Hands up if you were absolutely mortified at the idea of your birth team seeing your vagina. *Raises both hands, and maybe a foot as well* I get it. It’s a little bit weird, and hard to wrap your mind around. You’ve probably only ever been so vulnerable in the bedroom, or during a pap smear. Even at the gyno’s office, it was likely just the two of you. During birth, you’ll probably be exposed to several people. It’s natural to feel a little self conscious at the idea. For a lot of women, that means stress about pubic hair.
We have some very specific social notions about pubic hair in the western world. It’s taboo. Women in media have completely hairless bikini lines. When pubic hair is socially acceptable it’s with a very narrow range of “hairstyles”. It’s easy to get the idea that your vulva and surrounding areas aren’t normal. Spoiler alert, they are.
I’ve been on both sides of this equation. I’ve found myself flailing around like a beached whale, in early labour, trying to look presentable for the hospital staff. And I’ve been a doula present for a lot of vulnerable moments. It’s cliché, but we really genuinely don’t care about aesthetics. In all my interactions with countless birth professionals, the appearance of a patient’s vulval area has not once come up. Not only is your care confidential (it would be extremely unethical for us to make negative comments about your appearance) but we also don’t really notice.
When surgeons show up for work, they don’t feel shock at the sight of blood and exposed organs. The average person likely would, they aren’t exposed to the human body in that way. But for a surgeon, it’s just an every day reality. The sights and sounds and smells of birth can be extremely overwhelming for someone new to the process. For a professional, it’s just a human body. In all its amazing variety, and capability. Vaginas don’t have a whole lot of shock value for the pros in the room.
Take the professionals out of the equation. Don’t make choices about your body for another person’s comfort, make them for your own comfort. It’s okay to preserve modesty if it’s important to you. There’s an old saying about dignity having no place in the delivery room. That is absolute bull. You matter. Your absolute ownership over your body does not end when you step into the hospital or birth centre, or your home birth. You are absolutely allowed to send nonessential personnel out of the room when you feel overly exposed. You are absolutely allowed to request cervical checks occur under a blanket. It may not be possible to stay covered up through an entire labour and delivery, but there are absolutely steps we can take to make you more comfortable.
As your doula, if you ask me not to look, I won’t. I would never touch you, and I don’t perform internal exams. Some clients like a trusted person at their side. They like me to reassure them that they’re making progress pushing. They like me to hold a mirror. They like me to tell them the colour of their baby’s hair. This is not mandatory! You will never hurt your doula’s feelings by asking her to step in the hall for a moment, or to stay up by your head. Make your wishes heard.
All that said, it’s also okay to be comfortable with others seeing you exposed, while being uncomfortable with going au naturel. We might not give a second thought to pubic maintenance, but if you do, it’s well within your rights to do what makes you feel comfortable and confident. Trimming pubic hair (carefully!) tends to be the recommended course of action. There’s some risk of micro abrasions to the skin with shaving and waxing, which some argue may be an infection risk. That being said, the risk is not a major one. It’s largely a matter of personal preference. You may find it difficult to reach, let alone see, your pubic area late in pregnancy. You may wish to hire a professional waxer or enlist the help of your partner to avoid accidentally hurting yourself. Again, it’s all up to you.
Noticing a common theme here? What you do with your body is your choice. Yes, even your vulva. Yes, even in labour. Trim, shave, wax, give it a mohawk, labour completely naked or completely covered. I’ve got your back.