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Largely thanks to social media, more and more moms are getting super real about the aftermath of giving birth, sharing candid, unedited photos of what a perfectly natural woman's body looks like post-pregnancy. (Remember when Chrissy Teigen talked about her butthole ripping during childbirth? Yep.) But in a new essay, actress Keira Knightley took it a step further with a real—and graphic—depiction of what it was like to give birth to her daughter, Edie, in May 2015. (P.S. Yes, It's Normal to Still Look Pregnant After Giving Birth)
Knightley's powerful essay, an open letter to her daughter, titled "The Weaker Sex," comes from the new book called Feminists Don't Wear Pink (and Other Lies). In an excerpt published by Refinery29, it's clear she's not holding anything back when it comes to her feelings about women being called weak. Case in point: childbirth.
"My vagina split," Knightley writes in the very first line. "You came out with your eyes open. Arms up in the air. Screaming. They put you on to me, covered in blood, vernix, your head misshapen from the birth canal." And she doesn't stop there. The essay goes on to talk about the uncomfortable reality of the entire experience, detailing the blood dripping down her "thighs, arse, and cellulite," as she had to expose herself to the male doctors in the room. Her whole depiction of giving birth is less ~beautiful miracle~ and more bloody reality—and it's refreshing.
Knightley also gets real about breastfeeding. "You latched on to my breast immediately, hungrily, I remember the pain," she writes. "The mouth clenched tight around my nipple, light sucking on and sucking out." (Related: This Mom Is Fighting Back After Being Shamed for Breastfeeding at Her Local Pool)
As Knightley goes on to argue, childbirth—and being a mom and a woman in general—is ferocious and physical, full of intense challenges and pain, and demonstrates the truly awesome power of women's bodies. It's a literal battleground: "I remember the shit, the vomit, the blood, the stitches. I remember my battleground. Your battleground and life pulsating. Surviving," she writes. "And I am the weaker sex? You are?"
If anyone ever doubts the power of the female body, she asserts, look no further than motherhood. (Related: Kelly Rowland Gets Real About Diastasis Recti After Giving Birth)
The only thing that's at all pathetic about giving birth is the fact that society often expects moms to bounce back immediately after. Knightley calls B.S. She gave birth the day before Kate Middleton gave birth to Princess Charlotte and she recounts being horrified at the standard that Middleton and so many women are held to. "Hide. Hide our pain, our bodies splitting, our breasts leaking, our hormones raging," she writes. "Look beautiful. Look stylish, don't show your battleground, Kate. Seven hours after your fight with life and death, seven hours after your body breaks open, and bloody, screaming life comes out. Don't show. Don't tell. Stand there with your girl and be shot by a pack of male photographers." (Perhaps that's one reason Kate Middleton is drawing attention to postpartum depression.)
With more women like Knightley speaking out with such powerful honesty, that standard is, thankfully, starting to change.
You can read the full essay in Feminists Don't Wear Pink (and Other Lies).
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