Stool Softeners and Motherhood

Jennifer Makin

I learned an important lesson when embarking upon my first journey into motherhood.

Never underestimate the postpartum bowel.

Trust me. The neighbors saw.

It all started on a warm day in March.

My daughter was born in January. Living in Indiana, I had done all the things good Midwestern moms are supposed to do.  I had lovingly assembled the most stylish collection of my husband’s old, baggy sweatpants, laid up a store of frozen beige casseroles, and purchased two full seasons of “The Nanny” on DVD. I was ready to be snowed in.

And, by golly, when the pediatrician told me not to take my newborn anywhere for eight weeks, I listened! We stayed in. We avoided church, the grocery store, and any place there were people. My mental health was a little iffy, but we.were.not.catching.anything!

For a few days in March, Indiana was unexpectedly blessed with some 80 degree days. By that time, I had had it with staying in! Doggone it, I was going to get outside and do something uplifting! My postpartum tummy was tired of resting on my upper thighs! I was tired of the south-of-the-border digestive issues I received along with my bouncing pink bundle of joy. With resolve, I decided to get outside and do something about my mental and physical health.

Perhaps it was the joy of sunlight or the lack of socialization that led to the following outlandish decision. I donned my most-horrifying sweatshorts, the ones with the series of small holes down the back seam. These were the kind I typically reserved for painting and undesirable chores, but they were the only pair that fit. What better way to showcase legs that hadn’t seen a razor since delivery?

I strapped my 3-month-old daughter into her carrier and leashed up my geriatric Scottish terrier. With moxie, I popped my prescribed stool softeners, shoved my still-swollen feet into my sneakers, and stepped out the door.

I’ve so got this.

The sun was glorious. I pushed myself to walk further than I had in a while, not accounting for variables relating to intestinal motility or unmotivated elderly canines. Nothing was holding me back! The baby was happy, I was jazzed, and the dog was still standing.

About a mile from home, I stopped abruptly. It was coming. The combined effect of bran cereal and those stool softeners, I was sure I was about done which culminated to a thundering crescendo!

Good night, what was I going to do?

Phone a friend? Everyone was at work!  

Perhaps I could step into the woods? My baby was strapped to me and my dog was half-blind, but it might work. I mean, if a new mom relieves herself in the woods, and no one saw, did it really happen?

Flag down a car? I’m an introvert, but maybe I could make an exception …

Resolve welled within. Channeling my inner Wonder Woman, I determined to walk home.

I’ve got this!

Biting my lip, squeezing my innards, I put one foot in front of the other, my remarkable leg hair blowing in the breeze. Turns out, Lamaze breathing is like the quintessential bridesmaid dress.

You can totally use this again!

By some miracle, I made it all the way home. The Promised Land lay just ahead. I visualized my goal: the gleaming porcelain throne of my downstairs bath. I was forced to pause my hasty speed walk to allow a car to pass by.

Breathe, Wonder Woman.

That was all it took. My taxed pelvic muscles chose that moment to give way. The power of bran became undeniably evident as I stood in my neighbor’s driveway.

Um, I so don’t have this!

After the moment passed, I laughed incredulously and shuffled across the street, shocked. I prayed a new prayer, “Please, Lord, don’t let it flop outta my shorts.”

My baby girl found herself laid swiftly and carefully on the hallway floor. My blind, aged dog wandered off, wondering what on earth was that smell? And, ahem, my bathroom likely wondered what it had ever done to me to deserve such abuse. A new adage was born that day: Never underestimate the postpartum bowel.

The memory of this day has continued to resound with me, even 11 years later. While humiliating, when I look back, I remember the laughter it brought. This brought a stark contrast against the rest of those post-birth days. I was an isolated first-time mom struggling with postpartum depression that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

The foray into new motherhood can be a messy and unexpected one, full of powerful emotions that catch us off-guard. Take a second look at the less-than-perfect, even embarrassing moments. There just might be something tucked in there that can bring a smile or a laugh just when you need it most!


Jennifer Makin is a former MOPS mom, dietitian, wife and dog mom. She lives with her family in Indiana where she can usually be found trapped under a pile of laundry, bargain-hunting, or hanging out at the lake.