It’s tempting — thanks largely to the enormous advertising spend of multinational corporations — to view motherhood through the pink-hued, soft-focus lens deployed for low-budget television dramas and high-budget sanitary products. But motherhood is not purely an emotional state, much less a state of bliss. It’s often a state of dysmorphia, and sometimes, thanks to a combination of cultural norms and willful ignorance, it’s embarrassing and gross. This aspect of the maternal experience is excised from cocktail party chatter and, all too often, from conversations between partners. Luckily, there are women willing to pull back the curtain of motherhood and reveal the bloody, pee-stained truth to men who should know what’s up.
“Society wants us to be these brilliant multitaskers who can do it all, but without the farting and indigestion men get,” says Annie Murray, a writer for the decidedly un-squeamish Mother of the Year blog and veteran of three births. “Momming just adds another layer to that because we have more grossness around us and less control over our bodies and time.”
Make no mistake, Murray says, being a mom is super gross. The cringe-worthy physical mom issues are directly related to the havoc that is caused by growing another human inside of your body. Sure, evolution has built cisgender women to do exactly that, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. Consider the number of organs that need to be displaced and rearranged in order to make room for something that gets as large as a watermelon.
That’s exactly why one in three mothers develop postpartum urinary incontinence. It’s also the reason cold season sucks for a mom — a good coughing fit will likely lead to surprise pee. There’s no holding it in. And it’s more than just coughing that leads to the unwanted release of urine. Laughter does the trick. So does exercising. Murray mentions one friend who can’t do certain yoga poses anymore because “she’s afraid she’s going to pee herself.”
Another hush-hush postpartum issue men are unlikely to hear about is hemorrhoids. They are incredibly common and can range from uncomfortable and itchy to incredibly painful. In some cases, they hamper intimacy. It’s hard to say, “Yes, let’s have sex, but please be aware of my anal discomfort.”
But of all the painful body things happening post-pregnancy, stitches from vaginal and anal tearing are likely the worst. They require cleaning and care, and it’s common for a new mom to be sent home with little instruction. There is a constant fear of them tearing. Murray’s fear was enough to cause a collateral problem. “I didn’t poo for a week,” she recalls, none too fondly.
It’s important to note that the yuck isn’t all below the waist. After pregnancy, a woman will start to lose the hair that was made full and bright by pregnancy hormones. Clogged drains abound.
Breastfeeding leads to its own specific sort of awfulness. Consider the fact that nipples need to develop a callus. And sometimes a condition called mastitis can lead not only to pain, but also to the discharge of pus. Whether or not this happens, mothers know that it’s a very real possibility. Breastfeeding may be beautiful, but it doesn’t always engender beautiful thoughts.
The grossness doesn’t stop at infancy. Although men and women are likely to have an equal chance of getting a kid’s bodily fluids on their person, it seems like moms are more likely to have their bathroom privacy revoked by a kid.
“I’ve changed tampons in front of the girls and the boy,” Murray says. “You never have time alone.” Which means that it’s likely a kid knows more than dad about what’s going on with mom’s body.
The point is that dads don’t have the market cornered on gross. Sure, they fart and belch and scratch themselves, but ladies have their fair share of gross too, and it’s grossness in the service of others and in contradiction — of a sort — to a glowing maternal image that is impossible to maintain. Soft-focus mothering is real, but so is incontinence. And unpleasantness of that nature may be the hardest part of the maternal experience for fathers to understand, not because of a lack of sympathy, but because they don’t know or too quickly forget.
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