Tears & Grazes
As I mentioned in my previous posts on my birth, I had a 2nd degree tear and a labial graze following the birth of my son. Some of this can be attributed to the position he came out in (like Superman with his arm next to his head!) and some of this can be attributed to the speed of his birth but, as I also mentioned in my 'The Unexpected When You're Expecting' post around 80-90% of women in the UK who give birth vaginally have a tear and around one third of women in the UK have a tear that requires stitches. So it's fair to say it's a normal part of giving birth - that's reassuring thought number one. However I, like I think many women, become terrified of the idea beforehand during pregnant. And, as I said, it did happen to me and I'm talking about it because it was a bit of a non-story!
I think the idea of it is terrifying because a tear sounds scary. It sounds big and scary. Like you're going to be left with some new gaping horrific hole you didn't have before. The perineum however isn't a big space to begin with. So a tear can't really be huge because it isn't a huge area of skin even if you have the most severe form of tear (4th degree). That's reassuring thought number two. I found this illustration on Instagram via @pregnancyguide that shows this well and gives good definitions of what the different grading of tears actually means. Reassuring thought number three is that 3rd and 4th degree tears are much more rare. So although most women do have a tear it's usually a 1st or 2nd degree one. There is also something else relating to this all that can happen - it's called an episiotomy. This is an intentional surgical cut into the perineal tissue. Yeah. That one still makes me cross my legs and wince a little at the thought. I wanted to avoid having an episiotomy as much as possible and wrote that in my birth preferences, and was able to, but sometimes they are medically required. My understanding is though that they are usually only the same level of severity as what a 2nd degree tear would be.
Back to my story! When I was checked over after I'd delivered my placenta there was some confusion as to what level of tear I had. The midwife was concerned it might have been a level 3, which would have required me to go into surgery to have the stitches done. After managing a pain-relief free and basically intervention free birth this was quite disappointing to hear, and it also meant I would have had to spend time away from my son whilst the procedure took place. However a senior midwife came to check, confirmed that it was level 2 and that meant the midwife could do the stitches just down the corridor on the Labour Ward. I couldn't have them done where we were as we were on the Midwife Led Birthing Unit so I wasn't on a bed they could do them on. So I was moved into a wheelchair very, very gently, then wheeled down the hall into a different room for my stitches. I then had to move very, very gently on to a hospital bed, put my feet in stirrups and was handed the gas and air. Now I hadn't had any gas and air during my labour and I'll be really honest...I got absolutely off my face on it while she stitched away. I can't really remember much of those 45 minutes we spent in that room. I even thought we were only in there for 5 minutes but my husband told me after no, it had been 45; that's how much fun I was having with the gas and air. I do remember the local anesthetic injection though as I'd only just started on the gas and air at that point. That stung. Again...as if my vagina hadn't been through enough! But it was all soon forgotten when I started puffing away and I got absolutely off my tits! My husband was in the room the whole time with my son but honestly they could have been on another planet and I probably wouldn't have realised.
And that was really that. Postnatally one of the community midwives told me to take a look using a mirror. Horrifying I thought. No thank you. I had caught a glimpse in the first shower (full story of that coming soon!) and that had been enough for me. But she said that it will never be as bad as your imagination is making it. So a few days in I felt brave enough and shock, the trained and experienced midwife was right. It's not that bad. When you're going through postnatal recovery you just have to make sure you keep the area clean, as you would with any area that's had stitches. Daily showering with just water, not using any bath or shower products, and gently patting dry, as well as gently patting dry with toilet roll after going to the loo and hopefully you won't have any issues. I also was given some Spritz for Bits by a friend and my God that stuff is good. I would spray it all over a maternity pad before putting one on, literally saturating the pad in the stuff, and it not only soothes but also just helps things feel a bit fresher! Start the pelvic floor exercises right away too and things heal and they do go back to normal.I promise things do go back to normal. It might take time but they do.
Obviously, it should go without saying, if you have any concerns during postnatal recovery about stitches always speak to a medical professional. Whether that's a midwife or a doctor you do not want any infections, so speak up even if you feel just a little concerned or worried - they'd rather check you over and have it be nothing every single time. You will also become weirdly used to people looking at your vagina in those early days - there is no shame!
So yes that's it for tears. The graze was really so non-anything, it was just a bit of swelling that went down quickly and I didn't really notice it. There's so much going on down there you don't. And when you're also looking after a newborn you'd be amazed at how distracted you will be! I hope this might have alleviated someone's fears or concerns though. I don't think it'll ever not be a scary thing if it hasn't happened to you but it honestly now has no effect on anything anymore. It was part of giving birth and it will always be part of giving birth. The sooner we accept that, the less scary it will be.