Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and obviously his mother plays a large role in that story. Jesus’s birth story wraps up around the time he gets wrapped in swaddling clothes, but that’s not where the story ended for Mary.
Mary, did you know you’d experience heavy vaginal bleeding, constipation, and breast pain? (I mean, she probably did know.)
Postpartum bodies don’t just snap back immediately after giving birth. Pregnancy changes our bodies in some dramatic ways. It takes time to heal from the intense, and painful, experience of giving birth.
The uterus grows from about the size of a small pear to the size of a watermelon during pregnancy. It takes about six weeks for it to shrink back down to its pre-pregnancy size. This is why women who have just given birth still look like they’re pregnant. As the uterus contracts and shrinks, there can be painful cramping.
During a vaginal birth, the vagina stretches enough to accommodate a human head. That’s a lot of stretching. It takes anywhere from three to six weeks for the vaginal area to heal after giving birth. If there was any tearing, or if an episiotomy (a cut made by a doctor) was performed, it can take even longer.
It’s not true that the vagina is noticeably looser after it’s healed from childbirth. A trained medical professional will know a woman has previously given birth, but a sexual partner will not. Vaginal walls are much more elastic than people give them credit for being.
Postpartum bleeding is called lochia, and it’s like having a dozen periods all at once. Lochia contains blood, tissue, and mucus. While the heaviest bleeding happens during the first ten days, the bleeding can last for up to six weeks.
The perineum is a small area that separates the vaginal opening from the anus. This area is prone to tearing during vaginal deliveries. Even if it doesn’t tear, the area will be sore after pushing.
If there was a C-Section delivery, there will be an incision to care for on top of the other healing the body is going through. It takes about 6 weeks to heal from a C-Section delivery.
As the uterus grew, the abdominal skin had to stretch. After giving birth, most women find they have permanent stretch marks. Sometimes the abdominal skin remains loose after giving birth, even after the uterus shrinks back down and if the woman goes back to her pre-pregnancy weight. If this happens, it doesn’t matter how much a mother works out. She can have rock hard abs and still have loose skin sitting on top of them. This is very common and not a personal fitness failure.
As milk comes in, breasts can be tender to downright painful.
While some women who choose to breastfeed don’t experience pain during feeding, other women find it to be extremely painful.
Some women experience dysphoric milk ejection reflex, which is a condition that causes negative emotions (depression, anxiety, irritability…) just before milk is released. This is caused by hormones tied directly to breastfeeding and isn’t the same as postpartum depression.
Some postpartum women have a hard time urinating for the first couple of days after giving birth. Constipation is another common issue soon after delivery. Pushing an entire human being out of a vagina can also cause hemorrhoids, which can make it even more difficult to use the bathroom.
HormonesDuring pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone are produced at greater levels than usual. Soon after giving birth, those hormone levels nosedive quickly, which can lead to temporary mood swings or can be a triggering factor in developing postpartum depression.
After the First Six Weeks
We all know that giving birth is potentially life-threatening. Most people think a woman is out of danger after the baby is delivered, but the truth is women can continue to have pregnancy-related medical complications for up to a year after giving birth. Postpartum women are at risk of having blood clots, blood pressure issues, hemorrhaging, depression, and infections.
For a mother, giving birth isn’t the end of the pregnancy. The recovery time takes at least 6 weeks, while many women require much more time for their bodies to fully heal, especially if they’ve experienced complications. Pregnancy isn’t just a nine-month commitment like we think. A mother spends almost an entire year either growing a human being inside of her or healing from that experience.
More Sacred Forms posts
My memoir, Act Normal: Memoir of a Stumbling Block, is on sale this week for $1.99.
Amazon Reviewers said:
“I could not put this book down. I honestly read it in one sitting, but it stayed with me long after.”
“An eye-opening narrative of what you get when the devastating effects of the objectification of women are multiplied by bad theology.”
“This is one of the most honest and gripping stories I have ever read. I am also a trauma survivor and can say that this story will break your heart and build it back up.”