27 Nov Intimate Conversations: Everyone needs to understand how intense Postpartum is
Elise and I met through the community of Sextech entrepreneur we both are members of, the Women of SexTech. When I explained our mission at B-wom, she was incredibly supportive and rightfully so. She told me her birth exploits, bringing earthside a baby that as no less than 11 pounds! and her recovery journey. I thought it would be a great story to share with you all because as her OBGYN told her, no matter where you start “It will get better”, it will just take time and the right support.
Elise, Tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up in a conservative family in the mid-west and had to figure out information about sex all on my own. When I was in college I became a peer educator and discovered that I loved talking about sex and sexuality. I started working at a boutique sex toy shop after college and spent some time working in reproductive rights. I then got a masters in public health with a focus on sexuality and health. After graduating i got a job at a youth development center. On the side I was working on an app. Eventually we got funding and that’s what I do now. I’m the co-founder and CEO of okayso. We connect users with questions about sex/dating/relationships/identity to teams of experts who give quick, personalized answers. I identify as gender non-conforming and never really saw pregnancy as a part of my life but I got pregnant accidentally and then had a miscarriage. Through that process I realized that I was more open to the idea than I’d thought, so my partner and I started trying.
How was your pregnancy and birth?
My pregnancy was mostly filled with nausea. I had all day morning sickness from 6 weeks to about 28 weeks and some strong smell aversions right up until birth. I had some hip pain but no other major issues. My partner and I had both been fairly big babies and so we expected the same and my belly was pretty big but the OB thought about 9 pounds. My labor didn’t start until 13 days after my due date. My OB swept my membranes the day before and when it started, labor got intense very quickly. I was having two-minute long contractions and back labor and after about 8 hours we decided to go to the hospital. When we got there I was only 4.5 cm dilated so I opted for an epidural. I rested for a while but after several hours I wasn’t making any progress so the OB suggested we might need to do a c-section. The hospital was very busy that day so there were no ORs available so we decided to use that extra time as much as we could. I had a doula and she got right to work with me up on my hands and knees doing all sorts of things I barely remember now. The next time they checked me I was at 9 cm. Once it was time to push, I pushed for about 1.5 hours. At some point in the process my OB called in two attendings, I had an episiotomy and a 2nd degree tear and at one point had four hands inside me but I didn’t actually understand that any of that was happening. The heart monitor for the baby wasn’t working so towards the end my OB looked at me and said “this baby has to come out. Now.” It was pretty scary and I was exhausted but somehow managed to push him out. They put him on the scale and someone shouted “ELEVEN POUNDS!!!” Everyone was in shock. All throughout my labor my doula had said “when things don’t go the way we expect, I always ask myself ‘what does the baby know that we don’t know?'”. Turns out, the baby knew that he was gigantic. When i went back for my six week checkup my OB told me I scared the crap out of her because she thought he was going to get stuck.
How was your postpartum recovery? What issues did you experience?
I often don’t tell the story of my delivery and recovery to people who are going to get pregnant because it can be a bit terrifying. But most babies aren’t eleven pounds, so in some ways I am an outlier! Postpartum was really rough for me – I had a super healthy baby and the hospital was still really busy so I think my needs got a bit pushed to the side and we didn’t know any better. I was in quite a bit of pain right afterwards and couldn’t pee. They sent me home with a catheter and a bag strapped to my leg. I went back to the urologist a week later to get the catheter taken out but I still couldn’t pee so they taught me how to “catch” myself every time I needed to use the restroom. I had to track how much I was “voiding” and email it to my urologist. With a newborn. During that week we also discovered that my episiotomy stitches had come out so the next day I went back to my OBs office and had them put back in. It was incredibly painful and in some ways it felt like my healing had to begin all over again. The stitches healed and about 4 weeks after giving birth I started peeing again! It seemed like everything was getting back on track. Then about 5 months post-partum I realized that I had a heavy feeling in my vulva, a lot of pain during sex, and a bulge in my belly. I went to my doctor and I had prolapse, scar tissue, and a hernia.
What support did you receive for the issues that you were experimenting?
After the prolapse diagnosis I went to pelvic floor physical therapy. We first started working on my scar tissue and then on the pelvic floor muscles. It took a few weeks but I felt a lot better and I learned a lot about my pelvic floor I hadn’t already known from chatting up the PT during sessions. They were pretty psyched to have a sex educator there. I also had an amazing OB who, after my stitches were put back in and I was in the reception area sobbing, put one hand on each shoulder, looked me right in the eyes and said in a kind but knowing tone: “it’s going to get better, but it’s going to take weeks.” It was the perfect thing to say to me and I’ll never forget her. I’m fortunate to have a physician father and two physician in-laws so there was lots of general problem solving and support around everything for the first couple of weeks as well.
Is there something you wish you had known before so you could prevent?
I wish I’d understood how intense post-partum could be for my body. I think most people know that having a newborn means sleepless nights and feeling like you don’t know what’s going on but no one ever really talked about what’s happening physically in a way that made a difference for me. I wish I’d known how amazing sitz baths are and how much water you need to drink. I wish I’d known how important it was to set alarms to take pain meds because 3am is not the time to decide you’d rather go back to sleep instead of taking that advil. I really really wish I’d known how to be careful around stitches: push your butt cheeks together any time you sit down anywhere, don’t strain on the toilet, etc. It could have saved me a lot of pain. Lastly, I wish there was a way to communicate ahead of time that there is no wrong way to have a baby. There’s just your body and that baby and it’s going to be what it is. I spent a lot of my labor feeling like I was failing for various reasons and I wasn’t at all.
What do you think needs to change in the current healthcare system so that women can lead healthier, sexually active lives after maternity?
- All pregnant people should see a pelvic floor PT before they give birth to talk through exercises and postpartum stuff – Kegels can be done incorrectly or inefficiently so it’s helpful to know how to do them correctly ahead of time.
- Clear instructions about how the body is healing in the few weeks after birth – I’ve heard many stories of women guilted into having sex nine days postpartum and things like that. Everyone needs to understand how intense the changes are and how much time to heal the body needs
- More PT! At least one visit postpartum to a pelvic floor PT for a check in
In case you are interested, here we have more blog posts about postpartum: Postpartum Nutrition: Foods That Help Recovery After The Baby, 6 Ways to Show Your Post-Baby Body Love.
Elise Schuster is a sexuality educator with 15 years of experience in pleasure-based sex education and youth development. Elise is also the co-founder and CEO of OkaySo, an online platform that is revolutionizing sex ed by connecting young adults to experts they can’t reach any other way.