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5 Things I Wish I Had Known About Birth Injuries

Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr RM

Before giving birth for the first time I was worried about a whole host of things, but the one thing I should have been worried about was a background concern at best. I knew there was a possibility that I could tear, but I was under the impression that is was no big deal, just a couple of stitches. None of the birthing books I read, classes I took, or women in my life described what I ended up going through. It wasn't until after I experienced a fairly brutal birth injury that I started hearing similar stories from other women. I completely understand not wanting to freak out a pregnant lady with tales of tortured vaginas, but a little heads up would have been nice.

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Here's what I wish I had known:

1. There are levels of injury. And not in a fun video game way, more like in the way they rate burns. I didn't even know it was possible to tear as far and as deep as I did. Here's what you need to know, if someone tells you that you have a level four tear, your entire perineum all the way to your anus will need to be stitched back together. Yeah, I'll give you a minute to let you process that.

2. Episiotomies suck. This is fairly common knowledge, but I had no idea why that it needed to be a hard line in my birth plan until it was too late. Here's how it was explained to me later: You know when you make a little cut in the edge of fabric and it makes it really easy to rip it in two? Same concept, only with your body.

A birth injury can really add to the shock of becoming a mother, I mean talk about not how you imagined it.

3. Recovery can be tough. If you tear badly there will be a whole host of things you'll need to do to care for yourself on top of caring for your newborn. It can be very painful to sit, making the early weeks of breastfeeding extra difficult. You'll need to make time for sitz baths and understand that you won't be hopping up and trotting across the room for a while. A birth injury can really add to the shock of becoming a mother, I mean talk about not how you imagined it. It can also add a whole other dimension of apprehension when it comes to taking that first post-baby roll in the hay.

4. You'll want a great doctor. The OB-GYN I chose was out of town when my first son was born. My birth was attended by a midwife that I knew and liked... until she gave me an episiotomy. My tear was bad enough to require an OB-GYN to repair it and I ended up being stitched up by a stranger who I honestly feel could've done a much better job. It really made me wish that I had discussed these "what if's" with my doctor and midwife before hand so that I could have voiced my concerns and made sure the back-up doctor was competent.

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5. Having another baby can help reduce the emotional trauma of the first. After suffering a serious birth injury, the last thing you want to think about is having another child. I went into my second birth very concerned that I would tear again, but it turned out tearing again wasn't a terrible experience. This time around I did have my wonderful doctor and was able to be stitched up the way I should have been the first time. I was also totally prepared, my freezer was stocked with frozen maxi pads and I was ready to give myself plenty of grace. I had the perspective that I wish I had the first time: it sucks but you survive. And while it's not ideal, it doesn't have to define your entire experience of early motherhood.

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