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What They Won’t Tell You About Being a New Mom

May 12, 2019 | 831 videos
Video by Bronwen Parker-Rhodes

Bronwen Parker-Rhodes thought she knew what to expect—her friends have kids, she’s an aunt, and she attended a prenatal preparation course. But after giving birth to her son, Parker-Rhodes was shocked at the severity of the physical changes she was experiencing. Her vagina was swollen; her stomach, hips, and pelvis looked completely transformed; her coccyx appeared to stick out at a weird angle; her breasts were unrecognizable, swollen, and excruciatingly painful. “I felt completely and frighteningly changed,” she told me. Why hadn’t she been warned?

The answer is emblematic of the shame that surrounds open discussion about women’s bodies. As Parker-Rhodes began to speak candidly with new mothers in her neighborhood about her postpartum woes, she said the conversations opened up “a floodgate of questions, concerns, and complaints” that the women had previously been afraid to share.

Many of these new mothers are interviewed in Parker-Rhodes’s short documentary, After Birth. In the film, one woman reveals the guilt she felt about being concerned with her physical well-being when she had just given birth to a healthy child. Another explains how she lost all sensation in her hands for more than two months following the birth of her baby. Still another says she showered 10 times a day because that was the only time she could urinate without feeling pain. “I had no idea the amount of pain you could be in without being dead,” says a different new mother.

Most of the women describe feeling alienated from their body, which in some cases affected their ability to bond with their newborns. “You’re led to believe that the whole process is the most natural thing that could happen to you—the purpose of your body,” one says. “It felt incredibly unnatural to me.”

Parker-Rhodes said she would have benefited enormously from an honest, nonjudgmental dialogue about the potential changes she might experience during pregnancy and after birth. “I wish someone had told me before having a baby that my vagina may never be the same. Obviously, my gorgeous son is worth it, but I still wish I’d been told.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.