By Ashley Allen
Childbirth, should a woman choose that path in life, is said to be one of the most amazing parts of being a woman. The process of giving life to a little person has been discussed and marveled at since the dawn of humankind. The power a woman holds to create, carry and give birth to another being is incomparable to any other human act. The process of childbirth is both terrifying and exciting. Having not yet experienced it myself, but being a couple months out from doing so, I can’t truly speak from personal experience on childbirth itself. I can say that as the date looms closer (I’m due September 8th), I become more anxious and worried about the whole hospital process. Especially after doing my own research, which is where I learned about the alleged “myth” of the husband stitch.
First, consider what exactly happens when a baby is born. There is a lot of stretching. It’s part of the miracle. Once that is all done, however, what’s left is often lots of scarring and ripping. To prepare for childbirth, doctors may need to perform what’s called an episiotomy, or cutting of the perineum, to make room for the baby. Afterwards, episiotomy stitching takes place. These are common procedures. The issue arises, however, when doctors allegedly take it among themselves to add an extra stitch or two “for daddy.” The result is a tighter vagina for men and sex after childbirth, all at the painful expense of the new mothers. It is reportedly incredibly painful for women subjected to this extreme procedure, a pain that lasts for years if not detected and reversed.
Debates on whether this practice is real or merely an urban legend have flown back and forth across the table for decades, but proof finally arises; the “husband stitch,” or to make it even more disgusting, the “daddy stitch,” does exist. Many women are unaware the procedure has even been done, due to the exhaustion of post-delivery or being on pain killers. Instead, they endure years of excruciating sex, probably perceiving it as entirely normal. Why would they consider any differently? In fact, even the husbands are often unaware of the procedure as well, although in some cases women reported their significant others requesting the procedure! Some doctors seem to just take it upon themselves for the most part to do this to new, tired, and often drugged mothers, assuming it’s what “daddy” would want.
Reddit is a place where people can nearly anonymously post in forums on just about anything. One thread discusses the “husband stitch” and women share their experiences. One Reddit user retells her experience in graphic, shudder-inducing detail:
“My doctor did this after I delivered my first son. I knew something wasn’t right when a month out I still couldn’t move freely and stand up straight without pain despite being told many times that things were healing fine and I needed to ‘give it time.'”
Still unaware of what exactly had happened to her, she requested some stitches to be removed.
“Then I told him he needed to cut the remaining stitches or I was going to do it myself. I felt instant relief the moment things were cut. Oh, and imagine this, I healed perfectly fine without the extra stitches. With my second son, I had a female doctor and had a beautiful stitch job that healed quickly with minimal pain.”
The total disregard for the current and future comfort of women after they create the miracle of life is appalling. Another Reddit user’s story was similar:
“My OB did this to me after our first daughter was born. He talked about it while he was sewing me up. He said that my husband will thank him for it later (my husband wasn’t in the delivery room, only my doc and a nurse). That was almost 19 years ago. I am certain that OB is dead. He was 85 when I had him. Unfortunately at that time I had no other choices…that OB was the only one that took our insurance.”
This practice is yet another example of how women are treated as property of the men in their lives, although often their significant others are unaware. These doctors assume that the men will prefer this, and perform the procedure, leaving the women scarred and in pain, and the men confused why their girlfriends and wives are in perpetual discomfort. Many women even report stitching so tight, that they could no longer use tampons as they had before. The Reddit user continued:
“I felt betrayed because something unnecessary was done to my body that I didn’t ask for. It was a harmful decision made without my consent.”
The ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), said to Insider magazine in 2018 that they do not recommend routine episiotomies, and that the “husband stitch” is “not a practice that ACOG endorses or has any knowledge of regarding its current practice,” and “we don’t believe it’s common or standard.” The thousands of women who have taken to the internet’s social media and forums to share their story, beg to differ. Many women have filed medical malpractice lawsuits and personal injury claims with lawyers against the doctors who did this procedure to them. A Toronto, Canada couple, for example, sued their Gyno for this practice in 2013, when two years after their child was born, they still couldn’t have sex without intense pain. A second doctor recognized the stitching as botched.
In the Joplin area, there haven’t been any open claims that could be found about this procedure, although they may or may not exist here. Due to the widespread nature of this issue, it wouldn’t be a surprise if there were undisclosed cases, as most women are unaware it was even done to them. Still, cases of this happening in our area could not be found.
Online, many like to say that the “Husband Stitch” is like the Slender Man of childbirth, in that it is just a scary story myth. Still, women share stories of their reported suffering on many forums and social media platforms; some to simply share their story, others to warn expecting mothers. Twitter is alight with these tales, right alongside Facebook and Reddit. Even those who have not had this experience express their shock at the existence of this forced procedure. A case actually exist where a woman has asked to have the husband stitch, herself, (at lease one case I’ve found), and her reasoning was so that she could be better than her old self before childbirth. If this is a procedure that a woman would want, then she of course can ask her doctor for that extra stitch or two, but to force it upon her is unacceptable.
So, I will be hypervigilant, as I suggest all expecting mothers to be. I will express clearly to my delivering doctor that this is not an extra procedure I want. Proof that this is happening at our local hospitals is hard to find, but it is so widespread from victim accounts, it’s better to be sure. I will make sure my husband is there, and he is already in total agreement with me. His pleasure is not worth my persistent pain, and there is much more to sex than tightness. There will likely be perineal tearing in childbirth, as with most, but stitching beyond what is necessary to get things back the way they were, is unnecessary and a violation of a woman’s bodily rights, and some call it, genital mutilation. With all the battles women are facing against men trying to control our bodies and what we do with them, their opinion on the tightness of our vaginas is just as demeaning and outrageous as any of them!
Still the joke persists, men asking doctors for that extra stitch, and doctors winking back at them with a knowing smirk. For decades, this has been thought to be a mere myth, or scary story to add to the anxiety women feel when facing childbirth. But with recent revelations and stories by women who have experienced this first hand, it can no longer be ignored and brushed off as a myth. In a WebMD article titled, “An OB Weighs in on the ‘Husband Stitch’” OB/GYN Heather Rupe blatantly states:
“Let’s face it, immediately after a 5-inch baby head stretches through a 1.5 inch vaginal opening, things don’t exactly look the same. But much like baby weight, stretch marks, and the swollen uterus, the vaginal tissue can get back to normal shape if you give it some time and effort. No “extra stitch” required.”