There they are, at the clinic or gynae’s office having their usual monthly check up – perhaps seeing that beautiful heartbeat on the screen whilst clutching their partner’s hand. Then the topic of childbirthing options comes up. Nervous glances are shared with their husband or partner and an all too uncomfortable thought flashes through her mind…but what will happen to my vagina?
On average, the female body is built for pregnancy and birth. Sure, pregnancy is uncomfortable the majority of the time, however we spend many months marvelling at the growth happening inside of us. Of course, the baby has to come out somehow and nature intended for that 3kg bundle of joy to come out of our vaginas. That doesn’t stop the fear that this will somehow ruin us and we may not be as attractive to our partners as before. There are more than enough movies and tv shows that turn a woman’s post birth vagina into a joke. A certain radio presenter himself said that “watching his wife have a natural birth is like watching your favourite pub burn down”. Yes, it’s just comedy, but completely irrelevant to the reality of having a baby.
And what about my relationship?
The real question that should come into new parents minds is “but what will happen to my marriage? What will happen to my husband/wife?” It’s not about the vagina. Any doctor will tell you that most of the time they do heal and go back to ‘normal’. But not about the massive impact the birth of a child will have on you mentally and emotionally, on your relationships and of course, the father. Unfortunately, prenatal classes don’t prepare us for 2AM arguments about whose turn it is to change the nappy. Or about a mother feeling resentful having to wake up for the 5th time. And also about a father longing for affection from a wife who is quite frankly, covered in baby vomit and in no way in the mood for anything.
Many pregnant couples have fears that are not acknowledged or talked through. We are told that having a baby is a very exciting time and our lives will suddenly gain purpose. But that is not always the case. 54.9% of the divorce rate in South Africa are couples with children under 18. Of reasons cited, lack of communication and sexual intimacy are the main ones. Demanding babies often drive a wedge between couples as they wrestle over financial difficulties, sleepless nights and resentment that the other is not pulling their weight enough on baby duties. Suddenly, the state of the vagina after childbirth is not nearly as relevant as it was during pregnancy.
Communication is key in relationships as any marriage counsellor will tell you. Pressure is put on couples that having a baby should be this wonderful experience. Many of them feel they are unable to express that they are disappointed that parenthood is not as amazing as they thought it would be. They fear their partner has become an entirely different person. Disappointment with lack of communication and intimacy is often a ticking divorce bomb waiting to happen.
That is why I tell many couples that marriage is not about the kids. Marriage is about the parents. Marriage is about you and your partner connecting, sharing and taking on life together. We should not be preparing ourselves for childbirth as much as we should be preparing ourselves for childraising. In this fast paced lifestyle where work and new babies take up so much time it is easy to lose track of your spouse. Be aware of this and take the necessary steps to avoid this.
What to do
I’ll bet new parents are sick of hearing “have a date night” (yeah right, with what money and what time?). It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Sharing a cup of coffee in the morning or a 10 minute chat at night about how each other’s days went is just as effective. It’s about reconnecting and touching base with the person you fell in love with. Before you were a mother or a father you were lovers and friends. Parenthood does not change that.
Just as it took two to make a baby, it takes two to make a marriage succeed. Do your pre-birth kegel exercises but don’t forget to kiss your husband goodbye as he leaves for work. And men, running a bubble bath for your women at the end of the day goes a long way.
And just as your doctor will tell you during birth, don’t give up.