My Doc Prescribed A Vibrator To Heal My Postpartum Vaginal Tearing

Photo: Courtesy of the author
vagina
Self, Sex

"This might be uncomfortable," my doctor understated.

"Alright boss-lady, here we go," Chanté said as she methodically rubbed the rim of my perineum.

A bespoke butch, she wore tortoise-shell glasses, a natty vest, oiled leather J. Crew boots. If I were to have a pre-midlife lesbian encounter, she would be an ideal candidate: a pelvic floor specialist with a solid sense of style. Instead, I was a straight 37-year-old, married to my high school sweetheart with some decidedly un-sexy second-degree vaginal tearing.

I didn't pass the 6-week postpartum check-up. At 10-weeks I was still peeing pink. Months later, when I thought things would go back to normal, my midwife practice referred me to Doctor Jacques Moritz of The Business of Being Born film fame, the popular French New York City OB/GYN who happened to make a cameo appearance at my son's birth.

I waited nearly an hour for the appointment. Finally in the exam room, Moritz probed around. "This might be uncomfortable," he understated.

"Stitches performed after labor are often not ideal," he admitted. I wasn't exactly sure what he meant. When are stitches ideal? Surely those magical birth hormones could make the conditions for healing even better, right?

I recalled my 22-hour mostly un-medicated labor spent in a deep squat or on my knees because of relentless oscillations between front and back labor. I cringed  not at the hours of labor, or the eventual epidural shot administered to drop my rocketing blood pressure, but as I remembered the raw entry of that first stitch after delivery.

Unlike the sensations of labor, the stitches were distinct, antagonistic, external. I sat upright over my deflating belly to see the rough work of a needle and thread entering in and out of sight. My midwife didn't realize that the epidural had long been pulled. I forgot that you had to request a local anesthetic. For some bizarre reason, it isn't routine to provide women relief for what was surprisingly, to me, one of the most painful moments of the process.

Now, months later, the stitches were long gone, but they left behind unhealed scar tissue and a lingering, daily tenderness. Grotesque fears of prolapse and a recurring image of Munch's "The Scream" with organs spilling out drove me to make my first physical therapy appointment and hire a babysitter for my 5-month-old.

Weeks of dull pain when peeing and months of near abstinence finally got me out the door. And because my famous French OB/GYN referred me, it also felt hip and continental. This is what Carla Bruni would do, I assured myself, as I checked "yes" on the intake form for "pees a little when sneezes."

"Did your doctor prescribe a vibrator?" Chanté asked.

"Um, no...?" I responded, expecting to be measured for a dilator or prescribed some medieval pelvic weights. She went on, and things began to sound a whole lot better than the worse-case scenarios I had heard about involving vagina lasers and corrective surgery.

After I co-paid to be professionally fingered by Chanté, I decided to take the DIY approach. A vibrator, Chanté suggested, can do in five minutes what I or she would manually have to do in 20. And, she offered, you won't need to commute or hire a babysitter.

"You can even use Aquaphor!" she enthusiastically added, the petroleum-based goop I smeared on my son's butt about ten times a day. And so, with Chanté's blessing, I committed to a self-treatment plan.

Emboldened with my medical reason to buy a sex toy, and thrilled to do something that felt vaguely adult-like, I strapped my baby into the front-carrier and set out for the Brooklyn outpost of Babes in Toyland.


Photo: Babeland

Up until then, watching Sons of Anarchy with my husband and a beer after Baby G went to sleep was the closest I came to feeling like a grown-up and not a round-the-clock leaky milk maid.

Once inside the shop, I rocked back and forth as he dozed. I imagined that one side of the shop carried the "for-fun" collection in a range of rainbow colors, while behind the counter I could find the prescription bare-bones devices, covered by insurance. As if such a division existed, I blurted out, "It's for therapeutic purposes" to the first salesperson that approached me.

Baby G began to stir, and I wondered why I didn't just order this online like everything else from diapers to groceries. But instead of running out, I stayed to scope and grope the inventory.

The 5-inch, narrow black "rebel" seemed an illicit choice, especially after months of choosing items only in pastel pinks, baby blues and gender-neutral greens. I liked the battery (no bulky charger), the small size, and the price: a reasonable $35. I paid for it, shoved the box into my diaper bag, and hopped back on the subway.


Photo: intimate.ie

Once home, I promptly unwrapped it. The rebel came with a small plastic stand, as if it were meant for Hummel-like display in the G-rated section of Mr. Grey's Red Room. I tucked it in a drawer, underneath my duplicate pairs of smart wool socks.

The next morning, when Baby G went down, I made a similar plan. I showered for my meeting with the rebel and cracked into the tiny tube of "safe" lube I was upsold. I dutifully circled the area, wincing when I got to the unhealed scar tissue. By the time I heard the first cries on the baby monitor, I had successfully administered my first treatment. 

I tried to devote routine time to taking care of myself, but between irregular naps and trying to spend as much time out of the apartment, the rebel remained tucked away. Plus, my husband was supportive and patient. And so, I spent any opportune moment for intimacy trying again with him, hoping for it to feel different. I also felt lucky that while the pain at the outset of sex was sharp, the sensations that followed were often deeper than my pre-baby orgasms. 

That first year after giving birth, I spent most of my time in parks and play groups, chatting it up with moms about everything from sleep to spoon-feeding. At a weekly meet-up in a bar aptly called Mother's, which served up a cheap burger special that we all gobbled down, I kept my shame, and later rage, quiet as a new mom bubbled-over about being "back to normal," her 6-week-old newborn's face peeking out of a chic $190 purple woven wrap.  It's the rare conversation that ventures into the silence surrounding all of the strange aspects of postpartum recovery and the illusion, for many, of the 6-week, go-forth-and-fornicate appointment.

A year-and-a-half later I'm still coping with intercourse feeling like the first time, every time. And between keeping up with diaper orders, the impossibility of getting through the Sunday paper, and a now mobile toddler, the rebel, unfortunately, is not one of the many toys that I'm cleaning up every night

 

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