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We May Not Win Best Picture But The Reality Of Women's Bodies Should Not Be Edited Out

On Monday the 92nd Annual Academy Awards was broadcast by American television network ABC.

In between handing out Oscars, the show ran several ads. An ad that was rejected from the telecast by both ABC and the Motion Picture Academy was about the reality of the post-natal experience.

The ad, for Frida Mom’s post-partum recovery kit, was deemed “too graphic” for simply showing a woman who’s just given birth using myriad products to comfortably use the loo in the middle of the night.

I mean, really? Too graphic?

Why are women’s bodies, and birth and what comes after still so taboo?

Why can’t we normalise an experience that is had by almost every person who becomes a mother? An experience that is so universal that every human being living has been part of it in some way (even if you haven’t given birth, you were born!) should not be hidden away as if it is somehow shameful and disgusting. It isn’t. It’s just reality.

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And we’re no better here in Australia.

Last year, feminine hygiene company Libra released an ad in its #bloodnormal campaign that showed *gasp* blood running down the leg of a woman in the shower and used red liquid (instead of the traditional blue euphemism) to demonstrate the effective absorption of the product. How appalling! Can you imagine accurately depicting an experience that half the population have pretty regularly? Outrageous.

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Libra Ad To Show Period Blood On Television In Australian-First

Libra's new ad campaign is tackling period stigma head-on, by depicting actual blood on pads for the first time.

Well, that’s what plenty of Aussies thought. That Libra advertisement received over 600 complaints to the advertising watchdog, making it the most complained about ad of 2019. Further complaints ranged from believing that periods should be kept “secret women’s business”, to the claim that the ad was “degrading” and “offensive", to concern about how on earth to discuss the issue with one’s children.

Quite frankly, THAT is what I find outrageous and offensive.

I find it outrageous that in 2020 women are still being told that our experience, the experience that is literally the lifeblood of the species (sorry, I couldn’t resist) is “too graphic”, should be kept “private”, and that children would somehow be harmed from knowing the reality of it. They’re not. Most women have a story about how they’ve explained periods to their children, not least because no mother gets to use the toilet alone, for any reason, for a good five years after giving birth. So kids are already exposed to what periods are, thanks for your concern.

It’s quite possible that Australians are actually worse on this than the Americans. At least there was a post-natal product company in America trying to advertise in a huge timeslot. Maybe I’ve missed them, but I have never seen an ad for maternity pads, or breast pads, or anything else specifically for managing your body after birth. Never.

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Watchdog Hands Down Findings After Complaints Over Ad Depicting Period Blood

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We rely on our friends to tell us what to expect and what to do and what to use immediately after birth. But even this sharing can be shut down by others who chastise us for telling pregnant women “horror stories” and scaring them, as if grown women’s precious sensibilities cannot handle the realities of the experience they are about to face. As if we cannot be trusted to take in information like adults and plan for potential situations we may face.

I was lucky that the weekend before I had my first baby, two of my girlfriends (who already had babies) took me aside at a barbeque to give me the inside scoop on what I needed to have, how to use it, and what else to do. That advice was golden. It saved me a lot of pain and anguish and, in fact, made me less afraid when the time came. Because I knew how to manage the bleeding, the swelling, the stinging, and knew how to use the loo. And now that I have had my children I pass the practical wisdom on.

According to Frida Mom, the ad was deemed "too graphic" for the Oscars. (Image: YouTube)

Far from being “degrading” or “offensive” or “too graphic”, depictions of what really happens after you give birth to a baby are part of removing the shame around women’s bodies. It is not “disgusting” to have brought a human being into the world, it is powerful and amazing. And anyone who has witnessed it knows that. So, stop treating the public as if we can’t handle it. We’ve been handling it in private for millennia. And if you can’t handle it, then that’s your problem.

And, in the spirit of sharing wisdom out in the open, here are my tips for post-birth recovery (I'm not a doctor; these are just from personal experience). Feel free to add your own in the comments.

  1. Use disposable incontinence underwear (the super absorbent ones) instead of or with maternity pads. They hold a whole lot more in a whole lot more places.
  2. Ask your midwives for the little stick ice packs to put in your knickers and make sure you keep replacing them. It will help with the pain and the swelling.
  3. Before having your first wee after a vaginal birth, drink a full dose of Ural or any other urine alkaliser. It will stop it from stinging. Some women like to also spray the area with water as they wee using a pop-top water bottle or special spray bottle. Same effect.
  4. A great tip I got from a women’s physio about when you need to have your first poo after vaginal birth, but you’re worried about pushing, is to just sit there, relax and say “ooooh, ahhhh” like you’re at the tennis. Sounds strange, but it works!
  5. Get one of those heat and ice packs for your boobs: heat encourages flow, ice stops the swelling.
  6. And the very best thing to do is to go see a women’s physio if you can afford it. They will check you properly for abdominal separation and check your pelvic floor, and give you exercises to strengthen both. Do not return to regular exercise until you’ve seen one and they’ve given you the okay.