I recently came upon a fascinating article from Mother Jones:
Depending on the study, 50 to 80 percent of women who give birth experience tearing of the pelvic skin and muscles. For more than 1 in 10, the tearing is severe enough to damage the anal sphincter muscle, which often leads to the loss of bowel and bladder control. In a 2015 Canadian study, a whopping half of all new mothers were still reporting urinary incontinence a year after the birth, and more than three-quarters had residual back pain.
Women who give birth are not typically informed of the longterm affects pregnancy and (especially) childbirth may have on their health. But it’s actually worse than this. My pregnancies cost me my hearing. I meant to blog about this ages ago, but I’ve been living with an invisible disability for some time now—hearing loss. It’s a condition that is made worse (or sometimes initially triggered) by pregnancy. No one told me that having a child could cost me my ears and my ability to hear—permanently.
I first noticed that I had hearing loss after I gave birth to my first child. No one told me that there was such a condition, however, so I made no connection. Why would I? I assumed it must be something I was just now noticing, or that it was within the realm of normal, and so I ignored it. Surely it was nothing. After all, why would I connect hearing loss to pregnancy? No one had told me such a thing existed! Thus I entered a second pregnancy completely unaware of the risk I was running.
And what do you know, my hearing deteriorated further! I will wear hearing aids for the rest of my life as a result of my pregnancies. Should I repeat that, for emphasis? I will wear hearing aids for the rest of my life as a result of my pregnancies. Would I have done it anyway, if I had known the health consequences I would face? I don’t know. I do know this reality plays a role in my decision to cap my family size where it is—another pregnancy would almost certainly mean still further hearing loss.
Am I angry? I guess I am, a bit. When I finally went in to have my hearing examined, I faced several rounds of tests and scans. Once my condition was diagnosed, the ENT asked whether I’d recently been pregnant, and then nodded knowingly when I said I had. When I described the hearing loss I’d noticed in between my two pregnancies, and then after my second, she said it was a classic pattern.
And yet, no one told me. I didn’t know pregnancy could cost me my hearing.
I mean, good grief, look at this:
The hallmark symptom of otosclerosis, slowly progressing hearing loss, can begin anytime between the ages of 15 and 45, but it usually starts in the early 20s. The disease can develop in both women and men, but is particularly troublesome for pregnant women who, for unknown reasons, can experience a rapid decrease in hearing ability.
And yet, this condition does not seem to be mentioned on any of the major pregnancy health websites (I just checked). Even WebMD lists it only in disparate sections, and not under pregnancy. There’s lots that comes up when you google the terms together, but, strange as it may sound, you’d be hard pressed to find otosclerosis listed as a pregnancy complication on any pregnancy-focused webpage.
Did I mention that as many as one in ten caucasians have this condition?
I have often heard individuals insist that pregnancy is not a disease to be treated, that it’s a natural process that women’s bodies are designed to undergo. Sometimes I hear this from left-leaning home birth advocates, but I hear it just as often from the right. Look, I’m against overmedication just as much as anyone else. When I was in labor with my first, I tore off the heartbeat monitor they put on me, daring them to hold me down and put it back on—I knew from the research I’d done, and from conversations with my doctor (who was not in the room), that it was not medically necessary to wear the heartbeat monitor the entire time I was in labor.
Pregnancy is an incredibly traumatic invasive process that takes serious recovery time and can leave women with both temporary health problems and lifelong side effects. Yes, I called it traumatic—regardless of how we experience our pregnancies, our bodies experience them as trauma. After each pregnancy I was told to spend time leaning forward, with my butt in the air, to help my organs slide back into place. I have no idea whether that’s a folk practice or actually helpful, but the fact remains that pregnancy does displace your organs and separate your abdominal muscles.
As to the safety of pregnancy and labor, can I just point out that maternal mortality used to be so common that women dreaded childbirth because they were honest-to-god afraid they would die? Yes, modern medicine has come a long way, but the fact remains that pregnancy is a health risk and can result in longterm medical problems. Our medical system needs to do a better job of informing women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant of all of the risks involved.
I recently met a mom at my daughter’s school, and in talking, I asked what she does. “Oh, I stay home with the kids,” she said. “I worked before I had the twins, but when I went on bedrest they fired me.” I asked whether that was legal, and she assured me that it was, because her company was exempt from workplace protections for pregnant women. Besides, she hadn’t had the money to fight it.
As the Mother Jones article notes:
And then there’s this: Telling pregnant women the truth about their bodies just seems like the right thing to do. At the very least, it behooves us to ditch the magical thinking and stop pretending that natural childbirth is an amulet that protects women from harm. That goes for the entire birth community: the books, the midwives and doulas, the Lamaze classes, and most of all, the doctors. Because, quite simply, it’s an issue of control. If you don’t truly know what to expect when you’re having a baby, then you’re more likely to shut up and let the physician make the decisions.
It is irresponsible not to let women know the full effects of what they’re taking on when they become pregnant, as well as dangerous. I just spent some time trying to find a comprehensive list of longterm pregnancy complications, on a legitimate medical site. I couldn’t. I mentioned this issue to a friend, who told me about a friend with permanent nerve damage as a result of her pregnancy.
Why isn’t this written up anywhere? My hearing aids and I would like to know.
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