It happens somewhere between warrior pose and downward dog.
I launch my hips forward, press into the palms of my hands, and hear and feel it all at once, a loud, unmistakable sound, like air being let out of a balloon or my toddler daughter blowing a raspberry.
For a moment, I’m unsure what is happening. But then the sound goes on. The rest of the class continues their sun salutations, but I am frozen. I try to clench. It continues. I try to press my legs together. It finds a way out.
There I am, in my first yoga class since the birth of my son, queefing into the meditative silence. My fellow yogis pretend not to notice, but there’s no way they don’t. For what feels like hours, it continues, the bubbly soundtrack to our asanas.
At first, I’m more shocked than embarrassed. I am fairly positive my body has never made a sound like this before. But humiliation quickly sets in as the noise reappears in plank pose. I debate whether to run, laugh, or cry — maybe all at once. I know I will never go to another yoga class again, may possibly quit the gym entirely, and/or move out of the state.
I spend the rest of the class tightening every muscle in my body and avoiding eye contact, and when it finally ends I flee.
The name “queef” implies something cute and whimsical. But in reality, it means forcefully expelling trapped air from your vagina, which is almost as far away from whimsical as you can get, particularly when it happens in public to the horrified reactions of the people around you. The more technical name for what happened is vaginal flatulence.
It can happen to anyone, but it is particularly common in women after childbirth due to weakened pelvic floor muscles. It is natural. It is perfectly healthy. And like so many other postpartum consequences, it is both humiliating and secretive. If you’ve never been pregnant, I would like to take you on a little journey aboard the indignity express with five other mortifiying and incredibly common postpartum issues we don’t talk about:
- Hemorrhoids. Because, pushing a baby out. Not only do these hurt like hell, but they stick around long past delivery, sometimes for years or life. The moment you peruse the hemorrhoid care aisle of your local drug store is the moment you realize you have entered a new phase of life and that there may be no hope of return.
- Hair loss. It’s not enough that pregnancy and childbirth wreak havoc on a woman’s body and boobs. They also come for our hair. If you’re someone who has fine hair to begin with, it means that by six months postpartum you will be half-bald. By two years postpartum, you will have a stunning and not-at-all-awkward looking mullet as your hair grows back. And if you choose to have a second child, at this point, you may as well shave your head.
- Tearing. Unsurprisingly, if you try to squeeze an eight-pound watermelon out of a ten-centimeter opening, shit gets real. A lot of women tear. Some tear all the way through their rectum. There are parts of the body that should never be stitched, and the perineum is one of them. It takes a long time for this to feel remotely normal again.
- Incontinence. Pretty self-explanatory, and as fun as it sounds. A woman has a baby and for the rest of her life she might pee a little when she sneezes, coughs, laughs, or well, moves. Now that you’ve achieved familiarity with the hemorrhoid care aisle, your next stop is the adult diaper section.
- Milk leakage. Breastfeeding is beautiful and natural. As women, we hear that a lot. What we don’t hear as much is that breastfeeding will also turn your boobs into carnival attractions. They will inflate to porn star proportions and do fun tricks like leak all over your clothes in public or spray milk like a fire hydrant right up your darling baby’s nose.
These things happen to a lot of women after childbirth. I’d wager they happen to most women. But we don’t talk about it. Because it’s embarrassing and weird and uncomfortable. Our bodies, which we’ve come to know and depend on to act a certain way and not publicly shame us during yoga classes, become foreign and unpredictable. It’s an enormous blow to any woman’s confidence and hard to process.
When I had my yoga incident, my first instinct, after crying in my car and furiously googling “vagina fart,” was to hide in a deep black hole of shame and never tell a soul. I’m a nurse. I hold urinals and bed pans and put tubes in places no tubes should go, and yet I couldn’t tell my closest girlfriends what happened, much less my husband.
But here’s the thing: We need to talk to each other. We need to hear that these things happen to other women. We will still go to a dark place of shame after yoga queefing, but at least there will be other red-faced ladies waiting for us in that dark place, with a glass of wine and a wry smile of commiseration.
There’s a lot that happens to our bodies when we bring a child into the world. Some of it is cool and empowering, but a lot of it is weird and frightening. If the weird and frightening things happen to you, just know that you’re not alone.
And if it doesn’t happen to you, be kind to the mom next to you. Because she might not be able to just bounce back to her normal self or feel remotely beautiful or sexy for a really long time. Because her boobs hurt and her hair is falling out and she has hemorrhoids the size of golf balls. And if she lets rip a queef beside you, give her a break and some compassion.