Content note: this post contains graphic descriptions of postpartum bodies, bodily functions, fluids, hormones and transformations. If you actually know me, you may not want to know intimate details about my body, in which case maybe just go on and skip this read. Or intimate details may be exactly why you’re here, in which case read on! If you don’t know me, and a meaty dose of body-gore is to your liking, then enjoy this stranger’s penchant for a good overshare.
Please don’t let it be the clitoris.
At that point it has been 6 days since he shot out into the world, an aubergine-coloured airborn baby with a bloody parachute attached, and all that space downstairs remained brutally tender. But this twinge I noted felt new. It’s like a UTI – stinging and definitely uncomfortable when I sat down or stood up. I sidelined the thought and focused on the pain of breastfeeding.
One of the joys of the days after birth is individual pain becomes difficult to differentiate. It’s not any one part that is distinguishable in its ache – it’s a whole ecosystem of discomfort, veins and muscles and tendons and, surprisingly, bones.
Like the pubic bone. If you’re a person with vaginal parts reading this post, well then fellow vagina-owner did you know that the base of your pubic bone touches just behind your clitoris. And during labour it’s very common to bruise your pubic bone. And that pain might not be isolatable until many days after labour when all the swelling has subsided in other areas and you think you’re on the mend so you brave sussing out the situation down there only to find that it might not be the urethra or a UTI. It might, god help you, be the clitoris.
You’ll panic and think your life is over. Sex is over. Romance is dead. You are now a milking sprouting, bleeding, crying Cronenberg, totally beholden to this tiny creature who wants it all – your past, present and future.
But it’s actually ok. Your body is an incredibly resilient organism and you heal. The stitches help (then they are painful as hell as they pass) and the gentle walking will help realign your pelvis, though not without pain. And it probably isn’t the clitoris – at least it wasn’t with me…
So by day 13, with my body now in the later stages of recovery, I managed to take the bus all on my own (of course, with a small child strapped to my chest…) and that felt like an extraordinary achievement. As the houses and cars whizzed by I couldn’t help but appreciate my body for what it is – a universe unto itself.
In fact, I’ve begun to appreciate not just my own body but the bodies all round me. Bodies and parts of all kinds. Like Augie’s nose. His tiny, snuffly nose. My partner and I had this realisation watching our son as he furiously fed one morning – the shape of the nose is extremely purposeful. A ‘boob snorkle*’ of sorts, it enables the clear inhalation-exhalation of air even when the face is so viciously pressed up against the breast. The clever side slits are pushed up and to the side by the nose tip as it rests against the breast. Our son is a diver and my swelling breast his ocean. Ok, that was a terrible metaphor but I can’t quite look at noses in the same way.
Or the immune system and the fact my partner was inevitably struck down by a cold around day 6 after holding everything together for his poor recovering wife and infrequently irate newborn son. Both he and I are ships passing in the night not just in our sleeping habits but also in our moods and health, each taking a turn to crash and burn or stay bright and strong for the other. I may, in fact, being coming down with my dose of cold as I type this with the knowledge that he has fully recovered.
Each day brings a new physical, emotional and/or mental challenge, and each day a new discovery and appreciation of these bodies we inhabit and the in-built, infuriating double binds that particularly dictate early motherhood. For example, I’m told to breastfeed because it provides vital immunity and nutrients for our child giving him the ‘best start in life’. Breastfeeding also helps the uterus contract back down after birth and encourages shrinkage of the postpartum body. Though, not without consequence. Breastfeeding certainly prompts uterine contractions, but contractions mean heavy bleeding and cramping. The power of such aches hit me one moment when I was struggling to cope with a latching baby and I soon realised that I was bleeding, leaking milk, and crying on to this red-faced child grunting at my breast. All my orifices engaged in some kind of leakage. Except one, and that caught one up the next day with a sudden bout of diarrhoea…yes, all the orifices. The double binds are part of the deal – no negotiation. It’s not ‘would you like fries with that’ it’s ‘you are having fries with that’, if fries were diarrhoea or bleeding.
Yet even with all the pain, discomfort and discouragement, I can’t help but acknowledge that our bodies are truly exceptional, and I’m mindful to not lose sight of that realisation amidst all the leakage and occasional surfacing rage in those moments of exhaustion and depressed resignation. Pregnant bodies, postpartum bodies, parenting bodies just give, give, give, give.
So, tonight I’m giving myself a moment to reflect on it all and take stock. We’ve made to to two weeks! We’ve come so very far – this little person feels very much in the world. I know my body is a bloody, milky, sweaty, teary temple and I wouldn’t have her any other way.
* I must thank my partner for his genius coining the term ‘boob snorkle’.