Friday, 26 January 2018

How women experience parenthood differently from men: Part 3 – the other bits.

In parts 1 and 2 of this blog post extravaganza, I discussed the parts of the body that women have for making and feeding babies that men don't. Here, I'll talk about the parts that men DO have, yet don't get traumatized by childbearing in men as they do in women. Remember, because we are women and we are already considered inferior in many jobs, we have to endure these physical pleasantries without complaint for fear of giving a bona-fide reason for men to think we aren't up for the job.
"Yes, of course Gary, I already took care of it."
Ye Olde Urination/Excretion System
The urination system consists of a bag-shaped organ called the bladder that sits under the uterus, and a tube called the urethra that comes out in front of the vagina to let the pee out (and probably other parts, but I'm not that kind of doctor). The excretion system (guts) is a long squishy tube all folded up in a heap above and behind the uterus that comes out the you-know-what.

Did you know that typically the urethra gets bruised while giving birth vaginally, even for women who gave birth without an epidural and associated catheter, such that it is painful for weeks afterward? It’s true! Gosh, women are so lucky to experience such unique and interesting physical events.

While pregnant, the bladder gets seriously abused. The growing baby pushes on it and kicks it, and hormonal changes create the urgency to pee constantly, even before that time as well. During pregnancy and after birth, many women also experience incontinence – whether it be just small leakages of pee associated with laughing and sneezing, or complete lack of bladder control associated with pelvic floor trauma. Imagine the trunk of a person’s body as a can: because women have a hole in the bottom of our can that needs to open up wide enough to let a baby out, the bottom of our can has been completely cut off and covered by muscles that weaken and stretch out during and after pregnancy. This means we can’t hold in our pee as well, and also means that our bladders, uterus, and even our guts can literally fall out of our stretched-out baby hole. This is called a prolapse and it is freaking horrifying.

Can you go for a run or jump on a trampoline with your kids without fear of peeing all over the place and/or checking to make sure you have the proper absorptive items in place to prevent said pee from running down your legs? No? Welcome to the club. 
"I can no longer sit on our white couch without fear of leaking pee onto it, so we all just hang out on the floor as a family now. It's quite pleasant!"

You know how the baby grows in the uterus, and gets pretty gigantic? In that uterus is also a thick layer of blood, like we discussed, and a big jellyfish thing called a placenta. All of these bits take up a lot of space, and as they grow larger, various organs including the bladder and the intestines get very smooshed. As the intestines get all squarshed up, it unsurprisingly messes with a woman’s digestion. We get to experience all sorts of weird poop and farting issues while pregnant, as well as often debilitating heartburn. I won’t go into more detail, but let’s just say it’s unpleasant, like the rest of childbearing.

Ye Olde Ability to Sleep
Ok, this isn’t a particular organ, but more of a whole-body/brain/hormones thing.

Lack of sleep is a famous part of having an infant. But did you know it often starts during pregnancy? It’s super difficult to sleep with a live bowling ball stuffed inside of you, kicking you in the bladder, diaphragm, and cervix while you are trying to sleep through an overactive bladder and heartburn. Once the baby is born, it’s often no longer your own body (or your body’s reaction to the baby kicking you) that wakes you up – it’s the baby crying for something or another. A lucky mother might have a partner willing to sacrifice his or her own sleep to get up and attend to the baby, and let the mother sleep. This was not so much the case for me, since my husband could sleep through an air raid siren and also has a much higher tolerance for crying than I do. My kids now generally only wake up once a night, so I mostly sleep fairly well, but I admit I looked forward to my post-baby hernia surgery simply for the general anesthetic nap.
"I no longer remember how to sleep, so I use the nights to hand-crate the decor for my daughter's nursery while she kicks my diaphragm - it's such wonderful bonding."

Notice here in this series of blog posts, I generally didn’t mention anything about parenting that isn’t directly tied to biology. This is because it is totally possible for a partner who didn’t give birth, isn’t breastfeeding, and whose body didn’t get torn up by these activities to be fully engaged and to share the parenting responsibilities equally.

So why do I think it’s fair that women get a helping hand to succeed in their careers post-baby? Well, aside from the physical difficulties women experience (most of which aren’t dealt with in any equitable way – we don’t get naps at work while pregnant, for instance), we also tend to do more and more annoying childcare, household management, and housework once we have kids – even in families where the dads WANT to be, and THINK they are being egalitarian. It’s kind of a raw deal trying to be a mom and succeeding at the rest of life, so I think we deserve all the help we can get. If that help comes in the form of partners who take on more of the burden to offset the physical and emotional labor that women put into childrearing, that’s all well and good. But until that happens for realsies, a little money for moms to hire someone to help around the house is a great start.

I'm sure I'm forgetting more unpleasantries associated with the biological production of babies, so feel free to add them in the comments! 


  1. Um, yes. The other day at the gym I had just lifted a heavy barbell and needed to stand it up...and totally peed on the platform in the middle of it. Yep, that was me. You're welcome, son! My body will never be the same again!

  2. Always love reading your blogs, Jess. Honestly, I have never regretted not having children of my own. And after reading this expose on what really happens to your body during and after pregnancy, I regret it even less!! I used to joke about my step kids. “I got the kids without the stretch marks”, but I now appreciate them so much more!!