REFASHIONING MY VAGINA
A consequence of birth that Celine Bell hadn't expected...
Bell from Bow on the perineal refashioning post-birth
This isn’t a nightmare birth story. You can get plenty of those online, or from your mum, or a stranger at the bus stop. It’s a story about a consequence of labour and birth that I hadn’t expected, despite having read everything I could get my hands on, and how it affected me, and my relationship.
'Nobody wants an interesting vagina.'
My labour began at 3pm in the butcher’s. I was two weeks overdue, the size of a hippo, and convinced that I would be pregnant forever. By 9am the next morning, via a bath, a Michael McIntyre DVD, and a black cab ride to our local hospital, I was holding a tiny little boy. My husband and I were stunned by the brutality of labour, the power of the body, and impressed by how far our hypnobirthing techniques had got us. But it wasn’t over yet. I had a second degree tear, described as ‘interesting’. Nobody wants an interesting vagina. The midwives were very busy, the hospital was full, and every time a doctor sat between my legs to stitch me up, a beeper went off calling them to an emergency, and the needle and thread got put down again. By this time, I was exhausted, emotional, and slightly perturbed about how many people were getting a good look at my lady bits, but not actually doing anything to fix them. I remember it as three hours from delivering my placenta, to having my stitches put in. Three hours is a long time for a traumatised vagina, and a long time for a knackered new mum.
We made it back home, the three of us, instead of a man and his hippo. My son was a typical new baby, superglued to me, and we watched hours of Netflix with my boobs out, baby trying to latch, and my husband buying every breastfeeding aid available on Amazon Prime. It was a slow road but we got there, and on day seven left the house. My competitive NCT group had all had babies before me, and one new mum had made it to Westfield on day two. I had a lot to catch up with. I didn’t make it to the corner without crying, and I was delighted to return to the sofa and sit back on my rubber ring, sore fanjo protected. Midwives and health visitors all assured me I was healing well, but I didn’t feel right. When the swelling was down enough for me to have a gentle explore, I knew something was wrong. It felt as if the entrance to my vagina had closed over. My fears of having a bucket fanny after labour were, so far, rather misplaced. And when yet another health visitor asked me about contraception, I snapped back that it was hardly necessary now I had been stitched closed.
Eventually, at my six-week check, a kind and gentle GP agreed with my verdict and referred me to a specialist, who also agreed that for, one reason or another, there was excessive skin over the entrance to my vagina and it would need removing for normal service to resume.
'I didn’t want anyone with a scalpel anywhere near Ground Zero.'
Don’t get me wrong, I was far from ready to have sex again. But I did want to know that it would be a possibility, one day in the future. The very distant future. By now, what with a sweep, my labour, numerous check-ups, my GP visit and a specialist gynae consultant, my poor battered vagina had been on show rather too much for my liking. And now my consultant suggested a ‘refashioning of the area’. A designer vagina. Just as I was healed, able to run again, feeling like my body might one day be my own again, the NHS letter arrived and I had an appointment to go back to hospital to have a refashioning. I’d felt broken, and unwomanly, and sad and angry, but I still didn’t want anyone with a scalpel anywhere near Ground Zero. I was terrified, and also excited about being ‘normal’ again. I gave birth on a freezing February day, and had the operation on a sunny Wimbledon morning, four months later. My recovery room had a TV showing the Women’s Singles, and I watched as strong legs bounded across the court, as I was yet again sitting on a rubber ring trying not to move.
The story has a happy ending. By September, I was given the go-ahead (and a list of lube recommendations) to have sex, and after far too much white wine (lubrication of a different kind), we gave it a try. It was pretty hideous, like the scene in Catastrophe, with Sharon Horgan’s character saying, ‘Ow, ow, ow, no, go on, it’s fine...’ But I’d heard similar stories from other post-partum women, and resolved that, like exam results, this needed practice and preparation to be good. Project Sex began. I can happily say now that I’m back to normal, or as normal as one can be with children in the house. I’ve even learnt how to tread on Lego without crying (much). And I had another baby, another boy. He was delivered via C-section because, when you’ve got a designer vagina, you might as well keep it that way.