In my usual facebook reading this week I came across a comment (again!) about a woman who is electing to have a caesarean as she doesn’t want to ruin her vagina. Aside from any question about performing major surgery when not medically indicated or whether there is more to this woman’s story: I need to ask – why do we hear so much about how vaginal birth (a normal physiological process generally) “ruins” vaginas, but very little about how caesareans ruin uteri? Keeping aside whether vaginas do actually become “ruined” by vaginal birth (I know a lot of women who say that they don’t, though) – Why is it okay to say “I want a caesarean as I don’t want to wreck my vagina” (although no-one ever uses the word “vagina”, am I the only one who notices that?!), but if I say that I DON’T want a caesarean because I don’t want to wreck my uterus I get told to “remember that all that matters is a healthy baby”?
I’ll give you a clue – it’s one word and it starts with “P”. Not penis although you are close – it’s “Patriarchy”! (who guessed it right?!). Vaginas aren’t just a pleasure centre for women or a convenient escape route for a baby – they are a pleasure centre for men too. I know men out there (not many of them…but still…) who don’t even know what a uterus is! Let alone the benefits to mum of keeping it intact. But they ALL seem to know what a vagina is and they all seem to be aware of its benefits for them. And many of them seem a little concerned about what a baby going through the vagina will mean for them. Society (read: patriarchy) seems to have forgotten that the primary function of a woman’s reproductive system is just that – reproduction. The pleasure part is an awesome side effect, but not the primary function.
Taking this a little further I often hear comments following a caesarean – “you poor thing. Now you’ll have a scar. Now you won’t be able to wear a bikini in summer”. I know a lot of women who’ve had caesareans and I know a lot of women who’d like to avoid a caesarean – not many of them cite the aesthetics of their bikini line as the primary reason for not wanting a caesarean. But why is everyone concerned with the aesthetics? Because that’s what women are for – we are supposed to be aesthetically pleasing. As I was being wheeled in for my second caesarean the OB asked if I would like her to “fix” my scar – apparently it wasn’t a nice pretty scar. I said that I had no idea what she was talking about but sure, go ahead. Once the surgery was over she came out to recovery to tell me that “Your uterus was torn vertically during the surgery, which means you cannot ever have another try at a vaginal birth. But, hey, I fixed up your scar and it will look much better!” Says a lot about society when a “pretty” scar is more important to the OB during your caesarean than keeping your uterus strong and healthy.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my vagina. It’s a pretty awesome body part (I get a lot more joy out of it than my elbow, for instance) and I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to it. I also love my tummy – it does a great job of keeping my insides, well, on the inside. But I also love my uterus, and I think that getting a hole cut in it big enough to get a baby out isn’t really a great outcome for it. Never mind the risks to other parts of my body – like deep vein thrombosis, blood transfusion or death. I love my vagina, but not enough to risk my life for it! And even if a vaginal birth does result in painful sex for a few months is that really more devastating than surgery resulting in painful walking for a few months? I could have a caesarean, go back to having sex straight away, but be physically unable to roll over afterwards. Gee that sounds like fun!
So when we talk about how vaginal birth is “ruining” sex and caesareans are “ruining” tummies let’s keep the wonderful, useful and very hard working uterus in mind. The uterus is where your baby lives, and where any future babies will need to live. It birth’s your baby. It’s an exceptionally important and beautiful organ and deserving of some thought and consideration when planning your birth. Your uterus doesn’t want to be “wrecked” any more than your vagina does!
“There is no other organ quite like the uterus. If men had such an organ they would brag about it. So should we” – Ina May Gaskin