This is not one for the menfolk or the faint hearted. Probably not one for you if you’re about to give birth and easily squeamish either. Nor if you are trying to decide whether or not to have a baby and are terrified of the actual baby having. Read at your own risk.
We all know that pregnancy alters your body physically. Everyone can see it and knows the drill. But it doesn’t stop there. For some unfathomable reason, I did not realise that the day after giving birth you still look massively pregnant. Like six months pregnant. So you go through the trauma of childbirth only to wake up thinking, wait, what the fuck, is there another one in there? Then you touch your tummy and OMFG I can reach my friggin spine through this jellied mess. This isn’t normal surely, something must be wrong. “Nurse, nurse my midriff is huge and flapping in the wind, I think maybe something is still in there? The placenta, surely, must have been left in by mistake?” Nop. That’s just your belly now I’m afraid. For the first few weeks at least.
If you go out without your baby you may even get a stranger or two asking when the baby is due. Just a little bonus to make you feel extra shitty after your body has been pushed to the brink of what it is physically capable of. And you will look forwards to people who know you asking how your tummy is doing and checking to see if it is going down. Some of you lucky ladies may even have mothers like my own, who, with the best of intentions, commented at least three times every time I saw her for the first month or so that my belly was going down nicely. Thank you. Until one day she was like “let’s see your tummy, ah no not really gone down any more has it, probably need to do some exercise”. Bloody cheek. I’m breastfeeding a tiny human and living on biscuits and chocolates, my extra padding is the last thing on my mind. Love you mum 😉
The ‘mum pouch’ (kinda like a kangaroo but no handy pocket for sweets) is not the only thing either. Whether you decide to breastfeed or not, you will have milk come in at some point usually. Then it looks like your tits have been colonised by some flesh burrowing aliens. Boob moles or something. Giant and lumpy in all the wrong places, with big blue veins spread across them like a map of the milk rivers. Not sexy. And the leaking. Want a nice relaxing bath? Sorry tits are gonna leak. Hear someone else’s baby crying while in a coffee shop/at a class/in the supermarket; boobies go off. Have a nice day out with friends while granny looks after your newborn and dare to so much as think about your baby; cue leakage. Women vary when it comes to this, some never leak at all and some could feed the third world with the amount of milk they produce. Some struggle to express, while others could leak you a feed into a breast milk storage bag before you’ve finished dunking your digestive. Either way, your mammaries are no longer your own if you do decide to go down this route. And if you don’t you have to endure a few painful days of lumpy, swollen boobs until the milk goes away again and leaves them looking like the empty sacks that they now are. Because apparently, whether you breastfeed or not, pregnancy gives you saggy girls. Another joy of the wonders of childbirth.
The legs are the next thing I noticed. A few days after having my baby I sat down in the bath and thought my legs looked like part cooked sausages that were about to burst the skins. Seriously, they were hugely swollen. Why?! The midwife told me it is because our bodies continue to make fluid for the baby even after it is born, so the excess fluid plumps our legs for a while until we eventually sweat it all out. Oh. So that is why I keep waking up feeling like I’ve been dunked in a lake overnight. Yep night sweats for the first two weeks to a month at least. So if you didn’t feel grim enough already, you can add stinky, clammy mess to the list of mum bod woes.
I have left the best for last of course. The Australia. Down below. Whether you had a vaginal birth or not, everyone can look forwards to some lovely piles! And if you were lucky enough to avoid the Emergency/ Planned C and resultant immobility and scarring then you can bet that the first shit you take after childbirth will be one you will never forget. It is almost as bad as having the baby again. Prepare for this wisely ladies… prune juice and plenty of water then stay very close to the loo is my advice. Of course if you did have a vaginal birth then over 95% of you will also have tearing to some degree, yay! War wounds. Some of you may also have had the delightful experience of an episiotomy (look it up, it is brutal) to allow for giant metal contraptions looking like something out of a Victorian farmers toolbox, to enter Australia and help the baby out. My deepest sympathies to you. You will not be able to sit or lay comfortably for weeks (although this probably applies however you may have given birth) and you may or may not be able to hobble around like John Wayne.
