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Some Basic Anatomy
Most of us had basic anatomy in school. Most fathers (and potential fathers) know at least some of the parts of the body -- your own body and that of the mother. These basics, if you remember them, will take you a long way in the understanding of what is happening, why, and how. This knowledge can also help you to recognize and understand problems if they occur.
Don't let the technical nature of the terminology or of this chapter scare you. In most cases they'll make sense if you give them a chance. Your goal isn't to be working toward a degree in obstetrics, and there's no real need to be able to toss out all those fancy terms at will.
At the same time, the doctors, nurses, midwifes, etc. -- and this book -- will all be using that terminology. It's like anything else. When a field of knowledge uses specific terminology, it's to your benefit to become at least exposed to that terminology if you intend to understand. Although dystocia (difficult birth) or puerperium (the six weeks after the birth) aren't the kinds of words you're likely to encounter in usual daily life, you just might hear them while being a part of thepregnancy, birth, and recovery.
Don't worry too much about memorizing all the names and details. It won't hurt to do so, but it's not necessary. If you get into Chapter Six, for example, and just can't remember what the areola is, or if the doctor mentions a term you don't know, turn to the Glossary and look it up.
The purpose of this first chapter isn't to train you to be an obstetrician.It is merely to acquaint (or reacquaint) you with the basics of anatomy, and with the terminology used.
The Female Reproductive System
As a whole the female's external genitalia is called the vulva or pudendum. The mons veneris at the top consists of fatty tissue. This and the pubic bone beneath gives it a rounded appearance. Normally the opening to the vagina is partially closed off by the labia (Latin for "lips"). The larger, fieshier outer labia are the labia majora (easiest to remember as "major lips"). The outside is covered with hair, while the inside is smooth. Inside these labia is another pair of smaller folds of skin, the labia minora ("minor lips"), sometimes called the nymphae. During the birth the labia distend and are stretched to allow passage of the baby.
Beneath the top of the labia majora, and, covered by a small hood (the prepuce) is the clitoris. This is analogous to the male's penis. The clitoris attains a degree of erection during sexual excitement, and has even been known to have its own type of ejaculation. Essentially it is the center of the female's sexual pleasure. With many women it is just barely visible even during a state of excitement.
About an inch beneath this and more or less inside the labia minora is the urethra, from which the female urinates. This is also all but invisible in most women. Below the urethra is the opening to the vagina, or introitus. In most virgins and in many women who have not had a baby, the vaginal opening is kept partially closed by the hymen. Formerly there was the mistaken notion that an intact hymen signified that the woman was a virgin, and that one that was broken or absent meant she'd been sexually active. Today we know that any number of things can cause the hymen to break, and that in a few cases a hymen broken by intercourse can grow back. Regardless, what remains of this membrane, if a anything, will rupture during the woman's first birth.
Between the bottom of the external genitalia and the anus is an area called the perineum. This area can become quite important during birth. Various hormones in Mom's body during labor cause the perineum to become softer and more flexible. Even so, having the baby's head pushing its way through an opening that is normally tight to the penis can cause a problem. It is quite common for the tissues of the perineum to tear. To reduce the risks of tearing, many physicians routinely make a surgical cut in the perineum, effectively creating a larger birth opening. This operation is called an episiotomy. The muscles are stitched together after the birth. It's not uncommon for the doctor to "overstitch," " making the vaginal opening tighter and thus more pleasurable for the male during intercourse.
The vagina is a muscular and (fortunately) elastic tube that leads inward from the external genitalia to the uterus. During intercourse it stretches to accept a penis of just about any size, while still putting pressure and friction on the penis, thus stimulating ejaculation. During birth it stretches and expands to allow passage of the baby. Afterward it goes back into shape (or can be made to go back into shape through exercise).
A few inches inside the vagina is a conical structure about one inch long called the cervix. The cervix is the neck of the uterus. The outer portion of the cervix can be felt, and examined, with a finger inserted into the vagina. During pelvic exams the doctors and nurses will be checking the condition of the cervix, which gives them a clue as to when the baby will be coming and if there are complications.
During prepregnant intercourse, the sperm make their way through a hole in the cervix called the os. Once the woman is impregnated, a plug of mucous forms and the cervix closes off the uterus, allowing a sterile environment in which the fetus can develop. Not long before the birth, the mucous plug breaks loose. The cervix then begins to soften and thin out (efface), and will eventually begin to open (dilate).New Father's Panic Book. Copyright © by G Williams. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.