When I got pregnant, there were many things I worried about: contributing to overpopulation, getting fat, losing my inner life, being a badly dressed mother. But one thing I managed not to take into account, though this now seems unfathomable, was my vagina.
That's not precise enough. From a certain perspective, you could say I gave it more than adequate consideration. Like many other women fixed in the belief that Western doctors overmedicalize childbirth, I wanted neither an epidural (the injecting of anesthetic into the spinal column during labor) nor an episiotomy (the surgical incision made in the perineum to create a larger opening through which the baby's head can pass). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued a statement saying that episiotomies may lead to anal sphincter damage, severe tearing, and future painful sex, yet many doctors still make the cut. I'd amassed all the troublesome details of the natural-tear versus incision debate so that I would have ammunition should any Sweeney Todd doctor get too close. But somehow, I didn't think about the actual implications of what would happen to my insides as the baby passed through.
I'm not really a vagina person. I mean, I read Our Bodies, Ourselves at age 13 and dutifully followed the collective's instructions to hold up a hand mirror and check my cervix. But I'll never buy a ticket to an Eve Ensler play or read a book narrated by someone's "c--t." So it wasn't my vagina I was thinking about when I fired my ob-gyn upon learning her episiotomy rates (90 percent for first-time mothers) or when I tried to do at least a third of the daily recommended 300 Kegel exercises to tone my pelvic floor muscles. I wasn't doing them to protect my sex life, but because my maternal-fitness teacher assured me it would help for a smoother birth, as in, help the baby's head come out--she used her hands to demonstrate a head going through a turtleneck sweater--with less trauma.