For the next couple of weeks, we're trying something new for Lit Thursday: Instead of recommending books, we're going to be recommending some memorable magazine articles by and about women.
First up: Miranda Purves' 2008 Tour de Force, "Ring of Fire," in which she describes the less-than-ideal reality of postpartum sex.
I vividly recall the first time I read "Ring of Fire": I was a 26-year-old ninny and working at Jezebel, where my colleague Moe discovered the Elle piece and wrote a post about it. Moe described the essay's title as referring to, "an oft-used term for what happens during those final moments before the baby's head rips through your vadge." Back then, I basically read it through my fingers, the way you would watch a horror film. I knew I wanted kids someday, but I wasn't quite ready for some of the more unpleasant side effects of birthing babies.
Just a few years after that first reading, when I delivered my first 9-pound baby vaginally, I was reminded of Purves' piece and re-read it. I didn't suffer from the same side effects as Purves did, but there was definitely some postpartum damage to my nethers. I had a second-degree tear, and even 4 months after giving birth, it was still — to quote my obstetrician — "angry."
Instead of being horrified by "Ring of Fire," like I was on first reading, I found solace in it. This passage, especially, was meaningful to me:
"What I don't understand is why none of us ever talked about it. Maybe it was just too scary. (How much can you say about the fact that you might tear apart? And how will you go back to having sex after that?) But I also wonder if it breaks a certain antique taboo, the one that keeps babies and sex in discrete boxes, even though we all know they share the same, er, box.
As the Vessel of the Baby you are free, even expected, to iterate every vomiting session, discuss every little cramp, blood spot, varicose vein, kick, and craving. But to voice concern about your sex life might imply that you are thinking of yourself (bad mother), rather than only, only, only the end goal: a healthy baby. If we voice our worries about our bodies or mourn in advance what we might be doing to our sex lives, do we risk enraging some puritanical cosmic force that will take it out on the innocent infant? Or is it just silently, stoically understood that the change in the most essential part of a woman is the only honest reflection of the profound before and after of having a baby? I would still make the choice to have my child, but I wish I had thought more, before, about what it might mean."
Now, almost a decade after the essay's original publication, I have birthed TWO big-headed babies through my vagina. I was reminded of Purves' piece yet again last week, when two writers I admire, Emily Gould and Laura Hazard Owen, had an email newsletter discussion about pelvic floor dysfunction. As Emily put it, pelvic floor dysfunction is "something that affects many people, most of them female-bodied, especially those of us who have given birth vaginally but which is shrouded (like most things that have to do with vaginas) in needless and harmful secrecy."
I firmly believe that pieces like this are doing important work in demystifying our bodies, and I could read a thousand more of them.
Jessica Grose is Lenny's the Editor in Chief.