Life & Love


Chrissy Teigen gave birth to her second child, Miles, this week. Two days after announcing his birth, she tweeted, “I can confirm postpartum life is 90% better when you don’t rip to your butthole. Baby boy: 1 point. Luna: 0.” She followed that up with an Instagram of herself holding her newborn and an asian pear wrapped in its distinctive protective fishnet-like styrofoam, while wearing nothing but a low-slung skirt and a pair of high-waisted mesh underwear that considerably resembled the pear. She hashtagged the photo #asianpearunderwear and added a plug for comedian Ali Wong’s latest special, Hard Knock Wife.

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If you haven’t had a baby, or you are a man, you likely have no idea what Teigen is talking about. But if you have had one, you probably saw the post and nodded vigorously, said “YES THIS” in your head, and @ed all your mom friends.

I recently had a baby, so this is all very fresh for me. Let me quickly explain: pushing a 6–10 pound baby through a vagina can cause a helluva lot of stress and damage to a woman’s body. Vaginal tears, more accurately called perineal lacerations, occur when the baby’s head tears the vaginal opening—and they’re very common. The severity of the tears are measured in degrees: first degree tears only affect the perineal skin, while third and fourth degree tears, like the one Teigen experienced with Luna, cause injury to the anal sphincter and the rectum.

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Yeah.

This kind of tear isn’t common (it occurs in about 2–6 percent of deliveries), but it happens. I had a first degree tear (only three stitches) but I can think of at least three friends who tore, as Teigen did, from hole to hole. Scan the responses to Teigen’s tweet and you’ll hear from many more women who experienced third and fourth degree tears, including this gem: “My baby boy will be 25 in August and my butt still hurts.”

And about the #asianpearunderwear: Teigen’s wearing a specific kind of disposable underwear made of mesh that is handed out to women in hospitals after they’ve had babies. Right before I had a baby, I got wind of the mesh underwear. They were whispered about in the same way any coveted fashion item might be: You need these. They are the best. Take as many as you can from the hospital.

Sexy mesh underwear.

Courtesy NorthShore care supply

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This mesh underwear ever so gently gently hugs the body without digging into it, the way elastic would, and holds in the ginormous maxi pad and numbing gel combo you wear during the immediate postpartum weeks as your body continues to bleed (the discharging of the mucous membrane that lines the uterus during pregnancy is called lochia) and heal. (Bleeding can last from three to eight weeks postpartum.)

Teigen is known for her unfiltered honesty on social media, but it also seems like she was inspired to post about her postpartum recovery because she’d watched Hard Knock Wife. It’s Wong’s second special for Netflix, a worthy follow-up to the wildly successful and hilarious Baby Cobra.

Wong recorded both specials while seven months pregnant. They’re both hilarious, but what’s different about Hard Knock Wife is that Wong is now a mom, and she uses all that new life experience—of childbirth, taking care of a newborn baby, childcare—as fodder. During one very memorable scene, she talks about a friend who forced her to look at her post-birth vagina. “Her pussy looked ca-ray-zayyyy,” she says. “Her pussy straight up looked like two hanging dicks, hanging side by side. In the process of giving birth to one baby girl, my friend became two dudes.” Then, showcasing extraordinary physical comedy, Wong mimes the process of her friend laughing while also having to “pinch the dicks together to make sure that the carne asada wouldn’t fall out of the taco and become nachos on the floor.”

What Wong’s friend likely experienced was a uterine prolapse (procidentia—Google image search it at your own risk), or something close to it, which is rare. Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi Bannerman, MSc and professor of Women’s Health in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University, says she’s only seen one in her 20-year career. But according to a recent study by the NIH, at least 50 percent of women develop a mild form of genital prolapse after pregnancy. I called up my friend Dr. Julia Jaffe, an OB/GYN, to explain. “Pelvic organ prolapse is weakness of the pelvic floor muscles which can cause vaginal bulge and pressure, urinary dysfunction, defecatory dysfunction, and sexual dysfunction,” she said. Here’s a visual: “If you picture the vagina is a room—the doorway where you are standing is the introitus (opening to the vagina), the bladder is on the ceiling, the rectum is below the floor- any weakness in the walls can cause something to fall into the room and get pushed toward the door. One of the most common is cystocele—the bladder sags down, altering the angle of the urethra so that urine leaks when you cough or sneeze.”

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“This is why women need maternity leave!” Wong concludes. “You better pay our ass too.”

And there it is. We need federal paid leave for thousands of reasons, but one that rarely gets mentioned is that women need that time for their bodies to heal, and not just to bond with and care for their newborn. “In general, healing takes longer that one might expect,” Gyamfi Bannerman says. “Even with a normal vaginal delivery, a woman’s pelvis will be sore for some time. After my first child was delivered vaginally, I could barely walk for 2 weeks, and I had a very minor tear!” Adds Jaffe, “Changes in pregnancy affect every organ system and function—cardiovascular, hematologic, endocrine and metabolic, respiratory, urinary, digestive, dermatologic, immune, skeletal, psychological, even ocular.” Even your eyesight is affected! The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)’s official endorsement of paid leave notes that “the recognized benefits of paid parental leave include decreased infant mortality, improved health of the child and mother, improvements in worker morale and retention, and increased income.”

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Black women and their babies are even more at risk. Recent investigative pieces in the New York Times magazine and ProPublica have shed light on the crisis facing black mothers and their children in America. The Times’ cites a CDC report stating that “Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts.” ProPublica’s analysis showed that “women who deliver at hospitals that disproportionately serve black mothers are at a higher risk of harm.”

It’s been written about ad nauseam: the US is the only developed nation not to offer any form of paid parental leave. But it bears repeating over and over again because paid parental leave is vital for the health, safety, and economic welfare of our country.

And what Wong and Teigen are doing is essential to helping us get there. We have to be explicit about the injury and trauma that having a baby does to a woman’s body. We have to be loud about it. We have to talk about it in public. We need our celebrities and cultural tastemakers and commentators to normalize it and make jokes about it. For far too long, these stories have been whispered between moms. I only learned about numbing gel and mesh underwear and nipple cream and sitz baths (real!) until I became one.

Twitter

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One young Twitter user responded to Teigen’s tweet with a slightly bewildered, “What are the stitches for? I thought they only used stitches in c-sections?” To which Teigen responded, with typical perfect delivery, “lol bless you this is so cute.” But now she and millions of others who follow Teigen have a greater awareness about the extreme injury women sustain after childbirth. We have to keep talking about it, and pushing our policy makers to take it seriously.



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