It is never talked about openly. It is hardly even whispered about. In all my research and readings in preparation for our first child l did not come across it even on Google. The labour room is shrouded in a thick swaddle of mystery and miracles all wrapped around each other and labour room poop is at the core of these.
The First Time
As clearly as seeing through a pair of new glasses I remember pushing for the baby to come out. It had been more than 6 hours of active labour since I had been induced with oxytocin, a nasty drug that they give you through Intravenous therapy making contractions come faster and more intense. The nurse had called it mutakunanzva (something delicious). But she meant that the oxytocin was going to add ‘sweet and delicious’ pain to my labour, she had been damn right. Seven hours later I was groaning and grunting for my life and for my baby’s when the serious looking short haired nurse who looked like she had been to military school before becoming a nurse told me to lie on my side and push from that position. I obeyed her like a kindergarten child does her teacher. After a few minutes of pushing from that position, the nurse said, ‘I want you to do a hard constipated stool.’
‘Give me that hard constipated stool,’ she said as she placed some plastic sheeting underneath me.
‘Now?’ I asked again looking in the direction of the toilet in the room.
‘Yes, now. Right where you are.’
My husband was there, anxious, somewhere in the room. To this day I hope he was on the other side, the front side of me not the backside of me from where the poop would come from. The stool wasn’t easy to let out as it was constipated as the nurse had predicted. I did it. I had to. I pooped in the labour room with my husband in there, my doctor there as well as the nurse. Soon, in less than thirty minutes I gave birth to our daughter who had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.
The nurse had neatly put away the poop with gloved hands and by the time the delivery was over it looked like nothing had happened. My husband and I never talked about it afterwards although we talked about everything else that had happened during our child’s birth. Just like so many before us and those to come after us, we shelved the poop issue in one of the many dark cupboards of labour room mysteries and secrets.
Two years later I am pregnant again and I am forced to face the reality of not only the pains of the labour room but the ‘embarrassment’ of labour room poop. I had made myself forget it as water under the bridge, but now with the labour room looming ahead of me like a dark cloud albeit with a silver if not golden lining I cannot pretend any more. Had it only been me? Do other women poop in the labour room as well? My mother had not talked nor had my sister. They would have told me about it if it had been normal wouldn’t they or if it had happened to them too.
So I asked one of my best friends, Google and she presented me with a whole lot of information on labour room poop that I wondered how l had missed it the first time. I read many personal accounts by women who had pooped in the labour room. I read many articles by doctors and experts on how labour room poop is very common and although it doesn’t happen to every woman, it does happen to a lot. And for many, because the muscles that are used to push the baby out are the same muscles used when pooping, the poop will come out without you knowing and sometimes it can be quite messy especially if it’s not constipated.
Google showed me a number of links where women were asking about how best to avoid pooping in the labour room. Whilst many experts discouraged expecting mothers from being too preoccupied with not pooping during labour because it interfered with their ability to push the baby out effectively; there were a number of suggestions that were given that reduce the chances of pooping and all of them had to do with the mom’s diet a few days prior going into labour. A liquid diet and more water intake on the day were recommended by other mothers who had tried it before.
But for many women the foremost question was what their partners or husbands thought when they saw them pooping. A lot of those who knew that they were likely to poop whilst giving birth had asked their partners never to ask them about it after delivery or never to tell them that they had pooped even if they asked.
It’s possible for one not to even know that they pooped amidst the spasms of pain and the labour of pushes. I have deduced though that just like me and my husband, labour room poop is rarely talked about after it had happened, between partners and amongst women themselves due to embarrassment. In a survey a number of men were asked about what they thought about labour room poop and most of them said there were far more important things going on in the room for them to care about poop. And many also said they were happy complying with their partner’s wish to never be asked about it or to talk about it. Should we be encouraging women to relax because their partners will not notice or should we be telling women not to care because it is part of the process?
However the anxiety that a lot of women still feel when they know that they may poop during labour cannot be ignored. The women who say they didn’t poop say it with some undeniable pride as if it shows they are better women than those who pooped which is utterly ridiculous of course. I have heard women also say proudly that they didn’t cry or scream whilst giving birth as if those who do cry are lesser women in a way; very silly. It is these pressures to always be either prim and proper; dignified and modest; or strong and able that makes some women feel like they are better women for not pooping or for not crying during labour. Such pressures should be kept outside the labour room at all costs because child birth is bloody and messy and has two human lives hanging in limbo for there to be room for primness or properness of any kind.
I walked into a hair salon the other day and one of the hairdressers was expecting her first babywas asking her colleagues about which hospitals to book herself into for the birth of her child. The conversation quickly tumbled naturally into child birth itself. The women were laughing out loud about the different ordeals they or others had gone through during labour in public hospitals. And then just like that labour room poop waltzed into the hilarious conversation.
‘Mbuya ndoda kuite dhodho’ (Granny, I want to poo) said one of the women mimicking another woman in a labour ward she had been in. The women burst out laughing as they told their own stories of poop, labour and child birth. And I thought to myself, bless these women for ‘unclocking’ the mystery shrouding labour room poop and letting some light into the dark Mafia like cupboards of labour room secrets.
The Second Time
So I went back to the labour room for the second time in a cloud of pain and agony. As the labour progressed and still the baby wouldn’t come, the doctor yet again had to put me on oxytocin, to try to get the baby to come much faster as her heartbeat was slowing down. And so, like history repeating itself, the nurse asked me to poop; but I had prepared myself, or so I thought. I had been drinking a lot of liquids and less solids in the days before my delivery date. So literally I had no poop to poop. But the nurse wouldn’t have any of it, and both she and the doctor demanded that I poop the constipated poop that they were sure was in there somewhere. Some poop came out in the end.
My husband had left the delivery room much earlier because he said the last time he was traumatised. Hahaha. They only called him back in from the lounge after the baby was born so he was not a witness to the pooping this time. But now I find that I am more comfortable talking about my labour room poop experience. It is still not anyone’s favourite conversation but I have managed to throw the subject into a few conversations between my husband and I since then. I guess that is why I am able to write about it.
Godess Bvukutwa is a women’s rights activist. She is also the coordinator and founder of Mambakwedza Women’s Center, an organization that mentors and develops leadership capabilities in rural women and girls.