pain in my stitches I felt re-violated. I always figured a tear would have been better, but after reading other tear stories from precipitous mamas, maybe I was wrong. 

  43. megan Nov 07 at 5:25 pm Reply Reply

    my larbor was so fast I tore up not down and he came out brusied and that’s how he stayed for 5 weeks and here it is 9 weeks later and i’m still like a golf ball down there I have not healed at all my larbor was just 1 hour 40 mins no time for pain meds so I gave birth with no pain killers tore so bad and gave birth to a 9 pound 8 ouces 21 1/2 in baby.,,, I feel so swollen walking using the bath room everything he tore me all the way to the pee hole and it is still real open down there,,, on top of that the stitches got removed the day after we came home I had took a shower something was hanging from there called 911 I was freaking out and they had to remover left over plasta…. so I had no time to heal my body which isn’t easy also having 2 other kids at home 6 and 1 with no family that came over to help watch the kids for a few days while I tried healing or to help watch them or help with the house from the second I got out I went picked up my children and was home in pain with a new borning a 1 year old and 6 year old and that’s how its been since day one… this is why I still have not healed right.

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Kallman Nov 07 at 5:55 pm Reply Reply

      please go see your doctor again about this to ensure that you heal properly. sending you healing thoughts.

  44. Gail Nov 27 at 4:43 am Reply Reply

    Wow, so glad (but sorry) to hear other stories. I am almost 5 months postpartum now and still dealing with my tear. I was a week late so my Dr wanted to induce. As soon as my contractions started, they were 1-2 mins apart. I wanted to try it as natural as possible at first rather than jump straight for the epidural. Well those contractions went on for 21 hours. 21! I had at that point been up for almost 3 days straight. I was exhausted and the end didn’t seen to be best and

  45. Gail Nov 27 at 5:06 am Reply Reply

    …not sure what happened, didn’t mean to hit publish yet, damn auto correct…
    Anyway, the end didn’t seen to be near so after 21 hours I asked for an epidural. That wasn’t fun, but the best decision I made. Epidural= liquid gold. Long story short, 15 hrs AFTER that, it was time to push. I pushed for about an hour. I felt no one really was paying attention to me and I didn’t know what the f I was doing so I was just pushing as hard as I could with every contraction. Well apparently at some point you’re not supposed to do that and my baby sit out of me when my body ripped open. Like the Dr walked in and literally caught my baby. Literally. I was mortified because I thought I shot her right onto the floor. So after 36 hrs of intense contractions, my little 6lb 10oz girl was out. Her cord was wrapped around her neck 3 times but they were still about to lay her on my chest while they rubbed her to get her breathing. That’s when I heard the words “welp, you have a pretty bad tear”. Thankfully I got to stare at my baby for the HOUR AND A HALF it took to stitch me up. 4th degree. None of it had healed right and I’ve been in and out of appointments trying to “fix” things. Lots of cauterizing in both holes. Nothings worked. Got referred to colon and rectal surgeon and just had surgery today. Had work done on my butt and vag. Absolutely horrible. I so just want to be able to enjoy this time with my baby rather than crying and sweating every time I have to take a shit. Feels like someones cutting my butthole open every time I go. Followed by lots of bleeding. Let’s pray that this surgery will “fix” it and I can start to be “normal” again.

  46. Shannon Feb 12 at 9:38 pm Reply Reply

    I have recently seen a doctor about vaginal tearing. Her recommendation was warm baths and Aquaphur Healing Cream. This stuff really works. At first I checked all the sitesto see what I could possibly do. On a couple of the sites women said to use a small amount of peroxide in your sitz bath….. dont do that. The doc said peroxide breaks down the healing properties… hope this helps. Did a great deal for me.

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