The Husband Stitch
The story is an adult take on the classic children’s story The Green Ribbon.
Machado’s version is named after a procedure where an episiotomy is performed. Afterwards the surgeon puts in an extra stitch to tighten the vaginal opening and enhance the pleasure of the woman’s male partner. The existence of this procedure has been bandied about since the 1880s. There is discussion about whether it is even real. One account described it as a “maternity ward Slender Man”.
If it is real, then it is an abomination; the worst kind of intimate betrayal. Anecdotal accounts have reported it causing excruciating pain, physical disability, later difficult births. And after all that, extremely painful, often impossible, intercourse.
It’s hard to tell whether it is a message board myth borne from the agony of childbirth. Or a twisted atrocity that should be generating malpractice and divorce suits.
“I have given you everything you have ever asked for, I say. Am I not allowed this one thing?”
“He could have done it then, untied the bow, if he’d chosen to.”
The story is interspersed with fables, themed around death, sexuality and delusion. They illustrate the blood stained reality of a woman’s life; how sex, children and marriage can damage or even destroy you. Several of the stories deal with a female having her truth and reality denied. One involves her father rewriting her reality. Another retells an elaborate conspiracy to gaslight a young woman who loses her mother.
The author has said she was influenced by Angela Carter, a writer known for her dark and twisted reimaginings of fairytales and fables. She also says:
“We live in a real-life horror story… I feel like the dynamic is between women who have no control versus women being taught to do that to themselves so that other people don’t have to. Those things are in synchronization with each other. I think I’m using the genre the way a lot of my foremothers did.”
The Maternity Ward
Read any article, any message board about birth and pregnancy. There are women on every page who feel violated. The key shared experience is lack of autonomy. It can be an overbearing doctor cutting them without their permission. Or a supercilious, overbearing midwife refusing them appropriate pain relief. The key factor is the lack of control, a humiliating, frightening and devastating feeling. One that many women experience *outside* the ward as well, but is magnified in that very vulnerable moment.
At The End
She makes it clear, several times, that she loves and desires her husband. He is oblivious, not cruel. He demands, he takes, he wants; it does not occur to him to consider his wife. The scene in the maternity ward is meant to illustrate that it doesn’t really matter whether the men are joking or sincere. Either the man she loves means to mutilate her for his own sexual pleasure, or he thinks the concept is funny; neither is particularly edifying.
The Husband Stitch it is a good name and analogy for a tale of the profound love and darkness within any personal relationship. How a single word, a boundary crossed, can devastate, and leave both parties desolate. And how even a good man can be a monster – just by not thinking or challenging the status quo.