By Bronwen Parker-Rhodes
Ms. Parker-Rhodes is a documentary filmmaker.
I thought I was pretty well prepared for the birth of my son. I had loads of friends with kids, I was an aunt, I’d attended a prenatal course, read (bits) of the many books recommended to me. And yet I discovered afterward that I was completely unprepared for the physical changes my body went through in pregnancy and the recovery that would follow. Obviously giving birth is one of the most extreme things your body can ever go through. So why was the aftermath also such a shock?
Initially I was preoccupied with the well-being of my newborn child, but it didn’t take long for me to become aware of my very different and damaged body. I felt shame for obsessing over my episiotomy scar and swollen vagina. My hips and pelvis felt and looked different, my coccyx appeared to stick out at a weird angle, my breasts were unrecognizable, and breast-feeding was excruciating. I felt completely and frighteningly changed. Why hadn’t I been warned about this and given some reassurance about the recovery?
After several months I finally asked other young mothers in my neighborhood about their experiences of motherhood and its impact on their relationships with their bodies and their sex lives. This opened a floodgate of questions, concerns and complaints about all the different things their bodies had gone through but that they were afraid to discuss. We were all recovering in very different ways, yet had also experienced a level of guilt for concerning ourselves with our wounded bodies, worried that our sole focus should be on our new child. Is it selfish to be upset about your appearance when you have just given birth to a healthy baby?
The mental and physical impact of going through pregnancy, giving birth and then dealing with a newborn is immense and can feel overwhelming. Whether you’re battling with stretch marks, hair loss or an inability to control your bowel movements, every woman’s experience of post-birth recovery is valid. Hopefully starting an honest dialogue free from shame, guilt or judgment — as I’ve tried to do here in this film — will benefit future mothers.
Bronwen Parker-Rhodes is a filmmaker based in London. Her film is a New York Times Op-Doc.