Do not be polite about this. Do not sit on uncomfortable chairs so that guests can have the sofa. Do not get up to greet people or make them tea/coffee. Do not walk further than necessary for at least the first couple of weeks. If you do, you could risk splitting your stitches and requiring further surgery at a later date. Surgery from which you wake up believing that you have just given birth all over again and asking where your baby is. Then crying when you realise that your baby is three months old at home with your partner and just rolled for the first time that day and you missed it because months after giving birth your nunny still wasn’t right. You may even then not heal properly but be told by a consultant that as long as it is functional you may as well leave it until you have finished ‘making your family’. Joys. I will not be so polite in future.
In fact post-natal surgery is much more common than you might expect. The shit thing is that you have to fight for it. A friend of mine went to the doctors four times after having her daughter to get herself checked. Four times she was told that she was healing fine. On the fifth time she asked to be referred to a specialist. Lo and behold after two minutes with a gyno she was told that she would require corrective surgery. The problem here is that even though one is born every minute, many medical professionals seem unable to tell an arse from, well, a vagina. They’re not trained enough in fannies. Why should we put up with substandard post-natal care in this respect. Also, NHS waiting lists for this type of ‘cosmetic’ surgery post-childbirth are ridiculous. Do I want to wait until my child is six months old to get my war wounds fixed (or ready to heal properly again?) No thank you. So those of us who can afford to, pay, or beg, steal and borrow in order to do so. Pay to go private so that we can get our body back to normal. So very wrong. It is not cosmetic if your body cannot perform the very function it was designed to. Add to that the increased distress of not healing properly, which creates an additional risk factor for post-natal depression and now you have two reasons to put new mums at the top of your lists for this kind of surgery. After the surgery I was told not to bathe for ten days because the stitches are soluble and to shower instead. Why the fuck did the midwife not mention this to me the first time round? I was having two or three baths a day because it seemed to be the only thing that eased the pain! Fucks sake.
Don’t get me wrong, many women experience far worse complications and may require readmittance to hospital, blood transfusions and life saving surgery. And I’m sure in most cases the NHS do an absolutely fantastic job. But they do need a bit of a kick up the proverbial when it comes to making sure women are healing correctly. Every woman should be checked by a midwife after 5 days if they want to be… but not all midwives even offer this ‘service’. That leaves us feeling bad for having to ask them to have a look and check if our fannies are ok. You wouldn’t think it was possible to be embarrassed about this after having about 12 different people shove their hand or other implements up there during labour but actually, it still is. Come on, that is basic midwifery. Cop on and do your job properly. You have to offer. And if you don’t feel like you can do that/are not used to it then you’re either in the wrong job or you should not be making those five day visits. Because not all of us have partners who are willing to check it out for us, nor would many women subject them to this if at all possible. It’s likely that these blokes are scarred enough from watching the event unfold (not literally unfolding like a flower as the hypnobirthers would have you believe, more like blowing the head off a dandelion) in the first place, let’s not make them any more afraid of vaginas than necessary. Also ladies, yes it is painful afterwards, but if you have an inkling that something is not right get a mirror, take a look, have a long hard cry, and then go and see your GP ASAP. And if you’re not happy with what they say then demand a gyno appointment. Fannies have rights too.
Six months into motherhood and the new baby fog is just about lifting. I’ve had my first night out (a hen do without the bride, because mumming makes us all lightweights again) and I’m starting to feel like my old self again. I’m even starting to think about that diet, mainly because I have no clothes that fit and no money to buy new ones due to stat mat pay. The reality is that my body will never be the same as it was. But that’s OK. Because I am a different person to the one I was before. I’m still me, just a different version of me. A more anxious, less drunk, more nagging, less organised, more tired version of myself. But hopefully I will get used to being a mum and become an even better version of myself than the old one. And hopefully I can accept my new, less toned and more flaccid form. And if not, then fuck it I’ll pop out a couple more sprogs and pay for some real cosmetic surgery when all the baby making s over!