I was asked the other day if postpartum care (or lack thereof) was a feminist issue. And it got me thinking. If say episiotomies or C-sections happened to arms or faces would they be deemed an epidemic? With those affected possibly referred to as sufferers in recovery?
I am a feminist
I did/do need better postpartum care, but they are not one and the same. Are they? Do we really need to assign ourselves to an ideology or political agenda in order to validate a need?
For me, my 3rd degree episiotomy opened 3 days postpartum. This caused my sphincter to rip and freeze. For some people this can cause a 4th degree tear. I was left with an open wound and told it was better to leave it to heal naturally. I was given paracetamol for the pain. It took 10 months to heal.
Now I’m in no way suggesting that anyone other than myself was to blame for those stitches physically popping. BUT! Those first few days postpartum, I was running on euphoria and nothing more than what you’d take for a basic headache. I had no idea of the severity of an episiotomy or how I’d be writhing in pain just days later. I hadn’t even known what an episiotomy was until 15 minutes prior to receiving one. I was checked out and sent home less than 24 hours after that.
On my return home why would I have not nipped to the shops for a pint of milk or picked my baby up out of his low-level Moses basket. My generation are the prototype independent woman. It’s continuously drilled into our heads that we’re not the first or the last. And unarguably women have been giving birth since the dawn of, well man. We’re constantly reminded how inconvenient our reproductive abilities are. So, why would I think I was so special, that I should put my feet up and be demanding of a little support. I mean it’s not like my husband was even able to get the four weeks paternity leave that he’d requested. If a big multinational (employers of a large section of the world’s population) didn’t think I needed to take it easy, why would I? And with only two weeks to get used to this new responsibility. This little human solely reliant on me. I needed to crack on! There was no time to sit and relax. I needed to learn how to feed him, bathe him, change his nappies, pea and wipe one handed whilst burping him, get him safely into the pram and then down the inconveniently placed doorsteps by myself. All the while keeping on top of my own nutrition, hygiene and mental health. I had a fortnight to learn how, because there after I’d be on my own. Where was the time to even consider the chair to sit down upon?
That was then
Sat still scratching my head unsure of how to take the feminist question, I sparked up a conversation with a senior nurse friend of mine:
“There are no vagina crutches Nomes!”
And as silly as it sounds it’s true. We can’t bandage it and shoosh it around asking people if they want to sign it, while it mends. No one knows you’ve got a vage ouchy, unless you tell them. And why would you? It’s not the greatest conversation starter, is it?!
“It’s a complex issue…”
“The location of the wound for example can easily open because of movement and lifting. To a medical professional that’s obvious. But not necessarily to a patient. Child birth is a trauma and should be treated as such. That’s where the feminist issue is. Women don’t feel like they have a voice to complain. And imagine if English isn’t your primary language! “
She was right. In the past year as I’ve collected other women’s birth and postpartum stories I’ve struggled to find a first-time mum who really knew what to expect. So how could any of us know what of our experiences were normal? Especially if none of us are talking about it.
But the lack of relaying back the severity of procedures such as an episiotomy are really common. One woman I spoke with (on suffering prolapse after an episiotomy) told me:
“If someone had told me to take it easy otherwise my insides might fall out of my bottom, I’m pretty sure I would have remembered that!”
As women there’s an expectation that we should be able to poop one out, pull up our knickers, go home and get on! And if you can, good for you! But you shouldn’t have to. No person with an arm wound would be expected to go home the next day and let it heal naturally.
So, is this a vagina thang?
Have we out-femmed ourselves to high functioning amoeba’s? As a sex is it fair that we have to be so critically analytical of ourselves before we can determine whether or not we are worthy of help? That on top of side-lining our careers we have to chuck our sex lives and ability to laugh without a TENA lady on to the log pile? Well, in a word no! This is not simply a woman issue, this is a world over issue and it most definitely is, undoubtedly a feminist issue. The definition of which is:
“a person who supports feminism”
The key word there being ‘support’.
I heard someone say once that it’s rude to share your labour stories with other women as that’s what therapy is for. And as much as I get it’s probably not the wisest move to share your horror stories with someone ready and waiting to birth, not all of us can afford to sit on a couch paying someone else to just listen. And why should we. Sharing is caring. Sharing is therapeutic. Sharing is knowledge and knowledge is empowering.We need to stop telling mothers (and fathers) to hush. Stop telling them to keep mum about their experiences, how they’re feeling, how they’re hurting, how they are struggling. Keep mum on the fact their wishes weren’t respected or their needs fulfilled.
Labour can be a bit sucky, when is shitting a water melon ever not?! But postpartum doesn’t have to be. Not in today’s modern world, not ever. This is England 2019. Better postpartum care shouldn’t be a topic of debate, it should be a given.
Keep talking just don’t keep mum!
Join the campaign by sending your don’t keep mum pics to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them on your social media using the tag line don’t #keepmum
Together we can demand better!