When I was pregnant with my first child, everyone happily told me everything they thought I needed to know about pregnancy, birth and post-birth. But what everyone failed to tell me was how absolutely confronting it is to lose control of your bladder after having a baby, how horrible it is to feel like you may wet your pants doing somewhat normal things and constantly feeling like a leaky tap that can’t simply be fixed by replacing the washer (wouldn’t that be great).
I often wonder why I was so enthusiastically (and graphically) informed about pooing during childbirth, but not how incontinence could enter my life.
So, I’m here to be upfront with you and tell you the things that could happen in pregnancy that others may simply avoid for the fear of becoming red-faced.
Now that I’m in my third trimester of my second pregnancy, I’d like to think I’ve got some experience up my sleeve. They’re not nice experiences, but you should really know about them and prepare yourself. You can thank me later.
1. The ‘poo’ problem. Oh, how lovely to start off with the topic of poo. But the fact is, constipation is a real thing during pregnancy and when it’s real bad, it will feel like you’re trying to push a bowling bowl out your backside… and it hurts about as much as it sounds. Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s not fun. Be sure to keep up your water, fruit, vegetable and fibre intake to avoid the pain and discomfort.
2. The ‘wee’ problem. I cringe when my four-year-old asks me to run and play for fear of leakage, but, I can sort of shuffle. Don’t, for goodness sake, make me laugh otherwise I’ll wet my pants. I’ve gone through packets of panty liners, just in case. They’re my peace of mind. And, at the end of the day, my vagina feels quite ‘heavy’. What on earth is going on! I look at the Continence Foundation of Australia free Pregnancy Guide and apparently, these are signs that I may have a bladder control problem, or incontinence. Oh, the joys of pregnancy!
3. Your vagina may look like an elephant’s bum. When you are pregnant, in addition to your vagina, labia and cervix taking on sort of a blue/purple colour, they swell. Looking like an elephant’s bum is the only way I can describe the look and how it feels. There’s lots of extra blood flowing down there, but on the plus side, if you dare let your partner near your elephantine vagina, things are extra sensitive.
4. There will be discharge. Be prepared to go through heaps of panty liners and underwear because there will be discharge and lots of it thanks to hormone changes. If you have nosy neighbours, they may wonder how on earth you can go through so many pairs of undies as they wave in the breeze on your washing line.
5. Itchy and scratchy. Our poor vaginas, they cop a hell of a lot during pregnancy. Unfortunately, infection is another common occurrence you should prepare yourself for. Bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection is likely to greet you when you least expect it and it’ll have you itching like crazy and wiggling in your seat.
6. Haemorrhoids. Let’s get back to bums, shall we? Now, I’m glad to say that I have not experienced haemorrhoids, but I know women who have. Hormonal changes during pregnancy soften the veins in the anal cushions and cause them to protrude outside your bottom. Let’s face it, this is not something your friends are likely to discuss over coffee, so now you know.
7. Prolapse. After my first pregnancy, I remember worrying that I had a prolapse. I felt like I had a lump in my vaginal opening, like everything was going to ‘pop out’. Luckily for me, it wasn’t prolapse, but it is common in women who have had at least one vaginal birth. What is a prolapse? Well, if you’re a visual reader, sorry, but it’s when your uterus, bladder or bowel comes down into the vagina instead of sitting in their normal position. This is why it’s so important to strengthen your pelvic floor – not just to stop the incontinence problem, but to reduce the risk of prolapse too.
8. Varicose veins on your hoo-ha. Who knew you could get varicose veins in your vagina and on your vulva? For a while, I thought you only got them on your legs. I have not (thankfully) encountered this, I’m glad because I think my vagina has copped enough so far, but it sounds like a truly agonising and embarrassing issue. Called ‘vulval varicosities’, these varicose veins develop as a result of normal pregnancy changes – increased blood volume, hormonal softening of the vein walls and increasing pressure on veins as your baby grows.
9. Sex is different. As much as your friend might ramble on about how much sex they’re getting during pregnancy, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with feeling as though you want sex less. I know that when I’m feeling like wee might leak down my leg, or when my vagina feels and/or looks like a swollen elephant’s bum or when I’ve suffered from a yeast infection, I DO NOT feel sexy and the last thing I want to do is have sex. I actually feel more like a walking, talking freak show. I’d imagine it’d be worse for women with varicose veins on their vagina or horrible haemorrhoids. If you feel like sex, good for you, but if you don’t, don’t be so hard on yourself.
10. Pregnancy can be debilitating. “Oh, I just love being pregnant,” your friend proclaims. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret, they’re in the minority. I’ve had people tell me how good I look this pregnancy and that I’m ‘glowing’, but do I feel that way? Hell no! Muscle cramps, pelvic and sciatica pain, lower back pain and a waddle like a penguin. My back problems mean I can’t vacuum (oh damn), I can’t do the grocery shopping (even bigger damn), I can’t sit down and bath my son… I often feel like I need to be traded in for a better model. Pregnancy, I’m one of those people that DOES NOT love being pregnant.
Yep, they’re pretty confronting, these things that happen in pregnancy. But I think the most important thing is that, as women, we are always open about them. Yes, talking about poo, wee, bums and swollen vaginas may be confronting and embarrassing, but the issues are common and the more they are talked about, the easier it is for women to seek help instead of just ‘putting up with it’.
So, I dare you, to bring up one of these topics over your next coffee with your pregnant friend. She’ll be very grateful in the long run.
More stories about pregnancy health:
- 10 Ways Pregnancy and Childbirth Changed Me Forever
- Discharge While Pregnant: What’s Normal and What’s Not?
- Healthy Alternatives When Pregnancy Cravings Strike
- What Foods Are Really Off-Limits During Pregnancy?