When you’re pregnant, you worry about pregnancy hemorrhoids and constipation. Then as the pregnancy progresses, you agonize about emptying your bowels all over the birthing table in front of horrified bystanders. (I’ve done that. Twice. “And the turd was, like, star-shaped,” my husband enjoys reminding me, in a tone that’s both disgusted and amazed.)
Once you cross all those hurdles, you feel relieved. Now that there’s no behemoth baby bearing down on your intestinal tract, you think your pooping problems are over – that everything will return to blissful regularity. You think you can stop your fecal fretting.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re gonna have to be the bearer of bad poos. There are no (number) two ways about it: your first post-partum poop is really shitty.
All joking aside, it’s an issue that everybody fails to mention. Sure, they’re comfortable telling you all about what happens to your vag, but the butthole – and the processes happening therein – are like the shameful stepsister in the fairy tales. Nobody wants to talk about it. Well, friends, we’re talking about it today. Because it’s really not fair. All the vagina has to do after childbirth is get some rest and heal up. Don’t use tampons, they tell you. Don’t have sex. Don’t do anything that may upset the delicate sensibilities of poor Princess Vagina. Yet your bowel system is expected to return to duty – er, doody – as soon as somebody cuts the cord. No coddling, no “treat your butthole nicely” lectures; just an expectation to jump right back into the game.
The first poop after baby is never the best dump you’ll ever take, but depending on your plan of action, its level of unpleasantness can range from “slight grimace” to “oh my god I think I’m giving birth to a twin.” Unfortunately for me, I haven’t always possessed this helpful information. So after I had my first child, I was blindsided – right in the brown eye – with a constipation situation.
The baby tore me up so badly while making his grand entrance that my doctor was like, “Don’t even come back for an eight-week checkup … this will take at least ten weeks to heal.” Consequently, I was petrified to think about pooping, lest I further compromise an area that looked like I’d gotten my last pube trim from a drunk Edward Scissorhands. I mean, just peeing was bad enough. And the bodily mechanisms that keep you from shitting yourself at random times (thank goodness) are the same ones that make it necessary to strain and push in order to get the job done. So when the thought of sitting without a cushion is enough to give you nightmares, the thought of any sort of pushing – again – makes you break out in a cold sweat. It also makes you constipated.
I tried to poop, but my body just wasn’t having it. It was like having a kid who doesn’t want to go into the pool. They’ll hover timidly at the edge, maybe dip a toe into the water, but when it comes to actually jumping in like they’re supposed to … fuhgeddaboutit.
There comes a time, however, when you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta doo-doo. It had been at least a week after giving birth, and as terrified as I was, I knew I had to get things moving. When I finally accepted that the poop just wasn’t going to miraculously dissolve in there, I handed the baby over to my visiting mother-in-law and grabbed a magazine. “I’m going in,” I told her with a look of grim determination on my face, and whirled around to face my new arch-nemesis: the toilet. It loomed in front of me like the electric chair. After a deep breath and a silent pep talk, I lowered myself nervously onto its cold and unwelcoming seat, ready for battle.
I had tried to prepare myself (or more accurately, my poop) by swilling huge jugs of water and popping stool softeners and laxatives like they were candy. I thought that perhaps if I did enough, it would slip out easily and painlessly – something like soft-serve ice cream, maybe with a little swirl on top. But that’s how I learned my most important lesson of all: do those things before holding it in for a week. Right after the baby is born, ask for some stool softeners with your painkillers. Poop as soon as you can. Because the longer you wait, the harder that shit’s gonna be. (Literally. It’ll be compacted like a damn brick.)
Many hospitals will tell you that you can’t go home until you’ve had a bowel movement, but from my experience, that’s more of a suggestion than a rule; it’s not like they’re going to bar the door until you produce a turd or two for proof. However. It’s not a bad idea to wait – because if that first poo proves problematic, they can help you. And you won’t end up like I did the first time: grunting, shaking, straining, and sweating, leaning from side to side, trying to somehow ease a huge lump of compressed crap through a hole that, though less torn-up than the vag, is also much less stretchy.
After an hour or so, I finally emerged – bow-legged but victorious – from the bathroom. Right then and there, I vowed to never have any more kids because there was no way I was dealing with constipation of that caliber ever, ever again. But, like my college-aged promises to never even look at any more tequila, that vow fell by the wayside once the initial sting had worn off. I’ve had three more kids since then, which means three more postpartum poops. And because I learned from my first experience, none of them has been nearly as excruciating.
But you’d better believe that just after my babies arrive into the world, in the quiet moments when most mothers are gazing lovingly at their precious newborns, I’m doing a quick check of fingers and toes and then flagging down my nurse for some Ex-Lax.