When I was heavily pregnant, oscillating between luxuriating in my new-found curves and feeling like a beetle perpetually stuck on its back, post-pregnancy sex was officially the last thing on my mind. Instead, my laser focus was on evicting this little person who stomped on my lungs, intestines, and bladder. Not to mention the equal parts fear and unbelievable happiness of impending motherhood. Sex got me into this situation, but it certainly wasn’t the forefront of my thoughts as D-Day approached.
As a first-time mom-to-be, I simply couldn’t understand post-pregnancy sex as a different proposition. Was it really going to be a thing? Wasn’t all this “daddy stitch” trash talk just language of women’s bodies once again being made about male pleasure? Could the natural act of having a baby really change my vagina and my relationship to sex that much? I was walking into the game, dubious, believing all the urban legends were simply the residue of anti-feminist, bad sitcom, sophomoric writing. My vagina was not going to be a punch line about throwing a hot dog down a hallway!
But at the same time, I also couldn’t say what it really would be like. Lumped in with an infinite list of things I was about to discover, my relationship to post-natal sexuality would be an evolving proposition, if not part smack in the face and part a reinvention of self.
While every page of “What to Expect When You are Expecting” was dog-eared, I don’t think I fully processed what the after-having-a-baby would imply, at least physically. My hospital bag was filled with menstrual pads, but while pregnant, I certainly didn’t absorb the full implications of that need. I was prepared for child birth to be painful, but I never gave much thought to what happens next. Wasn’t getting the baby out the totality of the physiological heavy lifting?
Certainly not. As nurses and doctors tossed around discussions of degrees of tearing in as blase a manner as conversations of the weather or what to eat for breakfast, I can tell you emphatically, for the vulvas being described, these are not everyday conversations. Not one little painful bit.
After my first child was born, every single muscle in my body hurt like I’d been hit by a truck. Not just one truck, more like an entire fleet. As I tried to move, ever so slowly, to my hospital bathroom, I experienced the incomparably humbling expedition of post-labor vaginal aftercare. The less-than-glamorous world of sitz baths, squirt bottles, and witch hazel hemorrhoid wipes. Some so delicately describe this elixir, sure to make you feel the height of sexy, as “crotch care.”
Immediately after that first birth, I couldn’t even contemplate having sex after what had just happened to my body – a body that in many ways I would need to reclaim, relearn, reteach, and have patience with in its healing.
Other than the mamas I met along the way, there was no practitioner walking me through how all of this messy knot of physical and emotional experiences was going to impact my sexuality. Six weeks post-baby, sitting in those stirrups, so few doctors are talking to us about post-baby sex – the perfectly normal and not normal alike.
One friend, after the birth of her second baby, bravely approached her doctor about a lack of sensation and was told: What did she expect? She was a mother of two. Never is this an acceptable response, nor an accurate one. A healed vagina or incision and a chat about contraceptive decisions is simply not enough to address a topic that is dangerously taboo. Too many women believe silently suffering is the new normal, and is in fact normal.
When it’s a conversation that needs to be sought out, a conversation that’s sometimes awkward to have, it can feel like just another burden to prioritize ourselves, our intimate parts of the body, our sex lives, and our sexual sense of self. Especially when new mothers are already drowning in the emotionally-charged laundry list of having a newborn: exhaustion, figuring out this whole nursing thing (if that’s your chosen method), and a realization that your body doesn’t magically revert back to its pre-pregnancy self.
Combine this with wrestling with a new sense of self, a new way of relating to your partner, returning back to work or not (both are emotional), and the oppressive societal pressure of what motherhood perfection looks like, it’s no wonder that the day you get medical clearance to have sex again just a short six weeks after having a baby, it seems as daunting as climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Some of us will experience quite serious physical complications from birth, and will need to undergo physical therapy post-childbirth and even vaginal rehabilitation. A few friends’ vaginas tightened post-birth to such a degree that nothing was getting in there, making a good set of vaginal dilators and a competent physical therapist a sexual lifesaver.
Some of us will also be negotiating the psychological implications of what can be a traumatic event. For example, when my second child, a gigantic baby whose shoulders got stuck during her fast-and-furious two hour labor, her face turning every shade of purple and blue unimaginable in babies, there was so much more for me (and my partner) to emotionally unpack then when my first child had arrived without complication. While my body didn’t ache the way it did with my first, our collective emotions needed a little longer to heal for sexuality to reenter our union.
The sex we all have post-baby is a tapestry of all of those nuanced and personal experiences, and like a ice cream shop full of choices, each person has their own approach to having sex again after baby, whenever that may end up happening.
Of course, there are people who just want to get back at it, right away. Maybe they explored non-penetrative forms of sexuality up until this point, eager to get the green light for more, or maybe it’s the first go of their erotic selves meeting post-baby, making that first sexual encounter a wonderful act of reconnection.
For others, that green light is, in actuality, a lightening rod of anxiety.
Is it going to hurt? Am I going to enjoy it? It my partner going to enjoy it? Do I feel attractive in my post-baby body? Do I feel self conscious about my post-child vulva? (Even jokingly referring to your vagina as a “car wreck” probably isn’t going to internally make you feel sexy and confident.) As a mom, do I still feel sexy? Do I want to have sex for me or do I feel pressure because my partner wants to? Am I afraid he will stray if I don’t?
One friend, a mother of twins, was told by her post-natal nurse, “fathers of twins tend to cheat,” so she better jump back into bed. I simply can’t think of more aggressive “advice” to smack on a new mother. And with hormones doing crazy things to your sex drive, the desire simply may not be surfacing in the same way you were previously used to.
While it would be easy to divide the world into the “let’s jump back on the horse” mamas and the “stay the fuck away from me” mamas, many of us will philosophically float in between for that first time having sex after baby, as well as for the subsequent adventures. A reality of motherhood and sexuality (one I wished someone shared with me) is that sometimes I might experience intense chapters of each. A new tapestry is forming from the constant touching of little hands, evolving feelings about oneself, evolving feelings about your partner, and the fact the weight of motherhood doesn’t dust off just because the kids are asleep (though it would be so nice).
My six years of motherhood has given me a new perspective on my professional world, the anthropological study of sex, in a way I never could have predicted. Whether it is the first sex after baby or six years after baby, be open to the evolution of your sexuality.
Maybe your mind needs more time to wind down and relax, or maybe your body needs more time to get excited. Lubricant may become your new best friend. Maybe new things will become a turn on, maybe new fantasies can be incorporated, maybe it’s the catalyst to reinvent old rhythms, or maybe you and your partner can use this time to positively and proactively reset and sexually meet again.
Instead of the fear of so many unknowns, maybe that first sex after baby is the key to a whole new sex life.