Vaginal Health

The husband stitch: An Aussie who was sewn up 'tighter' post-birth speaks out

Society’s perception of tighter vaginas being desirable "for the new Daddy" is both dangerous and wrong.

By Lorna Gray

Jess, 30, from Queensland shares her story:

It's surprising how taboo birthing stories are given the fact we're all alive because someone gave birth to us.
So, to say I didn't know what I was letting myself in for is an understatement.
You're taught about your cervix dilating, you know what to expect when your waters break, are advised how to breathe through the contractions, et voilà, your baby is born.
Most women are also prepared for a C-section if the vaginal birth doesn't go to plan or may even have an elected C-section.
But midway through a vaginal birth with my first son, I found myself having an episiotomy – i.e. being cut from my vagina to my anus – because my baby's head was so large. Something I'd never really given a thought to before.
It had been a gruelling labour, to say the least, a whopping 36 hours.
When he was finally delivered safely, I didn't think anything of being cut open— or stitched back up again for that matter. I was shell-shocked and completely in love with the beautiful baby boy in my arms.
We got home the next day and my husband actually joked about my stitches, saying "I wonder if they threw in an extra stitch."
The infamous 'Husband Stitch'. I thought it was an urban legend. It was so ludicrous that people would want their vagina to be sewn up tighter that I laughed along with him.
But we don't joke about it anymore.
Anyone who's given birth (with or without getting stitches!) knows how sore you feel afterwards. Going to the toilet can be complete agony.
The pain from my cut was something else. I was wearing pads to absorb any bleeding, but they kept getting stuck to the wound.
I was told the stitches would dissolve by themselves. I had eight on the outside and four on the inside.
I went for my 6-week check-up and was told everything was fine. No medical professional checked the scar tissue but I was told everything was in order and I could have intercourse again.
Only, I couldn't. My husband and I attempted to have sex but he couldn't insert his penis.
We're each other's 'firsts' and he actually said to me: "It wasn't this tight the first time round," referencing when I lost my virginity.
A first-time mum at just 22, I thought it must be normal.
We tried for an agonising two weeks, using lube, trying to stretch my vagina open. It was incredibly painful so I decided to go to my GP to ask her what was going on.
She examined me and immediately looked horrified: "Honey, you're the size of a 10-year-old down there," she said.
It turned out I'd been stitched up too tightly.
Mortified, I had to go back to the hospital to be 're-cut' and stitched back up again. This time, I healed properly and my vagina was soon back in working order, so to speak.
I wrote a letter to the hospital in the hope that no other woman would go through the same experience.
I know this sounds awfully sexist but I do wonder if a female doctor had administered the stitches whether I would have been stitched up too tightly.
It was as if he was programmed to give me a tighter vagina.
I count myself lucky though. Because I went to my doctor realising there was a problem, it was easy(ish) to fix. Some women don't realise there's a problem for years and suffer excruciating pain during sex or problems during childbirth.
The fact it's been dubbed a 'Husband Stitch' is inherently problematic to society. The very notion a man benefits from a tighter vagina – "an extra stitch for Daddy" – It makes you want to hurl.
My own husband was horrified when I had to be re-cut – nobody who loves you would want that.
It certainly made me question yet another ridiculous/unattainable ideal.
Unfortunately it wasn't the last time a birth made me question my own femininity. After the birth of my second child two years later, I had the opposite problem when I had a vaginal prolapse.
The pressure of my bub sitting on those organs caused my pelvic floor to effectively cave in.
So I found myself having to strengthen up down there. I used a treatment called the wave chair which sends shockwaves through your vagina to your pelvic floor.
Luckily, it worked for me but some of my 'friends' made some very cruel jokes about the prolapse along the lines of how loose and disgusting my vagina must be.
Absolutely ridiculous.
I feel like birthing stories need to be shouted from the rooftops. I had no idea what to expect from an episiotomy or a prolapse.
Look after yourself down there. But keep these conversations going for the sake of the sisterhood – it's your vagina, not society's.