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I've had four babies and four episiotomies.
"Episiotomy" is a fancy term for a procedure during childbirth where the OB or midwife makes a surgical cut from the vagina toward the anus – a muscular area called the perineum. The thinking goes, making a controlled cut is preferable to allowing the perineum to tear naturally, as the baby exits the mother's body. Although episiotomies used to be routine, this is no longer the case.
But it was for me. For my first three deliveries, all vaginal, episiotomy was a non-event. I had epidurals that worked marvelously. I was nice and numb, so I could feel pressure down there but not much else. My doctor gave me a heads-up that she was cutting me and that was that. I didn’t feel the procedure itself. Once the baby was out and the placenta was delivered, my doctor proceeded to stitch up the incision. Each time, I felt nothing.
With my fourth delivery, though, the epidural failed toward the end of my labor. I gradually felt more and more of the contractions – by the time my nurse and anesthesiologist realized what had happened, I was writhing in pain during transition, and there was no time to re-do the epidural. I ended up feeling everything during delivery. And I also needed an episiotomy.
After pushing for a bit, my doctor told me she was going to give me a numbing shot so she could cut me. I was already feeling the worst pain of my life at that point, so the numbing shot, thankfully, didn’t even register on my radar. My doctor then performed the episiotomy and my baby girl was born. I don’t remember feeling my doc doing the stitches, either – thanks to being distracted by my newborn and the additional numbing shot she gave me before beginning the stitching.
Based on my experience, I would say that recovery from having an episiotomy was no big deal. Then again, I’ve never not had one; so I don’t technically have anything to compare them to.
Once the effect of my epidural wore off for my first three deliveries, everything "down there" felt pretty swollen and sore. No surprise – a human being had just exited my birth canal, after all. Each time, though, I remember my recovery nurse giving me a padsicle – basically a frozen, newborn diaper soaked in soothing blue gel – to place inside my giant postpartum pad/mesh undies.
Until the stitches from my episiotomy dissolved, I used a peri bottle of water to rinse things off after going to the bathroom. After gently patting myself dry with toilet paper, witch-hazel pads were handy for dabbing the stitches and surrounding areas. These pads not only helped with hygiene, but soothed itchiness and soreness on my perineum. (They’re also great if you end up with hemorrhoids, FYI.) Dermoplast spray also helped with the pain/sensitivity in my perineum. Other than this high-maintenance hygiene routine, each time I used the toilet – along with regularly changing the oversized pads I wore for several weeks – nothing else needed to be done to care for my stitches.
When I went in for my 6-week postpartum checkup, my OB checked the area where my stitches were to make sure everything had healed properly. She also felt my abdomen, asked me about bleeding, etc., and gave me the green light to resume sexual intercourse and exercise. And that was that. There doesn’t seem to be any lasting evidence of having had an episiotomy.
But it’s worth mentioning that I’ve had a fair amount of postpartum-stress incontinence since having children. In other words, I leak pee when I’m exercising. This pesky issue tends to resolve itself almost entirely around one year postpartum and I'm not convinced episiotomy has anything to do with it.
What I do know is – having experienced an episiotomy four times now – it’s definitely not as bad as it sounds.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.