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Say What?

By Jen Wittes











Tory sent me this recently as a nod to my overuse of the word perineum. You heard me. Give me an opportunity and I will talk about that ultimately private area—the one that is most tender in the postpartum period.

As the WBC staff copywriter, blogger, social media manager, and email ghost writer, I frequently dot first drafts of brochures, status updates, and mission statements with the P word. You know, the place where the sun don’t (usually?) shine. Perineum, perineum, perineum. If we’re talking postpartum, I involuntarily mention the big P. That’s perineum, in case you missed it. Perineum.  

A class on postpartum basics? It’s fine to use the word. A newsletter feature on the homemade sitz bath? Inevitably. In the brief description of who we are and what we do on the glossy brochure? Not always. Tory tells me, “I think we’re desensitized to the word as doulas, but I think a pregnant woman picking up our flyer might be scared off…”

To which, I might respond with a sigh, a groan, a little eye roll. “Well maybe the pregnant woman picking up the brochure needs this awareness,” I will proclaim. “The sudden realization that she will—quite soon—have to think about the part of her body that she will first have to Google on her smart phone.”

And just like that—at Tory’s expense—I have become an advocate for perineum awareness. Look out, World.

The truth of the matter is, doulas deal with about a billion sensitive subject matters. Lochia, vaginal dryness, nipple chaffing, and hemorrhoids. The list goes on, and that’s just the physical aspects of life after childbirth. Then you’ve got hormones. And histories. Fears, memories, and pet peeves. And the things that husbands and wives talk about—evidently in front of their doula—in the wee hours of the night.

Oh, we know it’s a bit different. It’s comical, too. We laugh over our various texts and emails and unflinchingly graphic lunch conversations. Last year, after hearing the great Ina May Gaskin speak at the U of M, we all gathered at a cocktail party for the local birth and postpartum support community. As I walked through the crowd, perusing the various cookies and crostinis, this is what I heard:  boob boob uterus placenta push PERINEUM nipple sex vagina vulva sex uterus boobs boobs breast-milk menopause hormones boobity-boobity-boob. I smiled and turned to a colleague, “Our job is so weird.”

To our loved ones, who report that work was kind of boring—a long meeting and Chipotle for lunch—we reply, “Ugh.  My day was pretty rough. Got spit up on during the beginning of the shift, so…you know…it curdled by the end. And then the baby had a poop explosion ALL OVER THE MOTHER. I tried to wipe up her chest as best I could, because she finally had a good latch and refused to pull the baby off the breast. I didn’t even get to eat my Luna bar until 7pm…yes, I remembered to wash my hands.”

Strange, titillating, heroic. Yes, my daily grind has been described by those close to me as all of those things. To me, asking,”So how’s your perineum feeling,” is like asking about the weather.  Just another day at the office.

Although it’s all funny and unusual and while I honestly understand Tory’s reminders to tone down the use of the P words—placenta, perineum, and even postpartum (apparently unsettling to some women who only associate it with depression), I still kind of believe in a step toward awareness.

Here’s what…

I didn’t know what a perineum was until after the birth of my first child. And when offered a peek at my placenta on that day, I cringed and refused. Motherhood changes women in unexpected ways. My second child was born at home, my perineum stitched in my own bed, and my placenta left behind for me to deal with. Now, I’m a postpartum doula.

I’m not advocating that women become me. Doulas, midwives, lactation consultants…we’re cut from a different cloth. But I kind of daydream about women possessing an OK-ness with all things birth and body. OK with the blood flow and the awkwardness of making love for the first time after becoming parents. OK with our body parts—ones we know well and ones we have yet to learn about. I want us to look at the placenta and look at what affects our hormones and look at the circles under our eyes and simply say, “OK.”

Less “I wish they had told me” and more “OK.”  And sure, because we don’t—as adults—discuss poop, perineum, and placentas in the real world as we do in the first few weeks following a birth, we can laugh about it.

Laughing is definitely OK.


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