Having sex can be daunting after childbirth for most mothers. But what do you do when it doesn’t get easier? Cassia Mor writes about her quest to finally have sex without pain.
I thought the recovery from my child’s birth would be easier than the birth itself. I was wrong.
My baby was born by scalpel – an episiotomy. Episiotomy, also known as perineotomy, is described as a surgical incision of the perineum and the posterior vaginal wall generally done by a midwife or obstetrician during second stage of labor to quickly enlarge the opening for the baby to pass through.
I cannot put into words what it was actually like.
She was perfect, although a little bloody. I expected to be back on my feet quickly. But I was wrong, so very wrong.
Life with a newborn is not easy, even less so when you have another child or two that also needs your attention. It is even harder when you are in excruciating pain.
The constant pain was debilitating. I was unable to walk some days and was often forced to look after my two children from the floor where I crawled everywhere. When my husband came home I was an emotional and physical wreck. I was often in so much pain I had to dose myself up on medication and lay face down on the carpet next to the blanket on the floor that contained a days worth of spit up.
Even thinking about sex was hard, it was eight weeks before we gave it a go for the first time. My husband was understanding, sympathetic about the lack of sex during the first few months, and lets be honest – also very tired from helping me with the night shift. But I’m sure it was also frustrating for him.
After eight weeks I was physically healed, but mentally… not so much. It was not really painful during sex, but it sure was afterwards.
I began to become convinced that there was something seriously wrong with my vagina.
I went to the doctor and pleaded with her to try and fix me. She gave my vagina the once over and said that everything looked fine, but said that there may be some nerve damage and she would send me off to get X-rays just in case it was a broken pubic bone.
Well hell, this must be it! I thought.
My vagina is broken! Six bloody months of walking around with a broken bloody vagina. It made sense!
Then the X-ray came back all clear. Although I was convinced that they must have done it wrong, I had to accept I didn’t have a broken vagina.
There was only one more step to take and the doctor suggested a physiotherapist…. for my vagina.
So off I went to a vagina physiotherapist. To have vagina therapy.
Did you even know this was an actual job? I sure didn’t. And as I sat in the hospital waiting room looking at all of the other patients quietly waiting in wheelchairs, sitting with helpers – post car crashes and work injuries – I worried about what they might be thinking of me. Where was her injury? Why wasn’t she limping enough to notice?
I walked into the little room accompanied by the physiotherapist, an attractive smart blonde woman with shiny black flats. I really wanted to ask her right off the bat what her deal was, why vaginas? Why not feet? But I saved that for the second visit two months later when she told me that she just wanted to help women and their sexual health. She sounded legit.
The exam was similar to a doctors exam but without as many contraptions, she asked me to do a kegel (where you tighten your vagina). I did, and she looked at me quite surprised, “Hmmmmmm” she said, with her finger still wriggling around inside me.
“That’s about as strong as I have felt…” she kept wiggling. “… And the left side is VERY tight!”
Post-exam she sat me down and told me what the problem was. I had a tight vagina. Actually she used the words “I think you have a condition known as vaginismus which is a genito-pelvic pain disorder. A condition that affects a woman’s ability to engage in vaginal penetration, where your pelvic floor is tight and can spasm.”
But all I heard was “TIGHT VAGINA”.
And you know what? I smiled, looked up to the ceiling nodded my head and laughed.
This whole time I’m walking around in constant pain thinking I had broken myself when in reality it was my muscles tightening up so much on the left side that the pain radiated down my legs.
She gave me a print out with information about vaginismus. On the flip side of the page was some yoga, breathing and visualisation exercises.
I’m not really the most serious person. The printout had a diagram of a stick figure lady, legs up in the air, visualising her vagina relaxing. To this day, it’s quite possibly the most hilarious thing I have ever seen.
But I did all of the exercises. I breathed calmly like you wouldn’t believe. I visualised the hell out of my vagina getting all loose.
And it worked!
The pain subsided and I could walk around like a normal person without feeling like someone had shoved a porcupine up there.
The problem with any disorder that is caused in part by anxiety is that you are sometimes the only one that is in charge of your own recovery.
When I was diagnosed my physiotherapist had said exactly that to me:
“I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you are in charge of your own recovery. The bad news is that you are in charge of your own recovery.” Those words have stuck with me.
You can be helped along by medication and pain relief – both of which I have definitely taken. But ultimately it’s up to you. And it’s daunting to be the only one that can really fix you, but it is also empowering.
You don’t have to have a traumatic birth for you to be traumatised in some way, you don’t have to have a difficult birth in order to feel it was difficult for you. Birth is such a different experience for us all and our own experience of it and how we deal with it afterwards is unique.
Vaginismus is often triggered by childbirth but it can also be something that was always there, something that can develop in your teenage years. It can stop women from ever having sex or it can mean having painful sex frequently.
If you think you might have something similar please see your doctor as it could be a symptom of anxiety or something else.
Your sexual health is just as important as anything else in your life. I never thought I’d have vagina therapy but I’m very glad I did.
Cassia Mor is a wife and mother of two who is committed to raising awareness of women’s sexuality post-birth.
This content is entirely funded by Flick, New Zealand’s fairest power deal. In the past year, their customers saved $417 on average, which would buy enough nappies for months… and months. Please support us by switching to them right now.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.