A Stitch In Time... Doesn't Necessarily Save Your Nethers

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I hadn't realized that this was actually something that real women actually did, but apparently it is: vaginal cosmetic surgery is maybe not as popular as Botox, but women are getting it done. The thing is, according to a British study, getting your hoo-hah snipped carries a lot of risks. More risks than Botox. About the same amount of risk as female genital mutilation.

I know. I squeezed my legs together, too. You might as well keep yours squeezed, because this topic doesn't get any prettier.

Jezebel notes that the report points out that there really isn't any reason for anyone to get this kind of surgery - 'discomfort' with weird (whatever that means) labia is likely more psychological than physical, according to the report - and that there are certain basic risks, like reduced sexual sensation, that are to be expected. But they go on to note that the really discomfiting part about the report is its assertion that the risks go far beyond reduced sexual sensation, and are similar to what happens when womens' genitalia is mutilated: "the procedure," they report, "may cause some of the same childbirth problems as female genital mutilation does, including bleeding and tearing in labor, and even the death of the infant."

This matters, of course, to any women who might be thinking of getting a new look for her labia. But it also matters to mothers who might be worried about what happens down there when baby causes more damage than expected on his or her journey out the ol' birthing canal. I know something of this: my labor with my second child was precipitous (happened really, really, really fast - like, forty minutes and some seconds fast) and he basically made his own exit on the way out. I needed surgery on the spot to stop the bleeding and repair the damage.

That presents a difficulty in itself: the report notes that, basically, what gets taken apart in the nether regions can't be fully be put back together again - once the nethers have been cut or torn and restitched, that area is much more vulnerable to future trauma. As my own doctor told me, if I were ever to get pregnant again, I'd likely need to have a c-section, to avoid fully shattering the already ravaged parts below. (For the record, my circumstances were extraordinary: precipitous labors are rare, as are tears above the third degree. But some tearing is normal, and tearing that requires some repair not at all unusual.)

My nether-surgery was (brace yourself) actually botched a little - the nature of the damage, and the emergency circumstances of the surgery itself conspired to make the stitch job a little ragged - and my doctor raised the issue of reconstructive surgery, noting that I'd need to be aware of the fact that any cross-stitchery in the nethers would just make things all the more vulnerable down there. I passed. It didn't occur to me at the time that I had anything in common with anyone who'd suffered FGM - and I still think that there is a vast, vast difference, such that the only real similarity might be in some of the physical markers of traumatized genitalia. But mine came through the natural course of childbirth; mutilation-by-intent is mutilation of a very different sort.

That British researchers are raising the spectre of mutilation in the case of vaginal plastic surgery is interesting. If it stops even a few women from cutting themselves unnecessarily, then that's a good thing. But it does raise a lot of questions about how we should be thinking about what happens to our nethers in childbirth. Natural tearing isn't mutilation, obviously - but what about some of the medical practices surrounding it? Episiotomies have been discouraged by many doctors for some time now, and in any case calling an episiotomy mutilation is probably a stretch. But what about what happens when tearing is bad enough to need repair? How many women get their nether repairs repaired? Can some types of repair make things worse? I was lucky enough to have a doctor who warned me that further repair would further weaken things - but I know some women who weren't so lucky, and who have had their parts stitched and restitched. With the idea of vaginal cosmetic surgery out there, will more of us pursue the extra stitchery? How many of our doctors will give us the proper warnings? Shouldn't we be talking about this a bit more - even if it does make us squeeze our legs together? Especially, perhaps, if it does make us squeeze our legs together, and think twice about what we do - or have done - down there.

Catherine Connors blogs at Her Bad Mother and Their Bad Mother and everywhere in between.

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